Ferrari harnessing F1 wisdom
Ferrari recognises Kimi Raikkonen's experience
There is a worthy movement taking place in some developing nations for people of a certain age to be re-employed or to be able to work beyond the normal retiring age.
The upsides of that are the experience they bring to any job and the valuable level-headedness that filters down to the younger employees.
With the memories of my “significant” birthday parties now so far away in the rear view mirror as to be compared to the view from the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton to the distant McLaren car of Jenson Button, I think that concept is a good idea.
And so does the Ferrari Formula 1 team.
Ferrari driver Kimi Raikkonen has been rehired for at least the 2016 Formula 1 season and that signing has a profound knock-on effect all along pit lane with young Ferrari “wannabes” scrambling for a decent race seat.
Kimi Raikkonen,left, was recently voted ‘‘F1’s Most Popular Driver’’. Seen here before the Belgium Grand Prix earlier this month with Lewis Hamilton. Picture / AP
Raikkonen, recently voted “F1’s Most Popular Driver”, is now 35 — he will be 36 on October 17 this year — so at what age should a race driver decide to gracefully retire?
The simple answer is to do it when he is no longer fast enough or the results are not good enough compared with his teammate.
But compared with teammate Sebastian Vettel, that would then make Raikkonen well past his sell-by date.
The comparisons of performance between the two do not reflect well on Raikkonen.
The average age of the Formula 1 drivers on the grid this year is about 27 but not not long ago the average was almost 29 and in the mid 1990s it was 30.
In the 1950s the average age was above 40. The great Juan Manuel Fangio won his last drivers’ championship title at 46 and his last race at age 47.
It was not unusual for the better drivers to continue into their late 40s or even 50s.
Juan Manuel Fangio, left, and Stirling Moss, both of whom drove for Mercedes. Picture/Supplied.
The cars were more physical in those hairy-chested, driving-in-shirt-sleeves-with-a-pair-of-goggles-and-cork-helmet days.
Hugely physical in terms of muscling those lumbering great machines around but certainly not as demanding mentally, especially when combined with the intense aerobic pressures of driving modern F1 cars.
The cars developed from cockpits in the 1950s that were tractor-like perches astride the transmission to those of the 1960s and 1970s that felt, in New Zealand driver Kenny Smith’s words, like “comfy old armchairs”.
Now the car designers restrict the cockpit size more and more and that in turn meant that the driver had to have a body more becoming a jockey.
Bulk in the case of a Formula 1 driver is not a good thing and that combined with another tendency for the mind to slow, just a little, with each passing year, does not normally make for a faster racing driver as the years roll on.
The best years tend to be behind a Formula 1 driver of the modern era once the mid-30s have been reached.There are exceptions: Michael Schumacher’s last podium appearance was at age 43.
Few intense international sports pitch 17-year-olds, such as Torro Rosso driver Max Verstappen, against 35-year-olds.
The trend that sees the average age of a Formula 1 grid slowly reducing is a continuing one.
A well-chosen younger driver, with the right credentials, can be tied to multi-year contracts and is cheap to hire.
Such drivers offer a longer return on investment, are naturally smaller so they fit the cars better, tend to be braver on track (sometimes with dire consequences), they may become champions one day and, importantly, are very fast on track.
You can give a young fast driver experience but you cannot give an experienced driver speed.