At the beginning of Formula One in the 1950’s, it was not unusual to see drivers 50 years old and over. In the last decade, though, we were used to having the records for youngest driver to achieve some feat tumble. The record for youngest World Champion stayed with Michael Schumacher for over ten years, but then successively was beaten by Alonso, Hamilton and Vettel in just 5 years. The youth experience culminated with Jaime Alguersuari, who became the youngest driver ever to start a race.
Since then, the direction seems to have been reversed. Two years later, Alguersuari is still the youngest driver on the grid, with only Sergio Pérez coming even near him. The other new drivers of the last seasons are more in or over their mid-twenties. Even the drivers who have the best chances of coming into F1 next season are in that same age range.
On the other side of the age range, we see Schumacher (age 42), Barrichello (39), Trulli (37) or Webber (35) who are confirmed or at least hopeful (in Rubens’ case) for the 2012 season. While there is an argument for a 7-times World Champion who has shown he still knows how to race, what about the others?
Mark Webber had his shot at the title in 2010, but seems unable to recover from the miss. As Alguersuari put it, if he was so consistently beaten by his team mate, he wouldn’t be driving F1 any more. For some reason Webber keeps his seat at the best team of the moment, and anyone who follows the sport knows it can be just because he is a nice guy (which I think he is) or for his deep friendship with Sebastian Vettel.
Jarno Trulli’s persistence as a F1 driver is another mystery. He has been regularly beaten by his team mates in the last 10 years. He had a reputation for qualifying, but has been beaten by Kovalainen most of the time. He was impossible to overtake, hence the expression ‘Trulli train’, but hasn’t shown any of that even in his late Toyota years. He certainly doesn’t bring great amounts of sponsorship money and keeps
whining complaining about his car, do is probably not a morale booster for the team. I can only guess he knows something embarrassing about Tony Fernandes or Mike Gascoyne.
Rubens Barrichello is the one whose drive is still uncertain. Unlike 2010 when he could outrace his rookie team mate Hulk, Pastor Maldonado is giving him lots of trouble, plus brings a lot of money his team needs. Now that Williams will be using a Renault engine next season, the French supplier might want to place one the drivers they have under contract at their new customer, in exchange for a rebate.
Alonso, Massa, Button, Liuzzi, even Kovalainen and Glock will be 30 or more when the 2012 season starts (in fact Glock will be celebrating his B-Day on race day in Melbourne). So yes, there is a tendency for F1 drivers to be older than a few years ago. It is also more difficult for new drivers to emerge from the feeder series and find durable employment in the top series, ask Hülkenberg, Di Grassi, Chandhok or even Senna.
The main reason is that experience is needed more than ever, since teams can not conduct tests during the season and have to rely on their drivers information from practice, quali and race to improve their car. We can only hope the loosening of the testing ban will give some teams the courage to try a younger driver, not for money but also for simple talent.