It's Ok To Drive Outside Of F1
Allowing drivers the freedom to drive outside of F1 will only benefit everyone. Here's why.
First, to understand why some drivers are struggling in new teams we need to understand where they have come from and the beginnings of their career. In a driver's junior career swapping vehicles is the norm. It’s not uncommon for drivers to race different vehicles each week, or even in the same weekend. Even if only minute, each vehicle will have nuances specific to it, and understanding these is often crucial to extracting the last 1% of performance from the vehicle. Frequent swapping early on gives an opportunity for a driver to really fine-tune their skills and know what works in certain scenarios. When a driver reaches F1 this crisscrossing through different categories usually grinds to a halt, as the drivers are usually not permitted the freedom to do so in their contracts. Below I’m going to take a good look at the benefits of drivers racing multiple vehicles and some examples of what happens when they aren’t allowed to do this.
Graham Hill after winning the Monaco Grand Prix.
Why Is It Important?
When a driver is starting out many take the opportunity to drive in as many different series as possible. The idea is that they will be able to make themselves a more well-rounded driver and able to confidently take up opportunities in any vehicle. Whilst it is possible to research skills and learn how to drive a vehicle without actually driving it, many like to be able to physically learn on the actual vehicle. Different series also provide a number of different working environments, further testing a driver's operating systems (if they choose to have them) outside of the vehicle. Overwhelmingly things tend to be the same in almost any garage, but different people can provide slightly different dynamics for drivers to work in. All of this exposure is part of what allows some drivers to develop their special edge. The wider variety of skills they have, the easier it is for them to drop into any team or any car and perform immediately. We see many examples of young drivers coming into F1 and setting the world alight straight away. This makes sense as they are sometimes fresh off racing in a number of different categories, then are given the ultimate playground to show off their skills.
If a driver is good enough they will be continually welcomed back by their team year after year. Whilst this is a great feeling there are some downsides that come with this, the biggest being that chance to hone and develop a wide variety of skills. F1 teams rightly take every possible precaution to protect their star assets. This usually means they are barred from competing in other series and even from certain ‘high risk’ training activities. These limitations decrease and/or eliminate the opportunity for drivers to hone their wide array of skills, as they are instead stuck in one car. In the process, their skills become entwined to that particular vehicle and much less adaptable. Long term this can be of huge detriment to a driver's ultimate skillset and ability to broaden their horizons or continue after F1. The F1 schedule now is much more jam-packed than years ago, thus making frequent cross-overs more of a logistical challenge. Whilst difficult, it is not impossible to coordinate frequent appearances of F1 drivers in other series such as IndyCar, IMSA, WEC, or DTM. Having this happen more frequently would benefit everyone as the other series would appreciate the extra exposure a high-profile F1 driver brings. F1 would also benefit as the drivers would be given extra opportunity to hone their skills, with some of what they learn ale to be transferred back to their F1 car.
Daniel Ricciardo from the McLaren F1 team.
Example Of Who It Is Currently Affecting
Recently, especially this year we have seen drivers who change teams struggle in their new car. This can be due to a number of factors to do with the car, or the environment in which they are working. In 2021 we have seen a number of high-profile struggles, but none more significant than Daniel Ricciardo. Whilst it is the easy option to blame the driver there is more to it than many realise. Daniel Ricciardo is a prime example of a driver who has suffered from being involved in a limited number of different vehicles, something that actually started in his junior career. From 2007-2011 Ricciardo drove in some form of Formula Renault from the 2.0 car to the V8 powered 3.5 car. These categories feature very similar chassis with much of the difference coming from the aero package and the engine. This means that both cars require a very similar, if not the same driving style. With no less than five seasons in this chassis, Ricciardo’s driving would have developed to be fine-tuned to that particular car, which allowed him to develop into a very competitive Formula Renault driver. The 2009-2016 generation of F1 cars also had a similar driving style to the Renaults that he had spent the majority of his career in.
After arriving in F1 he quickly progressed through HRT and Toro Rosso onwards to Red Bull Racing. From 2014 he then spent five seasons with them, meaning that his driving skills would again become highly developed towards a particular car. This brings us to his last couple of years, where he has taken a while to get up to speed in his new environments at Renault and recently McLaren. For the first time since earlier in his career, Ricciardo has had the experience of jumping between different cars in a short space of time. The lack of this happening throughout his career is probably what is hurting him the most in his quest for results at McLaren. Since the very start, Ricciardo has had the luxury of having what many drivers dream of, a stable platform to really showcase their potential. The downside to this though is what we a currently witnessing with him at McLaren. This singular involvement in F1 isn’t Ricciardo’s doing though, he actually negotiated with Porsche a deal to do LeMans in 2015, which was promptly shut down by Red Bull. That seat ended up going to fellow F1 driver Nico Hulkenberg, who ultimately won the race. I’m sure that this decision from them only a year into his time at the Red Bull team would have kept him from asking to do such activities in the future. So it is not through a lack of wanting, but more the strict limitations put in place by Red Bull that have prevented him from broadening his horizons.
F1 2022 concept car.
What Can We Do To Fix In The Future?
As far as the future is concerned we should really look to the past to learn about what worked during the last time this was commonly taking place. In the 1950s and 1960s it wasn’t uncommon to see drivers involved in a few different series. Throughout the height of Fangio’s impressive title run, he usually ran in 2-3 different types of cars, including Formula 1. Whilst we now only have stats to go from, the stats would say that this diversity definitely helped him on his run of three consecutive championships. This run was also completed with no less than three different teams (Daimler Benz, Ferrari & Maserati) from 1955-1957. In an era with more open regulations, the cars also would have had more chance to be vastly different from one another than they are today, meaning larger adjustments to how they are best driven.
Going forwards teams should learn from this and allow drivers more freedom to test and hone their skills in series outside of Formula 1, should the drivers want to. Whilst motorsport is always going to have an element of danger and risk, it is now a very safe environment in most major series around the world. This means that now more than ever teams should have no qualms about allowing drivers to occasionally participate in races outside of F1. To ensure that drivers are not representing conflicting sponsors F1 teams could even look at the possibility of running cars in other series, like Alpha Tauri in DTM or IndyCar’s Andretti in the Australian Supercars series and Chip Ganassi in WEC’s GT classes. With the F1 budget cap coming into effect some teams may now have some extra cash leftover which would be wisely spent on driver development ventures such as this. Like many things politics and ego sometimes get the better of people which clouds their thoughts and blocks the bigger picture of what opportunities like this could do for them.