How to be an F1 Driver?

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Getting into any sports requires a lot of hard work. Whether it is football, baseball, rugby, cricket, skiing, swimming, you have to start at an early age and develop your skills with the passage of time, if you are hoping to play sports professionally. Getting into Formula 1 is no exception as well. If you look into the beginning eras of the 1950s when Formula 1 entered the scene, not much attention was given to the pedigree of the Formula 1 driver. If the driver was fast on the given day and had a few years of experience under his belt he had a shot for driving an F1 car. There were also cases of private entrants entering the sport just for the fun of it. Not to take anything away from the champions of that time, the sport was more fatal then it is now and it took some serious courage to push the cars of that time to their limit and achieving the best possible result. The trend continued for many years but as the level of competitiveness and professionalism increased so did the way in which drivers were recruited into the Formula 1 team. Nowadays if any driver wants to race in the Formula 1, he should have the FIA super license in order to do so. Today a person has to start from as early as the age of 6 or 7, if he, she or they has the aspiration of entering the sport. There are stages from which they ascend to the level where they are eligible to be a part of the sport and of course they should contain immense talent if they want to attract the attention of teams in the sport. You can take part in several different types of series to be eligible to drive in F1 but for now we will discuss only the open-wheel, single seater racing series. What hoops the young drivers have to jump through to be a part of the F1 driving community are defined below.

Karting Championship

Kart is racing can be seen as the stepping stone for any amateur driver for a future in motorsports. The open-wheel racing cars may not seem fast because let’s face it you wouldn’t want to give a 6 year old kid the luxury to achieve speed of 200 km/h without the supervision of a professional. But they still give a good indication of how fast a young driver is and how committed he is to push the limits of the car. Formula 1 teams are known to screen their future F1 prospects from karting series. There are numerous examples of drivers starting in the karting series before going on to race for F1 teams. It would be difficult to mention all the names of the drivers who have started their racing careers in karting championships so we will be naming a few F1 world champions which would give you the idea that why participating in karting would be beneficial to any aspiring F1 driver. Ayrton Senna, Michael Schumacher, Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg are some famous names who have started their racing careers in karting series. Today the Formula 1 governing body the FIA has affiliated itself with two karting series. One is at the continental level and the other one at world level. Both the series have junior and senior categories. This gives new drivers a roadmap which they would have to follow for getting a chance to race in the most elite motorsports series of them all. The maximum points the driver can achieve by finishing first in the both championships are 3 and 4 respectively. These points will help the driver in accumulating enough number of points required for getting a super license.

Formula 4 Championship

Formula 4 is the first stage of global pathway for drivers of age fifteen years or older. Global pathway can be stated as a road which leads to Formula 1. There are several different Formula 4 series taking place around the globe. For a driver to get points for Super License he should participate in a series that should be at least 5 races long and takes place over 3 different circuits. The basic regulations of all these series are the same. All the teams are provided with the chassis, engines and transmissions manufactured by a single supplier so as to make the series fair for all drivers. With the cars having the same designs and specifications it all comes to the skill of the driver, for him to be able to win the championship and move up the global pathway ladder.

Regional Formula 3 Championship

The second stage of the global pathway, Formula 3 Regional Championship is contested in three different regions in Europe, North America and Asia. The cars are more powerful than those run in Formula 4 championship. In this competition the playing field is also levelled for all the drivers. There is a single chassis design, engine and transmission given to all the teams. The cars are designed and build by an Italian company named Tatuus. The car is made entirely of carbon fire and has a monocoque chassis. The engine has a capacity of 2.0L compared to 1.6 in Formula 4. The only way to differentiate the cars is by the colors of the team livery. The series was started in 2019 after Italian Automobile Club and karting promotor WSK saw their bid accepted to organize the championship. The maximum number of points the driver can achieve for super license in a single season is 18.

Formula 3 Championship

Immediately after the Regional Championship comes the Formula 3 championship. Formerly known as the GP3 series, the sports’ governing body decided to merge it with the formula 3 European championship and formed a new series by the name of Formula 3, which can be abbreviated to F3. Getting somethings straight out of the bat, the rules made in F4 and Regional F3 about using the same engine, chassis, transmissions and tires are also the same here. The difference is that the chassis which is used in F3 is made by Dallara Automobiles. Dallara is famous for providing chassis concepts and designs in several different sporting categories. They also have several years of experience under their belts for providing chassis to Formula 1 teams. Their last known entry in Formula 1 as a chassis supplier was with now defunct Hispania Racing Team HRT. The tires are supplied by Pirelli which is also the sole tire supplier for Formula 2 and the Formula 1 racing teams. The engine is a 3.4L naturally aspirated V6 made by Mecachrome. Formula 3 plays the role of feeder series to Formula 2 formerly known as GP2. The competition becomes serious here as the eyes of the Formula 2 and Formula 1 teams are fixed on the upcoming talents. They are not only interested in how many wins the driver has under his belt, but they also see how much the driver remains calm under pressure. If he is stuck at the end of the starting grid then how can he manage to overtake the cars in front of him and finish as close to the front as possible. Mick Schumacher, son of 7 times F1 world champion Michael Schumacher was promoted to F2 last season after showing strong and spirited performance in F3 championship in 2019. He is predicted to follow his father’s footstep and one day become a F1 race driver for Ferrari, the team with which Michael won 5 driver championships and 6 constructors championships. The champion of F3 can have 30 points added into his F1 supper license requirement.

Formula 2 Championship

Formerly known as the GP2 series, the feeder series of Formula 1, Formula 2 or F2 is the second tier category of single seater racing competition. Most of the current drivers on the Formula 1 grid have come through F2. Currently Formula 1 world champion Lewis Hamilton is also a former F2 champion. Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc was the driver champion in 2017 season. Williams George Russel was the champion after Leclerc in 2018. McLaren’s Lando Norris was the runner up of the 2018 season and RedBull’s Alex Albon finished the season in third place in the same year. All three of them were promoted in 2019 into F1. The most recent entry in F1 from F2 was this season when Williams signed Nicolas Latifi who was also the runner up of the 2019 F2 season. Many Formula 1 teams use F2 as the program for training and promoting young driver who they see as a possible contender for their race seat in the future. All the Formula 1 teams have associations with teams in F2 series and the F2 teams can also be termed as the junior teams of F1 grid. The competition can be very tough here and a single misstep can cause a driver to be overshadowed by others. Many drivers have spent time on F2 and were unable to translate their performance into attaining a race seat in F1. Nicolas Latifi spent 5 years from 2014-2019 in F2 before he was able to secure an F1 race seat with Williams. In comparison Lewis Hamilton won the F2 series in his first go in 2006. Such was his dominance in the 2006 season that he was immediately promoted to the McLaren F1 team in the following year of 2007. The cars in the F2 series also follow the same principal as in F3 and F4 in terms of same engines, chassis tires and transmissions for each team. The engine is 3.4L Turbocharged V6 supplied by Mecachrome. The tires are supplied by Pirelli and are the same compounds as in F1 which are softs, mediums and hards for dry running along with intermediate and full wet tires for the rainy conditions. The chassis supplier is again the same which is Dallara Automobile. The other components of the car like Driver Train, Steering Wheel, Brakes, and Fuel Tanks etc. are also provided by single suppliers who remain impartial to every team so that no team can gain any competitive advantage against others in terms of car performance and only the skill of the driver can help in winning the championship. The winner of the F2 championship is awarded 40 points for his FIA super license.

FIA Super License

As discussed above for a driver to race in Formula 1 he should be eligible to have an FIA super license. FIA International Sporting code has stated the requirements which they driver should meet to qualify for having the license. They are as follows:

  1. The driver must have a minimum age of 18.
  2. He must have an international grade a competition license.
  3. A valid road car license of his native country. He should have a completely clean record and should not have his license suspended, revoked, withdrawn at any stage.
  4. Must pass the FIA theory test which helps the drivers to familiarize themselves with the rules and regulations of the sport.
  5. Participate and complete two seasons for single seater motorsports competition of any category.
  6. Accumulate 40 points over previous three seasons in any combination of championship which the FIA has approved for being awarded with license points.

Other Competitions

Drivers are not obligated to follow the linear approach of FIA global pathway to become a Formula 1 driver. There are other racing series as well which the FIA recognizes as precursor for having super license points and if the driver has competed and gained points in any of these series and his total tally of points reach 40 then he or she is eligible to participate in F1. Some famous and recognizable racing series outside of F1 can also be used as precursor to get sufficient points for obtaining the super license. Few of the famous competitions are stated below.

  • IndyCar series
  • Nascar Championship
  • Super Formula Championship
  • W series
  • Super GT
  • World Series Formula V8 3.5
  • FIA World Endurance Championship LMP1
  • Asian or European Le Mans series.

So it is evident that there are many racing car series which a person can enter to start his journey to become a part of the crown jewel of the motorsports racing. The journey however is very tough, filled with trials and tribulations. Only the best have been able to reach the top of the F1 ladder and among them only few have managed to survive on the top. 

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