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
“SUCCESS IS NOT SO MUCH ABOUT KEEPING PRESSURE OFF DRIVERS BUT HELPING THEM TO MANAGE IT”
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.”