In the pad­dock: Adam Cooper

The next batch of hot shots grad­u­ate to F1 in 2019 – but they must make all the right moves to fol­low in the foot­steps of Ver­stap­pen rather than Van­doorne



In 2019 the fo­cus will be on a new gen­er­a­tion of For­mula 1 driv­ers, and not only be­cause we have four rook­ies in For­mula 2 grad­u­ates Ge­orge Rus­sell, Lando Nor­ris, Alexan­der Al­bon and An­to­nio Giov­inazzi. We will also watch as Charles Le­clerc and Pierre Gasly – with just 21 and 26 grand prix starts re­spec­tively – are pro­moted to teams that are chal­leng­ing for race wins and world cham­pi­onships.

How they all progress will be one of the main talk­ing points of the sea­son, es­pe­cially as his­tory sug­gests that things won’t nec­es­sar­ily go to plan. Just take a look at Stof­fel Van­doorne, who ar­rived at Mclaren in 2017 with the world at his feet, and is now try­ing to re­build his ca­reer in For­mula E.

Con­sider too Daniil Kvyat, who fell from grace after be­ing fast-tracked to Red Bull in sim­i­lar cir­cum­stances to Gasly. The Rus­sian has un­ex­pect­edly been granted yet an­other life­line with Toro Rosso this sea­son, and as such he presents an­other in­trigu­ing 2019 case study.

So why does it some­times go wrong for young driv­ers?

And what can they and their teams do to avoid the pit­falls?

Ev­ery­one is dif­fer­ent. So what worked for Max Ver­stap­pen, pro­pelled into F1 at 17 and with just a sea­son of car rac­ing be­hind him, may not work for oth­ers with dif­fer­ent per­son­al­i­ties and back sto­ries. And even the mer­cu­rial Dutch­man has faced some dif­fi­cult times. But there are some les­sons that can be ap­plied across the board.

“We all must not for­get that cur­rently in F1, if you look to the young driv­ers, we are a lit­tle bit like a kinder­garten,”says Toro Rosso boss Franz Tost.“the guys are not as ma­ture as we knew in F1 10 or 20 years ago. They come into F1 at 18 or 19, they did in the past noth­ing else but kart­ing or rac­ing in the ju­nior for­mu­las, and F1 is an­other level.”

Tost be­lieves that it’s his re­spon­si­bil­ity to keep his charges on the cor­rect path:“for young driv­ers there are so many chal­lenges com­ing from all the dif­fer­ent sides, and if they are not really guided in a very good way, then it’s dif­fi­cult.”

Sauber team prin­ci­pal Fred Vasseur has worked with dozens of young driv­ers at ART Grand Prix in the lower cat­e­gories, in­clud­ing Van­doorne and Lewis Hamil­ton.

And last year he over­saw Le­clerc’s bril­liant rookie sea­son.

“It’s very psy­cho­log­i­cal, and you are al­ways on the edge,” says Vasseur of the chal­lenges faced.“it’s a strong com­pe­ti­tion, and I think when ev­ery­thing is go­ing in the right di­rec­tion it’s quite easy to man­age and have a good spi­ral. When it’s go­ing in the other di­rec­tion… With Stof­fel at Mclaren they were in a tough sit­u­a­tion, and when you are in a tough sit­u­a­tion it’s much more dif­fi­cult for a young driver.”

In­trigu­ingly, Vasseur be­lieves that suc­cess comes not so much from keep­ing that pres­sure off driv­ers but from help­ing them to man­age it.“no, we have to keep them un­der pres­sure,”he as­serts.“pres­sure is the essence of the busi­ness, and they will have pres­sure. When you have young driv­ers com­plain­ing about pres­sure it’s a joke, be­cause the more you win the more you will have. And I can imag­ine it’s much more dif­fi­cult for Hamil­ton and Vet­tel to man­age the pres­sure than for the back of the grid. You have to speak to them, to try to un­der­stand what is their feel­ing, are they strug­gling about some­thing? But not to pro­tect them from the pres­sure, be­cause at one stage they are alone in the car, and un­der pres­sure they will have to de­liver.”

Le­clerc is man­aged by Ni­co­las Todt, who pre­vi­ously mas­ter­minded the ca­reers of Felipe Massa and Jules

Bianchi. Last year Todt added Kvyat to his stable, and so plays a key role in the Toro Rosso driver’s re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion process, pro­vid­ing sup­port that was miss­ing be­fore.

“Of course you can suc­ceed in mo­tor rac­ing with­out hav­ing a man­ager – you have many good ex­am­ples,”says Todt.“but I think that when you are well ad­vised, when you have a good un­der­stand­ing, it helps. Be­ing badly ad­vised can be very costly. When you ar­rive in an en­vi­ron­ment where you don’t know any­body, it’s good to know who is who, to avoid mak­ing mis­takes that you can make when you are very young.”

The bot­tom line is that pre­dict­ing who will sink or swim when it really mat­ters re­mains some­thing of a black art. And that makes this year’s bumper rookie crop all the more in­trigu­ing.

“If you have two driv­ers, and one driver has been beat­ing the other, peo­ple draw con­clu­sions,”says Todt.“but ev­ery year is a new year. You have some driv­ers that go slower than an­other one in the lower cat­e­gories, and they ar­rive in F1 and they are faster than them. You have many fac­tors to take into ac­count. At the end of the day we’re talk­ing about hu­man be­ings.”

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