The FIA’s new rules for granting superliences to Formula One drivers would have prevented ten drivers from making their grand prix debuts in the last five seasons.
Among them are Daniel Ricciardo, who made his debut in 2011 and scored his first three race victories last year.
Paul di Resta would also have been barred from making his F1 debut with Force India during the same season.
The new rules awards drivers points towards their superlicence based on how well they perform in different junior categories. They must accumulate at least 40 points in the three-year period before they can receive a superlicence and compete in F1.
Under the new regulations, which come into force in 2016, the following drivers would not have been allowed to race in F1 in the year they made their debuts:
Giedo van der Garde – Accumulates 24 points in his previous three years in GP2, peaking with fifth in 2011.
Max Chilton – Fourth in GP2 in 2012 for 20 points, but earns nothing from previous two seasons.
Jean-Eric Vergne – In the previous three years he was British Formula Three champion, Formula Renault 2.0 runner-up and Formula Renault 2.0 Eurocup runner-up, but that is only valued at 33 points.
Charles Pic – Highs of fourth in GP2 and third in Formula Renault 3.5 leave him on 37 points.
Paul di Resta – As DTM performances are not awarded points, Di Resta’s title win and runner-up placing are worth exactly nothing.
Daniel Ricciardo – Whether he’d made his debut in 2011 with HRT, or waited until 2012 with Toro Rosso, Ricciardo would have fallen slightly short of the required 40 points, despite his strong Formula Renault 3.5 performances and British F3 crown.
Jerome D’Ambrosio – Just three points for his ninth place in GP2 in 2009.
Karun Chandhok – Tenth in GP2 in 2008 gives him only two points.
The ones who only just made it
The most well-qualified driver to come into Formula One during that time, according to the FIA, was Nico Hulkenberg. His GP2 and European F3 title wins would have contributed to a haul of 110 points.
Others would have only made it in by the skin of their teeth. Kevin Magnussen’s Formula Renault 3.5 title, seventh place the year before and second place in British F3 would have given him exactly the 40 points he needed.
Daniil Kvyat would have counted points from five different championships to get on the grid last year. His GP3 crown is worth 30, but a handful of high-placed finishes in different Formula Renault 2.0 categories scrape him over the threshold.
However of the three drivers due to make their debuts this year Max Verstappen would be ineligible to compete having earned only 20 points from coming third in European Formula Three. Of course, he would also be excluded for failing to meet the new minimum age limit of 18.
Toro Rosso would need an entire new line-up as his team mate Carlos Sainz Jnr would also not have enough points, despite winning the Formula Renault 3.5 championship last year. A lack of success in the previous two years would hold him back.
Sauber’s Felipe Nasr is the only one of the three new drivers in the field this year to meet the criteria, having amassed 52 points in three years of GP2.
No comeback for Schumacher?
The new superlicence regulations also make life more difficult for drivers making comebacks following a spell out of the sport. In order to automatically qualify for a superlicence they must have started at least five F1 races in the previous year, or at least 15 races in the previous three years.
This would not have prevented Kimi Raikkonen’s return in 2012 as he competed in the 2009 championship. But other drivers who returned to F1 in the last five years would not have made the cut.
Among them is Michael Schumacher, who returned after a four-year break in 2010. The same year Sakon Yamamoto would not have been allowed to make his return as he had only started seven races as recently as 2007.
And Narain Karthikeyan’s 2011 return would also have been blocked as he had not raced an F1 car since 2005.
The constant changes to the many other formulae through which drivers pass to reach Formula One make it hard to quantify which of the most experienced drivers might have been unable to qualify to race under the present rules. But it’s striking how many of the most successful drivers did not have much of this kind of experience and success when they made their F1 debuts.
Jenson Button, for example, had placed third in British Formula Three (now worth five points) and won the British Formula Ford Championship when he got his Williams drive in 2000. And Raikkonen famously had very little experience when he arrived the following year having just won the British Formula Renault 2.0 title.
The potential for teams to take a punt on a promising young driver may therefore be diminished by these new regulations, and we could increasingly see them place these drivers in junior categories instead.
The rules therefore look like having far-reaching consequences. It is no longer sufficient for drivers merely to be present in lower formulae to get a chance to race in F1 – they need to be successful too. And pick the categories the FIA regards most highly.
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