Monday, 12 January 2015

2016 Super License Rules - Good Idea, Poor Execution

Formula 1 drivers have been getting younger and younger year on year. Alonso became the youngest Formula 1 champion in 2005. Hamilton claimed the record in 2008. before Sebastian Vettel's 2010 championship claimed the still standing record at the age of just 23. Jaime Alguersuari currently holds the record for youngest ever driver to start a Grand Prix, doing so at the age of just 19 years old. That record will be broken in 2015 though, when Max Verstappen starts the Australian Grand Prix for Toro Rosso. He turned 17 years old September last year.

Max Verstappen has already completed a number of tests in a Fornula 1 car, including Friday Practice in Japan



The decision by Toro Rosso to promote Verstappen, who has only completed 1 season racing cars, has sparked the FIA into taking action and they have updated the rules required to gain a F1 super license in 2016. The new rules state that all drivers must:



  • Be 18 years of age at the start of their first Grand Prix weekend,
  • Hold a valid driving license,
  • Pass a test on the International Sporting Code and F1 Sporting Regulations,
  • Complete at least 2 full seasons in junior racing series, &
  • Accrue 40 points over 3 seasons of racing in other motorsport series.

  • The table brought with it news of the FIA reviving the F2 Championship, and priority in the points system with it.

    The rules as stated within the bullet points make an awful lot of sense in solving what they set out to resolve, in stopping drivers reaching Formula 1 too quickly in their career. The problem in the FIA's execution of these rules is in their distribution of the points. For a number of years, the preferred route to Formula 1 has seen Formula Renault 3.5 on a similar pegging as the FIA GP2 series. Below that, F3 has fed drivers into GP3 and claimed drivers from the Formula Renault EuroCup. The FIA haven't acknowledged that though.

    Carlos Sainz Jnr's domination of Formula Renault 3.5 in 2014 always made him likely for Formula 1 graduation

    Being the FIA, they have chosen to heavily promote their own series at the expense of all other routes into Formula 1. Looking at the points table, I will start at the very top - the "Future FIA F2 Championship". A series that no-one knew was being brought back into the line-up will score the most amount of points for a driver hoping to be on the grid in 2016. Finishing anywhere in the top 3 at the end of the season will instantly give you the points required, and anywhere else sees you rewarded heavily for your efforts. Stefano Domenicali was made president of the FIA single seater commission at the start of December, and has now stated that this F2 championship will be his main focus.

    It was believed that Stefano Domenicali may spearhead a possible Formula 1 entry for Audi

    The theory behind the previous FIA F2 championship was brilliant in comparison to other routes up the motorsport ladder, in that a driver paid entry into the season but was not associated with any team. Instead, the cars and pit crew were supplied for each race and shared, meaning that the overall champion was undisputed. The entry cost for those drivers was significantly reduced for those drivers too, and it had all of the ingredients needed to be a top series. But it wasn't given the chance. I watched a lot of races in it's final 2012 season, and a lot of names within GP3 and other higher series will be recognisable to those who watched it as well. So what went wrong?

    Jolyon Palmer racing at the 2010 Formula 2 Brands Hatch event

    As has been seen so often in junior series, driver interest dropped. The values of equality that the series set out to achieve were actually the downfall with drivers wanting to ensure that they were racing for the best team on the grid. There was also the fact that other series at the same level were introducing upgrades as the development of the car allowed. The real issue though was that in creating the equality, they removed the team element. The series ended a year short of it's 5 year tenure with MSV (who operated the championship) vowing to return with a more conventional team run operation.

    Luciano Bacheta won the last Formula 2 championship in 2012. He finished 2014 racing in the LMP2 class of the European Le Mans series

    Presuming the series aims for the same motorsport ladder rung, it is a lot of points for a championship aiming for fresh drivers. It isn't the only series which isn't rewarded as many points for its standing, as the FIA have taken the opportunity to promote their own series. That means that GP2 and GP3 do well against other series at a similar level, and the F3 European championship gets a substantially large amount of points compared to series even supposedly higher in that career ladder. All of this is clear indication of which FIA series they feel could do with an injection of talent racing for the championships.

    Despite regularly providing exciting action and promoting young talent, the future of the series has been doubted with many national F3 championships struggling

    Renault has already contacted the FIA in the hope of opening talks to discuss the points allocated to the championships in their own "World Series by Renault" events. Formula Renault 3.5 was seen as being on a par with GP2, but has been allocated less points than even the F3 championship and on an equal system as the GP3 series instead. Formula Renault also suffers, with only the top 3 earning points at all. Being over a 3 year period, it won't stop entries completely but could certainly affect numbers if drivers haven't earnt a large points haul so far in their careers. It seems wrong to me that a driver earns 35 points as champion of both Formula Renault Eurocup and then Formula Renault 3.5, but 4th in European Formula 3 followed by 3rd in GP2 would give you exactly the 40 needed. In this scenario, the scheme fails to promote the driver who has shown the most potential and therefore fails at achieving what is intended of those rules.

    Formula Renault 3.5 had a particularly strong driver line-up in 2013, with the likes of Antonio Felix Da Costa, Kevin Magnussen and Stoffel Vandoorne fighting for the championship

    Finally, there are the omissions from the list entirely. Indycar and theLMP1 class of the World Endurance Championship are included, but DTM (which promoted Paul Di Resta to a Formula 1 drive) and Formula E are not. Antonio Felix Da Costa will be most affected by that, racing in both series and once being heavily linked with the Toro Rosso drive given instead to Daniil Kvyat. Despite not placing very well last season in DTM, being in a series that does no favours to him in gaining a super license will now probably end the slim chance he did have of one day making it into Formula 1. Leaving Formula E off the list does make sense however, given that the FIA want to see it become the future of Formula 1 (or at least on a level standing), and not lose all of it's drivers. The line-up so far has seen some top class drivers in the series and it would be good to see them all continue to develop both themselves and the championship to the top of motorsport.

    Formula E has divided opinion so far, but the foundations certainly seem strong given enough time to iron out the issues

    So will the new system work? For me, not in it's current state. The rules need to made more flexible and the FIA need to relax on some of their self promotion in order to allow talent to develop naturally. The real issue though is that Formula 1 teams will now find it difficult to gamble on young talent, no matter how great they seem from an early age. I started this post mentioning drivers getting younger and younger on the Formula 1 grid, and I understand why the FIA may want to stop that from being the case. It does the job in stopping future Max Verstappen wannabe's from joining the field, but who else would have missed out on Formula 1? The list of drivers missing from Formula 1 certainly outweighs those that make it under the new rules.

    Both would have been denied a super license under the current rules, but it's fair to say they found success in Formula 1...

    Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher would both have been denied super licenses prior to their debuts. Schumacher in fact would have also been denied his new super license when he returned to Mercedes in 2010, even after claiming 7 world drivers titles. Vettel, Button, Raikkonen and Alonso would also all have failed to make their debuts, despite going on to win world championships themselves. Lewis Hamilton would have qualified thanks to winning the 2006 GP2 championship, the same applies to Nico Rosberg, Nico Hulkenberg and interestingly Pastor Maldonado. It was believed that the rules would eliminate the chance for pay drivers simply to buy a drive, and yet for all of his investment value to a team, it is regularly forgotten that he initially had the credentials to be a class Formula 1 driver. Since 2010, the following drivers would all have missed out:

    • Marcus Ericsson
    • Will Stevens
    • Giedo Van der Garde
    • Max Chilton
    • Jean-Eric Vergne
    • Charles Pic
    • Paul Di Resta
    • Daniel Ricciardo
    • Jerome D'Ambrosio
    • Narain Karthikeyan
    • Karun Chandhok

    Although some of those were either fleeting  visits to the paddock or quickly forgotten, some of the names also strike as being a large injustice. The main one is of course Daniel Ricciardo, the only driver to win a race whilst not driving a Mercedes in 2014 and now the lead driver at the Red Bull Racing team.

    The new rules might have been the only thing to remove Ricciardo's perma-smile

    I really hope that the FIA allows sense to prevail once in a while and will be lenient in it's upholding of some of the new rules. If not though, it will clearly have to go down as another case for the FIA where a good idea has been poorly executed.