Why Are F1 Drivers So Young? (Explained)

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In recent years, the lineup of the Formula 1 grid has evolved, with teams bringing in new, young talent to refresh their driving lineups. With so many of the current drivers being in their early 20s, it can leave many fans wondering why F1 drivers are so young.

F1 drivers are so young as they need to be high-performance athletes who must deal with physical stress brought upon by strong G-forces and high temperatures inside the cockpit. Drivers must also have fast reflexes, high levels of concentration, and be able to perform at their absolute limit.

There are some outliers on the current grid, with Fernando Alonso still racing at the age of 40, and Lewis Hamilton still performing well in his late 30s. In this article we will discuss why F1 is suited to younger drivers, as well as the ways that teams are bringing through new young talent.

How Old Do You Have To Be In F1?

Drivers must be over the age of 18 and hold a regular driving license in order to obtain their Super Licence and compete in F1. The outlier to this rule is Max Verstappen, who joined F1 in 2015, one year before these rules came into effect, when he was only 17 years old.

Drivers must also have spent at least two years gaining single seater experience in the lower Formula divisions. This would also have disallowed Verstappen from entering F1 as he only spent one year racing in Formula 3. 2007 world champion Kimi Raikkonen would also have fallen short of this requirement, having only had 23 races to his name before signing for Sauber in 2001.

What Is The Average Age Of An F1 Driver?

The average age of an F1 driver in the 2022 season is 27 years old, with the youngest being Yuki Tsunoda of AlphaTauri and the oldest being Alpine driver Fernando Alonso at 40 years old. Tsunoda is the first F1 driver to be born in the 2000s – Alonso made his debut the year after Tsunoda was born.

Just six drivers out of the current crop of 20 are over the age of 30, with F1 legends Lewis Hamilton, 37, and Sebastian Vettel, 34, providing their teams with vital experience and know-how. Many the current drivers were also members of the youngest ever grid in F1 history in 2019, when the average age was just over 26 years old.

Over the years, due to increased physical strain that faster, more aerodynamic cars have on the body, the age of F1 drivers has dipped, with the average age of the 1950 grid being a staggering 52 years old. By the 60s that number had decreased to 33 years old, and the benefits of having younger drivers with better reflexes and coordination was realized.

F1 Driver Ages 2022

DriverTeamBirthdayAge At Start Of 2022 Season
Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauri11 May 200021
Lando NorrisMcLaren13 November 199922
Zhou GuanyuAlfa Romeo30 May 199922
Mick SchumacherHaas22 March 199922
Lance StrollAston Martin29 October 199823
George RussellMercedes15 February 199824
Charles LeclercFerrari16 October 199724
Max VerstappenRed Bull30 September 199724
Esteban OconAlpine17 September 199625
Alex AlbonWilliams23 March 199625
Pierre GaslyAlphaTauri7 February 199626
Nicholas LatifiWilliams29 June 199526
Carlos SainzFerrari1 September 199427
Kevin MagnussenHaas5 October 199229
Sergio PerezRed Bull26 January 199032
Valtteri BottasAlfa Romeo28 August 198932
Daniel RicciardoMcLaren1 July 198932
Sebastian VettelAston Martin3 July 198734
Lewis HamiltonMercedes7 January 198537
Fernando AlonsoAlpine29 July 198140

Why Are Formula 1 Drivers So Young?

Formula 1 drivers are so young as they need to be high-performance athletes, with intense training and fitness regimes to keep their bodies in perfect shape. This sort of lifestyle lends itself to younger athletes as they can take on heavier physical workloads with less recovery time.

In elite sport there is what is known as a ‘sweet spot’ age, which often falls between an athlete’s mid 20s to their early 30s. This is the age that the body will use oxygen to its best level of efficiency, allowing for maximum muscle output and recovery. The average age of F1 drivers falls directly in the middle of this sweet spot, meaning we are seeing athletes at the peak of their powers.

Athletes who continue to train hard and maintain their health and physique well into their 30s can slow down the aging process. For example, this is how Lewis Hamilton prioritizes his health and continues to perform at a supreme physical level, even at the age of 37.

Why Do F1 Teams Prefer Younger Drivers?

F1 teams prefer younger drivers because, as well as the reduced recovery time, F1 teams understand younger drivers will generally have a fearless streak in the way they perform on track. We saw this with Lewis Hamilton at just 22 when he won four races in his rookie year.

Max Verstappen is also a great example of a fearless young driver, and while his style has sometimes been described as reckless and over-aggressive, he has been demonstrating maneuvers that many drivers wouldn’t even imagine possible. Younger drivers have far less of a reputation to lose and will want to capitalize on the opportunity that they have been given.

Stability And Commercialization

Signing a young driver onto a long contract offers teams greater stability, and the chance to mold a driver into the style that they want to race. Older drivers will be less likely to want to adapt their style, whereas teams will be able to instill the DNA and image of the team onto younger drivers. This means a team can better set themselves up for long term stability.

This desire for stability has been proven in recent years, with the likes of Max Verstappen being signed to race for Red Bull until 2028. Lando Norris has also signed a long-term contract, keeping him at McLaren until 2025, with a further option to extend the deal. These contracts help to keep fans on board, as the drivers are often the figureheads used for commercial and merchandise campaigns.

Social media presence is becoming more and more important for F1 teams, as it helps with gaining new fans and income streams. This is something that has been taken to greatly by younger drivers such as Lando Norris, who has built up a solid fanbase through online video game streaming. The new generation of drivers are now just as much individual brands as they are team members.

F1 Driver Academies Explained

F1 driver academies are programs set up under the umbrella of F1 teams to nurture the very best driving talent out there. It is a method of scouting out young talent that goes back to the early 2000s but has become more prominent in recent times. Taking on drivers in this manner reduces the chance that young talent will sign to rival teams, effectively giving teams first refusal.

F1’s driving academies have produced a few notable graduates including seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton, who came through the McLaren system, and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc who joined Ferrari’s driving academy back in 2016.

Initial Recruitment

The initial stages of recruitment begin at the karting stage, with scouts from top teams often taking note of the most promising drivers from a very young age. The very best kart drivers will often have multiple teams vying for their signature, leaving them with a big decision to make on what team will offer the best route to the top.

Once a team has taken a driver under their wing, they will invite them to sign a contract at the team’s headquarters, showing them around the premises helping to understand the scale of a Formula 1 team’s operations. Signing to a team will often be the only way a driver can progress through the divisions, as they will be provided extra funding in a very expensive sport.

Entry Into A Championship

Once the driver has signed to a team, they will be entered into a championship to further progress their development. This will likely be entry into either Formula 3 or Formula 2 for drivers further along the line. Teams will continue to monitor drivers and adjust their training regimes in accordance to how they are progressing, exposing drivers to the world of professional racing.

Drivers will also be subject to data analysis and debriefs with the heads of the academies to ensure they are progressing as desired, developing the correct techniques and driving styles required by the team. Races at this level also allow drivers to gain experience on tracks that they hope to race on should they progress through to Formula 1.

Integration Into F1

The main goal of the driver academies is to bring new talent all the way to the pinnacle of single-seater racing, Formula 1. This integration process will start with young drivers spending time in the paddock on race day, talking to established drivers and their teams, as well as spending time walking around the track with the drivers, gaining experience of what an F1 weekend entails.

Academy members will also see what goes on behind the scenes at a racing team, spending time in and around the factory and team headquarters. They will also test their ability on the high-quality racing simulators and get feedback from those above them.

Some potential graduates will be loaned out to other teams as test drivers or back-up drivers in order to gain vital F1 experience as well as further honing their skills. This was the case with Charles Leclerc in 2016, when he spent time as a Haas development driver as well as doing the same job for Ferrari.

Not all academy members will get this far, as the cutthroat nature of F1 means that some drivers will be lost along the way, should teams not see a route through to the big stage for them. There are only 20 cars on the F1 grid, after all, and a lot of potential drivers coming through the academies.

The Benefits Of Driver Academies

Driver academies allow teams to monitor the progress of various drivers from the very bottom level to the top. They give teams the opportunity to nurture talent and make sure they are 100% ready to handle the pressures and dangers of F1. As of 2022, there are seven different driver academies linked to Formula 1, including Mercedes, Red Bull, Sauber, Williams, Ferrari, Alpine and McLaren.

Why Do F1 Drivers Retire So Young?

F1 drivers retire so young because many lack the ability to maintain peak physical performance. Once a driver hits their mid-30s, their body will struggle to keep up with the intense physical strain of both training sessions and actual races, and performance drops lead to drivers retiring.

During a race, drivers will have to deal with huge amounts of G-force, which is a similar sensation of having to lift multiple times your own bodyweight. This stress takes its toll on the body, requiring a good deal of rest and recuperation in order to feel fully recovered for the next race. For younger drivers this process is quicker, as the oxygen flow around their bodies will be at its peak.

Reduction In Cognitive Abilities

Aging also means that a driver’s cognitive abilities will start to decline, meaning their reflexes will become more labored and their coordination will decrease. A reduction in efficiency of cognitive abilities can lead to a driver putting themselves and others in danger, increasing the risks of late braking or an inability to swerve out of trouble.

Humans in general will start to experience a decline in their eyesight once they nudge 40, and this is no exception for highly trained athletes. The development of short sightedness is a common effect that those above 40 will start to experience, which is something that will severely hinder a driver’s performance.

Realization Of The Dangers Of Racing

When you are young, there is an element of fearlessness in the way you live your life, and this is clear to see with F1 drivers. Younger drivers will often drive as though their life depends on it, attempting speculative maneuvers in order to move up a place in the rankings.

Age tends to bring a realization of one’s mortality, and once an F1 driver becomes aware of the risks of driving around a track at 200 mph (320 kph), they will likely approach the track in a more tentative manner. This is something that neither the driver nor their team would want, as it will end up spiraling the car down the leaderboard.

Time For A Change

Most F1 drivers will enter the sport in their early 20s when their lives were completely free of any outside responsibilities, leaving them to focus on their racing. Once a driver approaches their late 30s, they may have a partner and children or even other ventures they want to pursue. With F1 being as lucrative as it is, there may just be no more desire to risk their lives for another paycheck.

Youngest F1 Driver To Win A Race

Max Verstappen is the youngest driver to win an F1 race with his Spanish Grand Prix victory in 2016 when he was just 18. He was also the youngest driver to take part in F1 at age 17. Son of F1 driver Jos Verstappen, Max was destined to drive from an early age, winning his first karting race at 7.

The 2016 Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona was Verstappen’s first race for Red Bull after signing for them mid-season. Verstappen qualified in fourth, but the two Mercedes crashed out and he was able to overtake his teammate for the victory, breaking the record held by Sebastian Vettel. Max Verstappen had won five races by the time he reached the previous youngest race winning age.

The Youngest F1 World Champion

Vettel holds the record of being the youngest driver to win a world championship, doing so at the age of 23 in 2010. Vettel would go on to win the next three world championships, until he was finally beaten by Lewis Hamilton in 2014. Hamilton had set the record of being the youngest world champion in 2008, just 166 days older than Vettel was when he broke the record.

Oldest F1 Driver To Win A Race

The oldest driver to ever win a Formula 1 race was Luigi Fagioli, who won the French Grand Prix in 1951 at the age of 53. Incidentally, the win was the Italian’s one and only Grand Prix victory, which also made him the only driver born in the 19th century to win a Formula 1 race.

Fagioli’s 1951 victory was shared with his teammate Juan Manuel Fangio, the first Grand Prix victory to ever be shared by two drivers. The race began with Fangio in the lead, until his car developed mechanical issues around the midway point of the race, causing him to make two pit stops in two laps in order to try and resolve the issue.

Fagioli’s car was running smoothly, and when he came into the pit lane for a routine stop, he was ordered out of the car by his team to be replaced by the stricken Fangio. Fagioli didn’t take this well, as he saw himself as an experienced driver rather than an understudy. Reluctantly, Fagioli complied with his team’s decision and swapped cars with Fangio, who went on to finish in first place.

Fagioli finished the race in Fangio’s failing car, coming in nine laps adrift of the leaders. Leaving him with the bizarre accreditation of being awarded a Grand Prix victory despite finishing the race in last place. Fagioli’s relationship with his Alfa Romeo team never recovered.

The French Grand Prix of 1951 was Fagioli’s last, retiring from F1 shortly after the race. This wasn’t Fagioli’s last involvement in motorsport, as he continued to race sports cars, up until a crash in Monaco that caused his death in 1952 at the age of 54.

Oldest Driver To Win An F1 Championship

Juan Manuel Fangio would go on to become the oldest Formula 1 world champion in 1957, at 46 years of age. Fangio is considered by many as one of the greatest F1 drivers to ever grace the track, holding the highest win percentage in F1 at 46.15%. The Argentine’s record of 5 world championships wouldn’t be broken until 2003 when Michael Schumacher was crowned world champion for the sixth time.

In his 1957 World Championship winning season, Fangio produced one of the most awe-inspiring races at the Nürburgring circuit in Germany. Despite a disastrous pit stop, Fangio went on to ace the last stage of the GP, closing the 50 second gap between him and first and second place, taking the lead on the penultimate lap, winning the Grand Prix by three seconds to seal the championship title.

Final Thoughts

F1 drivers are so young due to the intense physical demands of the sport and the need to be nearly brave while driving to compete with the best. With household names such as Alonso and Hamilton towards the end of their careers, the average age in F1 may get even younger in coming years.