Bob McMurray: Young, gifted and vulnerable
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Just one round and three races into the 2018 Castrol Toyota Racing Series (TRS) and already a band of drivers is showing incredible speed and racecraft.
Judging by previous seasons, these young men are destined for bright futures in the sport.
Whether they all make it to the top level — and by that I mean Formula 1 — is, frankly, doubtful. Whether one or two get to their personal “holy grail” is more than likely.
The fashion for Formula 1 teams seems to be to scoop up promising drivers while they are school kids, with all their fire, enthusiasm and bravado intact, and plunge them into the big league before any other team can get its hands on them.
Four times and current world champion Lewis Hamilton is testament to that, famously groomed by McLaren from a young age.
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen is another, slotted into that team before he seemed old enough to shave.
But what of the emerging drivers who did not set the world alight in a cockpit?
A look at the history of the Red Bull young driver programme highlights many names who were once considered to be the “next big thing” but who have faded away, often due to bad timing and below-average teams and cars.
The only driver I can think of who has bucked that trend is Brendon Hartley, who fell foul of the system but managed to reverse the trend. The situation has been brought into focus recently with the troubles of Daniil Kvyat.
He competed in the TRS in 2011 and was always fast but often ragged in his driving. From being that “next big thing” he fell from grace when his speed seemed to falter.
Despite Red Bull cutting Kvyat from its roster, he is a good driver and has found a berth as a “development driver” with Scuderia Ferrari.
However, that position doesn’t normally lead back to the F1 grid.
Pascal Wehrlein is another young driver seemingly teetering on the brink of the abyss of Formula 1 oblivion even though he was touted recently by Mercedes F1 boss Toto Wolff as “definitely deserving a place in Formula 1”.
Has his chance, his moment in time, evaporated due to the vagaries of being in the wrong teams at the wrong times?
His team-mate in the Mercedes young driver programme, Esteban Ocon, is still on the ladder, making a big impact with the Force India team.
Lando Norris, winner of the TRS just two short years ago, is now a member of the McLaren Young Driver Development Programme and he is one, among many thousands, who trust that the good times will return for that team so his personal star will be able to shine.
The route to success in Formula 1 requires more than just talent. All the drivers on the grid are talented. Nor is it only about speed. All the drivers have speed.
It is about keeping the momentum of youth going and being in the right place at the right time.
These young drivers in the 2018 TRS season are definitely in the right place. They have amazing speed, they have prodigious talent, but they must keep the momentum going or that conveyor belt will keep rolling without them.
This weekend sees the second round of the TRS 2018 season at Teretonga Park, Invercargill, and those Kiwi and international drivers will renew their intense battle.
That battle will not finish on the track. Instead, it will be fought out in the world of “management” and “politics” together with a huge helping of “right place, right time”.