The teenagers are coming


Those of us who recognise that we are getting older have also observed that everyone else appears to be getting younger. I recently consulted a doctor who, clearly aware of my surprise at his tender years, reassured me by saying: “Don’t worry, I have finished my training and I am a qualified doctor!”

I had never doubted that but I am constantly aware that, to stay ahead of the game, I need to be on my toes.

A youthful Jenson Button during his rookie season with Williams

Jenson Button is feeling the same way, it seems. At the ripe old age of 33 JB has been talking about what many of us have also been talking about. I refer of course to the arrival of Russian teenagers in Grand Prix racing next year. Before we go on, let’s not forget that Jenson was only just 20 when he signed for Williams back in 2000…

“I’m surprised that Toro Rosso have put someone as young as Daniil Kvyat [he is 19 years old] in the car for next season,” says Jenson. “F1 is more competitive than ever so it’s make or break for the kid. Maybe they should have waited until he was 21 and more ready for the drive. When I started I wasn’t ready but I had to take the opportunity, and so does Daniil, because it may never come round again.” Sounds to me like Russian roulette.

Aside from that, many of us reckoned that Antonio Felix da Costa was the best man for the Toro Rosso seat. But that was just based on the old fashioned record of his impressive race results. Now, as we all know, Russian money opens a great many doors.

Daniil Kvyat, who will replace Daniel Ricciardo at Toro Rosso in 2014

Then there is Sergey Sirotkin, (18 years old and also from Russia), who has been signed by Sauber which, by its own admission, needs the money. A great many of us assumed that either Kevin Magnussen or Stoffel Vandoorne would get this drive, again based on good old fashioned results and obvious talent.

“He knows how to drive a racing car,” observes Jenson, “but it’s not a question of driving around on your own, it’s about racing with 21 experienced drivers, and his fitness, his engineering capabilities. When I started I had no idea how to set up an F1 car and next year is possibly the most difficult year to come in and learn.” Ross Brawn (who will be 59 this month) agrees, saying that experienced hands are needed next season in terms of management and engineering. Brawn implies that teenagers, however wealthy, may not be the perfect way to go with the drivers.

So, what are we to learn from any of this? Well, nothing much is new in this world. Think back and you remember that Jaime Alguesari, Mike Thackwell, Ricardo Rodríguez, Fernando Alonso, Esteban Tuero and Chris Amon were all teenagers when they came to F1. And the man who has just won his fourth consecutive World Championship won his first Grand Prix at 21, and is still just 26 years old.

Mike Thackwell, who made his first F1 start for Tyrrell in 1980, age 19

What the more senior citizens among us already knew is that teenagers always thought they ruled the world, and now they are beginning to do so. What we didn’t know, when we were starting out, is that money would become as precious, if not more so, than talent. I am mindful of the words of one of my heroes, the writer PJ O’Rourke, who observes that age and guile beat youth, innocence and a bad haircut any day.

Keep looking in your mirrors JB, stay on your toes. The teenagers are coming, bad haircuts and all.

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