Max Verstappen has just been recruited by the subgroup of F1's largest team, still at the age of 16. To date, he's going to be the youngest ever Formula 1 driver, but for how long? And what does it mean for other drivers trying to get in F1?
Max Verstappen's recent draft into the league of Grand Prix drivers caused some havoc among the followers of the continental circus, primarily because of his age. Critics question his ability and experience to race with the 'big boys' for one reason or another, but truth has to be told: the same things have been told over and over each time an ever-younger driver stepped into the world of the pinnacle of motorsports.
The real question is: what happens to the ladder a driver is usually mandated to take all the way to the top?
Since the world of Grand Prix racing has gone highly professional and advancing technologically, it requires adapting and and purpose-driven drivers - racing trained and educated. Sure, the path of training and education evolved over the decades, but learning it the hard way through minor-league racing has always been an indispensable part of it all.
For one, simulation technology has come a long way and with parents of appropriate funds, racing drivers can be bred from day one, and thus potentially be talent-spotted from the very early phases of their racing career, jumping quite a few steps on the ladder.
Thus, if drivers getting into F1 based on pure talent and driving credits at such an early age is becoming a trend, what happens to the usual stepping stones?
Turns out, the business of racing could go through a major overhaul. The majority of lower-category open-wheel series positioned themselves as crucial stepping stones into the world of F1. Karting, F4, F4, FFord, FRenault, FA1, AutoGP, GP3, GP2 and the rest of them kept being alive because of one purpose only: being a school for the F1 competition. Very few people get into F1, many of rest go to lesser-known sportscar series, jumping ship, many of them just quit at the end of the day, but these series have never been intended to be final destinations for anyone trying to make a career.
What will happen to them when circumventing the steps becomes a standard? What will their marketing department say why they exist and function in the first place? It is hard as it is already to validate their existence, and jumping from the baby pram to the F1 cockpit doesn't help their situation either.
The sad truth is, these series will start to function as 'also-ran' championships for people who never quite made it, just like IndyCar did eventually and sadly. The racing might be great and fantastic, but there will be little or no option to go any higher - which doesn't mean they will have reached a pinnacle position. Some of the lower categories will run out of business - fortunately, as there is an over-saturation of open-wheel racing in Europe -, but higher level ones will adopt a sort of 'F1-driving experience for cash' attitude as some of them partially already do.
As far as F1 is concerned, there will be three categories of drivers present. The drafted raw talents, the paying gentleman drivers and a very narrow group of people with enough money and enough talent to balance their way in.
Brightest future ever? Probably not, but one possible outcome.
What's your take on a teenage boy getting a contract in F1?
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