The FIA’s new super licence system is squarely aimed at ensuring that young, inexperienced drivers don’t make it to the top level too quickly and there have been few dissenters to the governing body‘s initiative so far.
The new system is sure to place extra attention on Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz Junior who wouldn’t qualify under the system which was introduced after they acquired the necessary documentation to allow them to make their debuts in Australia.
However, it’s worth noting that there are several other drivers who would have had to delay their first appearances in F1 had the same superlicence qualification parameters been in place at the time the F1 teams came knocking.
By our reckoning nine of the drivers confirmed for the 2015 grid didn’t meet the criteria at the time they made (or are going to make) their F1 race debuts.
This figure includes four world champions and accounts for the drivers who produced eight of the last ten world championship titles.
Almost no one turns down an F1 drive when it’s offered because it’s impossible to be certain that the results in the junior formulae won‘t dry up. So the obvious question is, if a tough licence system had been in place for many years would the composition of the grid for Melbourne in March be radically different? And, more importantly, is the system equitable?
Former F1 driver now commentator Martin Brundle commented on Twitter, “My main F3 rival and I went F3 directly to F1. New 2016 Super Licence rules prevent that. Ayrton Senna turned out to be quite good though…”
Having trawled the archives here are the drivers who we believe didn’t or don’t have the right combination of age profile, accumulated car race experience and points accrued from qualifying championships ahead of their first race .
The 2005 and 2006 world champion raced two seasons in now defunct series but even if you assume that the old FIA F3000 championship in which he finished fourth in 2000 is the same as GP2 and his 1999 title success in the Spanish-based Euro Open Movistar Nissan Championship was the equivalent of a national F3 series then he still misses out by ten points.
Third in British Formula 3 preceded by strong European and British Formula Ford success which roughly translates to Formula 4 would see Button miss out on the Williams F1 seat for 2000. (But not to Bruno Junqueira. He wouldn’t have been eligible either!)
Tenth, eighth and sixth overall in three seasons of GP2 looks like impressive progression but it wouldn’t have been good enough for a super licence, something that might well have hastened Caterham’s demise, too.
It’s tough to equate Felipe’s 2001 F3000 Euro title (not to be confused with the full FIA series) but it would need to be valued at about Formula Renault 3.5 level to earn him a seat with Sauber for 2002 and definitely not the equivalent of Auto GP which the FIA have ignored for super licence purposes.
The Finn’s fast track to Sauber in 2001 after blitzing British Formula Renault arched more than a few eyebrows at the time and had him pounding around to get enough mileage to convince FIA President Max Mosley he was up to the job. He finished sixth on his F1 debut.
The 2009 British Formula 3 Champion misses out by just two points on the FIA three-season accumulator for his licence to drive on GP Fridays for Toro Rosso in 2011 and neither would he have been eligible to make his race debut with HRT that season.
Carlos Sainz Junior
The new Formula Renault 3.5 Champion wouldn’t cut the mustard in the corridors of power, his fifth in Euro F3 2012 leaving him two points short of a race seat alongside… well alongside who?
You sense that the driver who burst on the scene with a sensational third place finish in the FIA European F3 series and impressed mightily in his late season Friday drives with Toro Rosso is the one who kicked this review off. Verstappen is the only one who would miss out on all three criteria: age, years of car racing and points earned in championships. But he’s clearly a rare talent. So who’s right?
Red Bull’s first F1 prodigy and the sport’s youngest ever title winner would have had to wait in the lower formulae for a little while longer if the FIA had these new licence arrangements a few years back. His points scoring race debut at Indy in ‘07 could only have happened if his Formula BMW ADAC title was considered the equivalent of an F4 series win.
So what does all this prove? Well all the drivers named have, and are perfectly entitled to, a superlicence to race in F1 and all have shown their significant ability behind the wheel of F1 machinery to greater or lesser degrees.
One effect of the system is likely to be to concentrate up and coming driving talent in the series listed. Also, it could well lead to a revival of national F3 championships and a widespread adoption of Formula 4 as the first stepping stone to the top.
But what of the speculative inclusion of the “Future FIA Formula 2 Championship”? Are there concrete plans for this and its position ahead of GP2 in the pecking order is likely to ruffle a few feathers. Likewise the position of the US Indycar series behind GP2 and on a par with FIA Formula 3 is likely to divide opinion.