Teenage F1 stars: Will Jaime be one?

21 07 2009

It is now old news that teenager Jaime Alguersuari this weekend is set to become the youngest ever driver to compete in an F1 race at the age of 19 years and 125 day. He is not the youngest ever driver of an F1 car, that honour belongs to Nico Rosberg who drove a Williams-BMW F1 for 38 laps at sweet seventeen. He is also not the youngest driver to participate in an F1 weekend, Sebastian Vettel when he drove in the Friday practice for the 2006 Turkish Grand Prix was just 19 years and 53 days. Currently the youngest driver to start in an F1 is New Zealander Mike Thackwell at 19 years and 182 days at the 1980 Canadian Grand Prix.

Other drivers who have driven in F1 when they were less than twenty include Ricardo Rodriguez (19 years, 208 days) at the 1961 Italian Grand Prix, Fernando Alonso (19 years, 218 days) at the 2001 Australian Grand Prix, Esteban Tuero (19 years, 320 days) at the 1998 Australian Grand Prix, Chris Amon (19 years, 324 days) at the 1963 Belgian Grand Prix and Sebastian Vettel (19 years, 349 days) at the 2007 United States Grand Prix. Jenson Button started his F1 career at a relatively old 20 years and 53 days at the 2000 Australian Grand Prix.

For some starting so early was clearly not the right decision. Mike Thackwell in his first race was involved in an accident on the very first lap and the race was stopped as a consequence. Since he was not in a situation to restart the race he in the eyes of F1 regulations had not started the race. In this case Mexican Ricardo Rodriguez would be the youngest F1 driver to start a race. Sadly Mike Thackwell only attempted five F1 races and only qualified to start in two.

Argentinian Esteban Tuero’s career although stretching a full season was not much more successful. His entry was controversial since he did not fully qualify for a FIA super-licence. The F1 driver Martin Brundle said

As for Tuero, it would have been scary. I don’t like to see these guys out there with so little experience. Imagine it: even if he didn’t qualify, he’d be getting in the way during qualifying. And if he did qualify, then he’d definitely be being lapped plenty. He’d have really needed to have his wits about him. To be honest, it annoys me, people like that, with zilch credibility.

Nevertheless he was allowed to enter and qualified second last in his début race and during the season only made the top ten once at Imola. In the last race of the season (Japanese) he had an accident injuring a vertebra in his neck. He retired from F1 citing personal issues which probably reflected the extent of the injury to his neck.

Ricardo Rodriguez qualified second in his first F1 race driving a Ferrari. During the race he battled for the lead with the likes of Phil Hill and Richie Ginther, but a fuel pump failure sidelined his incredible F1 début. Ferrari did not give him a seat every race that year, but when they did he produced the results taking second at the Pau Grand Prix, fourth at the Belgian Grand Prix and sixth at the German Grand Prix. In the same year he also won the legendary Targa Florio. Ferrari elected not to enter the non-Championship 1962 Mexican Grand Prix so Ricardo signed to drive Rob Walker’s Lotus, but was tragically killed on the first day of practice. In his short career of six F1 starts no other teenage F1 driver has been more successful.

In contrast Fernando Alonso did not score any points in his first F1 season driving for Minardi, but in his first race he out-qualified teammate Tarso Marques by 2.6 seconds. In his fourth start he out-qualified both of the Benettons, he also repeated this achievement latter in the season. In his final race of that year he finished eleventh beating Heinz-Harald Frentzen in the Prost-Ferrari, Olivier Panis in the BAR-Honda, both Arrows and team mate Alex Yoong. In his career he became, at the time, the youngest F1 driver to start from pole (2003 Malaysian Grand Prix) to win a race (2003 Hungarian Grand Prix) and become World championship (2005) which he repeated in the next season.

Chris Amon is considered to be one of the unluckiest of all F1 drivers that survived their racing careers. He did not even get to start his first F1 race he entered. His experienced teammate Maurice Trintignant had problems with his Climax V8 powered Lola and so took over Amon’s car to race. The Lola proved unreliable, and he just missed points with seventh position in the French and German Grand Prix. Despite a long career and close to 100 starts Chris never won an F1 championship race. Mario Andretti once joked of Amon that

if he became an undertaker, people would stop dying

Sebastian Vettel started his first F1 race after qualifying seventh in the BMW Sauber for the 2007 USA Grand Prix replacing the injured Robert Kubica. In the race he finished eighth and in the points. He went onto to beat both Fernando’s records for youngest pole-sitter and F1 winner at Monza 2008. He also is the youngest F1 driver to win a Grand Prix in two consecutive teams. Judging by this season he could even become the youngest-ever world champion which is currently held by Lewis Hamilton. The other record Sebastian has is for the quickest driver to receive a penalty fine ($1000) just nine seconds into his career for pitlane speeding.

So what is in store for young Jaime? Unlike Ricardo or even Sebastian he is not starting in a competitive car, let alone one that can win a race. In the last few races the Toro Rosso have been the slowest team and indeed Bourdais, who he replaces qualified last in the last the Grand Prix. Consequently neither the team nor Jaime are setting very high targets. To make matters worse this season there has been a ban on mid-season track testing. The only glimmer of hope is that there is a significant up-grade to the car for the forthcoming race which includes the introduction of a double rear diffuser.

While I trust that Jaime’s F1 career will start more successful that some of the other teenagers, most people are predicting it to be fairly anonymous. Indeed James Allen goes further to say…

F1 is so competitive now that young drivers have little choice but to take the offer when it comes. Sometimes drivers are ready, like Vettel or Jenson Button or Kimi Raikkonen. This one doesn’t seem ready to me, but I look forward to being proved wrong.

Few will expect Jaime to qualify anything other than last and it will be a good start if he can just keep the car on the track and finish his first Grand Prix. Given his racing history, no experience of an F1 car and an uncompetitive team the learning curve is going to be steep. One can only hope his character is as big as the sponsorships that promoted him to an F1 career so rapidly. Good Luck Jaime you are going to need a lot to survive your first F1 season.




4 responses

22 07 2009

Excellent stuff Rich, you have done some extensive background reading for this and it shows in the quality of your writing. Keep up the good work. PS how do I subscribe?

22 07 2009
Steven Roy

Nice article Rich. I look forward to reading your blog.

22 07 2009

Nice blog! The only thing I would point out is that my countryman Mike Thackwell morphs into Mark Thackwell halfway down 😉

22 07 2009

Hi Amy – well spotted – have corrected the morphing – if only Mike had been as successful as Mark is currently.

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