When the announcement that then 16-year-old Max Verstappen was to claim a seat in Formula One for 2015, hit the back pages, a smorgasbord of opinions on the matter were proclaimed. Some analysts stated that his age and lack of experience was a fundamental issue, while other coined the phase, “if he is good enough, he is old enough.” However, such a debate is unlikely to ever happen again, as yesterday, the FIA unveiled a new method of qualifying for the all important super licence and for any young drivers embarking on their journey towards the sport, their task has become significantly harder.
Initial plans to enforce a much more arduous route to a super licence was first highlighted in the World Motorsport Council summit in Doha. Few people would have lamented this particular announcement, on account of the fact that the super licence qualification was all too easy to negotiate – the most challenging aspect of it was organizing a rendezvous point for the car, team and driver so that the simple matter of completing 300 kilometres could be achieved.
However, it seems that many commentators are now holding the view that the pendulum of difficulty has now swung too far and that the terms laid down by the FIA are too restrictive. The new system will see drivers needing to obtain 40 points across a three year period, with varying values being given for different achievements. For instance, winning the Formula Two Championship will equate to 60 points, with both the runner-up and third place finisher in the series earning enough points to make the leap to F1. Meanwhile, the the winner of GP2 will earn 50 points, with the runner-up also obtaining the magic number of 40. Elsewhere, the winners of the WEC and Indy Car Series will both score the aforementioned total.
Even in the event that a driver obtains 40 points, they are still not yet eligible for an F1 seat – a prospective driver also needs to be over the age of 18 and hold a valid Driver’s Licence. In addition, they will need to take a test on the FIA International Sporting Code and current F1 regulations. Being fast on the track is therefore no longer enough.
It seems as though the FIA have attempted to solve the age question with a melting pot of ideas. Unquestionably, their are some veiled advantages to this new policy aside from the obvious targets. Winning a junior formula such as GP2 now has added importance and drivers will have to learn their trade before they are parachuted into the top tier.
However, the points system may also hinder careers. Take Daniil Kvyat for instance – winning the GP3 title as he managed in 2013, is now not enough to obtain a seat in F1, and as the Russian has demonstrated this season, he was ready to make the leap without GP2 experience. Meanwhile, in one of the most surprising aspects of the points system, a Formula Renault 3.5 title is now not enough on its own, with such an accolade only being awarded 30 points.
Under this system, Max Verstappen would not be able to make his F1 debut until 2017 at the earliest, due to the age restriction. In many ways, the FIA have therefore achieved what they set out to complete and I am pleased that they have managed to return the emphasis to junior formula as a proving ground for young talent. Meanwhile, paid drivers will now have to demonstrate their worth in junior categories rather than buy their way to the sport in a manner which was potentially available in the past.
Undoubtedly, these are a restrictive set of rules and the pendulum certainly has swung to the opposite side of the spectrum. However, it is preferable to air on the side of experience rather than unfathomable youth.
Image Credit: "Cursa Formula Renault 3.5 Motorland 2014" By Willtron (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons