Formula 1

Max Verstappen's record forever intact as F1 changes licence rules

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F1 rookie Max Verstappen will forever hold the record as the sport's youngest driver following new licence guidelines revealed by the FIA.

The 17-year-old has already made three Friday practice appearances towards the end of 2014 ahead of his full race weekend debut for Toro Rosso at the season opening Australian Grand Prix next March but his arrival came with plenty of controversy.

With only one year of single seater experience, albeit an impressive season in F3, and easily breaking the record for the youngest driver to ever participate in an official F1 session, most were concerned over the jump straight to the pinnacle was too steep and whether he might be a danger to other drivers.

Raw but exciting

As it was he had three relatively clean sessions in Japan, Austin and Brazil catching the eye of everyone and is considered one of Red Bull's most exciting prospects, hence his rapid rise to the top.

But while Verstappen may turn out to be no more of a risk to himself and those around him as any other driver on the grid, there is still concern at how age and experience was not becoming a factor in who a team decides to put into their car.

Previous cases

When Jenson Button was brought in at Williams as a 20-year-old in 2000 the decision to hire him was seen as a remarkable risk though of course he would impress in his first year and at 29 be crowned world champion.

Then, as Toro Rosso became more and more of a feeder team for young Red Bull drivers, Jaime Alguersuari was brought up at the age of 19 in 2009 followed by now Red Bull driver Daniil Kvyat who made his F1 début at the same age this year.

On all occasions the concerns were mostly unfounded, but now the governing body has moved in to ensure the chances of a possible major incident because of a lack of experience are reduced.

New requirements

From 2016 all F1 drivers must be at least 18 years old, have a normal everyday driving licence and have competed in single seater racing for at least two years.

Also, whereas in previous years front running drivers from a number of lower formulas were eligible for the necessary superlicence, those series will now be based on a points system with greater success rewarded by a greater number of points.

This is in addition to the 300 kilometres any driver must complete in an old F1 car in a representative time and also a new test will be devised to ensure all drivers have sufficient knowledge of the sporting regulations.

One main issue remains

On paper the new requirements for the superlicence appear to have most bases covered, the need for single seater experience and the points system for lower categories mean the pool of talent is narrowed as it would be most likely GP2/ GP3 and Formula Renault 3.5 drivers that would meet all the necessary criteria.

It also should prevent a repeat of the farcical affair we saw with Caterham during the second half of the season with a seat seemingly up for grabs to the highest bidder.

At the same time, however, I do think there still needs to be a system where talented drivers should be able to jump up the ladder perhaps quicker than those who have big bank balances.

Even in series like GP2 a driver with more money can likely afford a seat at one of the front running teams therefore meaning they have a greater chance of accumulating the points needed to make it to F1.

Talent must be allowed to shine

I also think there needs to be the opportunity for a team to at least offer a talented driver the chance to show what they could do in an F1 car even if they didn't meet all the requirements for a licence, the simulator could be one area a driver could showcase their ability and a return of the young driver test too that was scrapped for this year.

If a driver beat a performance requirement he could then be eligible for a temporary superlicence to participate in a Friday practice session and if he or she continues to show the pace worthy of F1 but may not still meet all the minimum requirements then a waiver be introduced to allow that driver to be promoted should the team choose to.

I wrote about this earlier in the year and my opinion still holds that if you can prove you are worthy of an F1 seat then your path should be made easier, these new requirements on the whole seem to make that more the case but it still may not deter the power of bank balances over raw talent to make it to the top of motor sport.

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