Formula 1

F1 superlicence review should not be a matter of age

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Changes could be on the way for the minimum requirements any driver must meet to obtain a 'superlicence', the document all F1 drivers must have in order to race.

This comes after the governing body, the FIA, announced it will review the current standards that all drivers must meet.

The move was largely driven after Red Bull promoted now 16-year-old Max Verstappen to replace Jean-Eric Vergne at Toro Rosso in 2015 after just one year in single-seater racing.

Current requirements

There are a number of ways a racing driver can obtain the superlicence, the champions of most lower categories are eligible such as GP2, GP3, F3, Formula Renault 3.5 etc. as well as those racing at the front of the most common feeder series such as GP2 and FR3.5.

Also in America the top four drivers from the IndyCar series are also eligible for the superlicence, this means leading American racers can bypass having to race in a FIA-affiliated championship.

Back door

Currently, however, there is an increasing number of drivers using a back door method which entails a driver completing 300km, a full race distance, in a recent Formula 1 car. It is then up to the governing body to decide if that driver has completed the distance fast enough to race in F1.

Usually these drivers are considered the 'pay' drivers in the sport who have the backing for a seat and often win out over more talented drivers.

It is also the approach Caterham are currently using in order to give Roberto Merhi his F1 debut as a quirk in the regulations means he is currently illegible despite winning the European Formula 3 championship in 2011.

Verstappen effect

However, as mentioned, the biggest reason for the review seems to be the appointment of Max Verstappen at Toro Rosso next year at the age of just 16.

While the Dutch teenager will be 17 come the Australian Grand Prix next March, questions remain over, after just one year in single-seater racing, he is ready and can cope with the challenge of jumping straight to Formula 1.

Last week, he completed the obligatory 300km of testing in a 2012 car in Italy and it is believed he impressed those at Red Bull during that run and is now scheduled to make his race weekend debut with a series of Friday morning practice sessions towards the end of the season.

Just about age?

For me, however, the requirements to obtain the superlicence should not be influenced by how old a driver is.

The average age of drivers has been coming down quite sharply in recent years, indeed only five of the current 22 drivers are over the age of 30, six if you include Andre Lotterer who raced at Spa.

Instead I believe it should be purely on talent and ability, after all drivers like Sergio Perez, Kevin Magnussen and Daniil Kvyat, all of whom were born in the 1990's, continue to show they have the right to race in F1 and indeed show much greater potential than some of the older drivers around them.

Posing a risk

If I was to make changes to the current requirements for a superlicence, I would focus more on whether a driver poses a risk in any on-track scenario.

During the Monza weekend we saw a perfect example of a driver who could be considered quick enough for F1, but does pose a risk to those around him.

Sergio Canamasas was involved in three separate incidents in one race, the most dangerous was when he 'PlayStation-ed' across the Ascari gravel trap re-entering the track just ahead of another driver and his lack of speed caused the entire field to bunch up behind and cause a huge crash along the straight to Parabolica.

That incident along with his other incidents can be seen in the video below (apologies for the strongly worded title).

Another such driver currently in F1 is Pastor Maldonado, here is a Grand Prix winner yet has a reputation as one of the most unpredictable men on the grid, indeed not only has he been involved in several incidents with other drivers but has simply driven off the track twice while adjusting his steering wheel, crashing in the process at Spa.

Therefore alongside the speed run, I would also include a simulator test again over a full race distance with scenarios programmed in to test wheel-to-wheel ability and reactions to certain situations.

Have the speed?

I would also implement stricter rules with the 300km track test. During a Skype debate I held last week some suggested increasing that distance to test endurance, however, I disagree as the need to complete 500km in one day in a F1 car is only saved for the absolute best of testing days but I would impose a qualifying style 107% rule.

This means the tests would have to take place at a current Grand Prix circuit, however, by doing so the FIA can take the average time of one of the drivers who raced in the same car, on the same track, over the same distance and if the driver looking to achieve his superlicence doesn't come within that 107% boundary he would fail.

Stepping up

I would make this test a requirement for all drivers including champions even at GP2 level to ensure the quality of those racing in the pinnacle of Motorsport is as high as possible and also to proper prepare those making the step up to F1.

The 22 seats at the top should be reserved for the best drivers in the world and, regardless of age, I believe a stricter, more thorough test to obtain the necessary superlicence really would help bolster the profile of those drivers and offer a much more competitive playing field for all the fans to enjoy.

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