With the return of Michael Schumacher comes the talk of the multiple world champion’s age, the German having just turned 41 this year. This news comes on the back of a flurry of young drivers seeing themselves promoted to the sport, most notably Jaime Alguersuari for Scuderia Toro Rosso last season. At the time of his promotion to the race seat, Jaime was just 19 years and 125 days and became the youngest driver to have ever competed in a race. Currently, Alguersuari is the only driver in the field to have been born in the ’90s.
Through the years, Formula One has seen young and old alike compete in the sport, with the oldest driver currently being Louis Chiron who raced around the streets of Monaco in 1955, aged 55 years and 292 days at the time. Chiron even attempted to race again 3 years later at the ’58 Monaco Grand Prix but failed to qualify his Maserati.
As mentioned, Alguersuari became the youngest driver to have raced in the sport last year, beating the previous record set by Mike Thackwell in 1980 by 57 days. Sebastian Vettel set the record for being the youngest driver to drive a Formula One car at a race meeting, completing Friday Practice duties for BMW in 2006. Vettel was just 19 years and 54 days. Sebastian went on to become the youngest points scorer at 19 years and 349 days, before becoming the youngest ever winner in Formula One, surprising everyone at the 2008 Italian Grand Prix with a stunning pole-to-flag victory at just 21 years and 73 days. The oldest race winner is currently Luigi Fagioli who won in France at 53 years and 22 days.
Interestingly, when Kimi Raikkonen first found himself in a Formula One car in 2001, much fuss was made of his inexperience and Peter Sauber had to fight to get his young driver a super license. It was eventually granted and Raikkonen went on to score a point in his first race and six years later, took the 2007 world championship. Alguersuari too danced with controversy in 2009 when Scuderia Toro Rosso wanted to give the young Spaniard a chance, the other drivers being very wary of Jaime and the fact he hadn’t driven a Formula One car around a circuit prior to the first practice session.
At the other end of the spectrum, Alain Prost returned to Formula One in 1993 at took his final championship, aged 38. Michael Schumacher’s most recent crown was achieved at age 35 while Damon Hill was 36 when he won the 1996 Japanese Grand Prix and sealed his championship. Going back in time, Juan Manuel Fangio was 46 when the Argentine took his fifth and final world championship, convincingly defeating Stirling Moss 40pts to 25pts.
With the young comes inexperience and therefore worry among the other drivers. A young driver may be more hot-headed and desperate to prove his worth. Inexperience at controlling a Formula One car and dealing with situations as they arise during a race cause concern for others on the track. Likewise, with age comes the deterioration in reflexes, perhaps even in muscular strength. Rubens Barrichello was one of the first drivers to be seen leaning his head during last year’s Brazilian Grand Prix.
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