Young, Free and Stifled

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This month, we reflect on the career of Chris Amon, a man habitually recalled as one of motor racing’s natural greats, even though not one of his 96 World Championship Grand Prix starts yielded a victory.

At a time when Formula One drives are ever harder to come by, it is remarkable to recall that Amon got his first World Championship opportunity when he was still a teenager. It happened because he was perceived to be talented; today, it would more likely have happened if he was perceived to be wealthy, or a dead-cert mine of publicity…

Perhaps Amon was dragged into Formula One too soon, but at least the openings were there.

As a New Year dawns, is modern Formula One really showing signs of recessions from the dull conservatism which marked the 1980s and much of the early ’90s? Stewart GP is giving Jan Magnussen his chance; Jordan is looking to Ralf Schumacher, Ligier to Shinji Nakano; Giancarlo Fisichella will likely drive something after a frustrating partseason with Minardi.

The truth, however, is that commercial convenience continues to hold sway. There is still no room in Formula One, it seems, for reigning F3000 champions, the very men who emerge from the FlA’s self-appointed training ground.

Formula One requires a healthy blend of youth and experience, and at the moment the balance simply isn’t right.

We will never again enter an era where youngsters can drift into Formula One as easily as Amon once did, but it would be nice to think that the FIA could devise a means of giving them a helping hand.

The oft-discussed concept of teams entering third cars at selected Grands Prix might open a few doors, so long as it isn’t at the expense of smaller outfits’ qualification prospects. Imagine the British F3 series leader being allocated a Williams at Silverstone, or their Italian counterpart getting a Benetton to use at Monza. It would add interest and, yes, a little expense, but it offers commercial possibilities, and it requires some thought. S A