Andy & LJH continue their look at how today’s drivers got their break in F1.
Yesterday we looked at how to get in F1 by paying for a drive, getting in with an engine builder, and battling your way through the junior categories. Here are three more ways of making your way to Formula 1.
4. Be the son of a famous father
This has worked for no fewer than three of the drivers on the current F1 grid. This is not to say that they are without talent, but neither should we underestimate the potency of the right name and contacts.
Most controversial is Nelson Angelo Piquet, whose world championship-winning papa had possibly the most direct influence on his son’s career, compared to the other two drivers. The Piquet Sports team was set up to give Nelsinho a platform to race in F3 and GP2 and Piquet pere’s cash has oiled the racing wheels from grid to chequered flag.
Piquet fils has displayed driving talent – he was the youngest ever British F3 champion in 2004 and came second behind Lewis Hamilton in the 2006 GP2 battle. But it is arguable whether he could have got as far as F1 without such influential backing. And now he’s there, his father cannot influence the fall-out from his seriously underwhelming debut season. Rumours persist he will be given the boot and replaced by Lucas di Grassi in 2009.
Nico Rosberg, son of Keke, drives for his dad’s old team and the affection of the hard-bitten Patrick Head and Frank Williams for both father and son is palpable. While Nico has driven for Rosberg Sports, this outfit had extensive interests outside open-wheel racing and was more of a vehicle for Keke to get a tin-top drive than a free pass for his son’s ambitions.
Unlike Piquet Jr, Nico moved on to a new team before winning the inaugural GP2 championship in 2005 and he also reportedly holds the highest score ever recorded on Williams’ engineering aptitude test. He clearly has the talent to run in F1 – but would he have had the chance to prove it without his family history?
Kazuki Nakajima is the son of Satoru, a notable Japanese driver – although he’s been careful to avoid his father’s Honda team to dispel the impression of nepotism. And his presence in the Toyota-powered Williams may have less to do with his parentage than his nationality, given that manufacturer’s desire to make the sport it pours money into more relevant to its home audience.
Waiting in the wings is Bruno Senna, nephew of Ayrton. To be fair, the story goes that his family banned him from karting to prevent history repeating itself. But a name that marketable is just crying out to be sitting in a single-seater in a sponsorship-bedecked set of overalls. And friend-of-the-family Gerhard Berger has a team, Toro Rosso, with a vacancy, although talk of their obvious fit cooled at about the same time young Senna’s GP2 charge faltered.
One last tip for the future. Keep your eye on A1GP’s Team USA, which has just been taken over by Andretti Green Racing. Rumour has it that the point of this exercise is to initiate two of co-owner Michael Andretti’s American drivers – his son Marco and media star Danica Patrick – into the dark arts of non-oval racing as the Indy Racing League changes the balance of its schedule towards road courses. But other voices suggest this will also be the vehicle for launching the eponymous, talented but also extremely entitled third-generation racer Marco in the family F1 footsteps.
Mario Andretti, the 1978 F1 world champion, is a legend of world motor sport, while his son Michael unsuccessfully partnered Senna at McLaren. However, don’t expect Ron Dennis to snap up Marco any time soon. The youngster has developed a tendency to knock team-mates out of races – and has publicly accused McLaren of sabotaging his father’s car in order to create an excuse to sack him in favour of Mika Hakkinen.
We say F1 needs him like a hole in the head – but the experience of the Rosberg, Piquet, and Nakajima families suggests we may get the chance to find out anyway.
Read more about these drivers
Read about other children of F1 drivers who made their way into motor racing: F1’s famous names return
5. Hold the right passport
Nationality is rarely the sole qualification for achieving a race drive but, like having a famous dad, it’s assisted a whole host of racers in their careers. Sometimes the commercial or promotional opportunity of having a certain driver contracted to a particular team is just too good to resist.
Or sometimes people are simply on the same wavelength. For instance, Spain’s Fernando Alonso – the son of a mechanic with no dynastic helping-hand to rely on – was initially talent-spotted by countryman, team owner and retired F1 driver Adrian Campos. It was this opportunity that brought him onto Flavio Briatore’s radar, and his rise was assured.
Elsewhere in Europe, Jarno Trulli and Giancarlo Fisichella both got their breaks from Italian team boss Giancarlo Minardi and went on to work for Briatore at Renault. And Lewis Hamilton creates synergy and wows British fans at McLaren, a team that also has a fine record of collaboration with Finnish drivers.
Further afield, Mark Webber opened negotiations with Eddie Jordan about joining Formula One after two heavy crashes in the 1999 24 Hours of Le Mans. But it wasn’t long before fellow Aussie Paul Stoddart, then an Arrows sponsor, came across him and got him a go in the bright orange car – and the rest, as they say, is beautiful Minardi legend.
But the winners in the national stakes must be the Japanese. After all, Honda has bent over backwards (to put it nicely) for Sato, going so far as to set up a customer team expressly for a driver who doesn’t always inspire the utmost confidence behind the wheel. And the desire of Honda and Toyota to see Japanese drivers on the grid has assisted a whole host of individuals (cough, Yuji Ide, cough) who might otherwise never have made it.
Finally, the almost mystical aura that Michael Schumacher has brought to being German is currently benefiting no less than five F1 drivers racing under that country’s flag.
When the Munich-based BMW joined forces with Sauber it was clearly looking to recruit fellow-countrymen, which kept Nick Heidfeld’s bum on a race seat. Timo Glock got his original shot at Jordan because of the personal sponsorship from rich German businesses that accompanied him. Sebastian Vettel got his first chance to impress with BMW. And Adrian Sutil is a graduate of A1 Team Germany and was talent-spotted by Colin Kolles.
But sometimes everything can be trumped by the driver who finds himself perfectly placed to benefit from another’s disaster, proving it always helps to…
6. Be in the right place at the right time
Vettel’s rise from obscure tester to next big thing was built on the misfortunes of two other drivers in the 2007 season. First BMW’s Robert Kubica suffered a dreadful crash in Canada and – unlike most drivers in this era of high safety standards – was unable to take part in the next race. Vettel subbed for him and became the youngest driver to score a point. When Scott Speed exited abruptly from Toro Rosso later in the season the young German was the obvious candidate to head-hunt as a replacement. Subsequent events have proved Vettel’s talent beyond doubt – but many drivers wait an entire career without having one stroke of luck like that, let alone two in one season.
And then there’s David Coulthard. As an up-and-coming youngster he had a knack for self-promotion. Not only was he the winner of the inaugural BRDC Young Drivers’ Award in 1989 but he also notched up a victory at Macau in 1991, in the days when that could get you into F1.
However, Coulthard also benefited from a gruesome opportunity to secure his first F1 drive that no-one could ever have deliberately sought. He was the Williams tester at the point when Senna was killed – and found himself in the race car for the remainder of the season as a result of the tragedy.
Granted, he had to take turns with Nigel Mansell at first. But Senna’s death was the breakthrough in a career that saw him drive for a championship-winning team and rack up more points than any other British driver.
Don’t get us wrong – we’re not blaming DC for the way things turned out – just pointing out that luck sure does play a part, and not always in the inspirational fashion that the red-tops and the daytime telly shows would have you believing in.
Read more about these drivers
Join us tomorrow for the final four ways to get into F1.
This is a guest article by Andy & LJB If you want to write a guest article for F1 Fanatic you can find all the information you need here.