Columns - The Youth of Today
BY NICK GARTON
Choosing motor racing is admittedly somewhat removed from Ewan McGregor's junkie in the movie Trainspotting, but in order to avoid a normal life hitting the racetrack is a popular choice amongst the youth of today.
The thing is, however, that looking for stars is an unnecessary distraction to F1 bosses because right from David Bruce-Brown, the teenage American who stunned the Grand Prix world in Edwardian days, there's been a flow of fast, brave, gifted young men that has outnumbered every chassis in the top flight by a ratio of 100 to one. As a result the hard luck stories outnumber the heroes by an exponential number.
Just look at Michael Schumacher for instance. For all his renowned talent-spotting abilities, Eddie Jordan would never in a million years have put the little-known youth with the mullet hairdo and unfortunate wardrobe in his car had he had actually known a thing about him.
All Eddie wanted was someone who knew Spa to peddle his car round whilst Bertrand Gachot was in jail but what he got - unintentionally - was a driver who'd only been round the circuit on a pushbike. How was Eddie to know that?
"I was surprised that other people didn't see him," EJ reflected a decade after Michael's spellbinding debut. "But the experience of ten years in Formula 1 is that you have to concentrate so much on what is happening around you that the peripheral view is very often not as great as you would like it to be."
Quite so, which must be both disheartening and a source of renewed hope in equal measure for the legions of aspiring drivers around the world, for the simple fact is that the teams don't really have the first idea about what is going on.
Just to emphasize the point, Ron Dennis has recently passed judgement on that long-held passion of his, junior motor racing. Ron has joined the rush for youth after all, taking a leap of faith to sign, erm, Kimi Raikkonen who sits fully three points behind 1997 world champion Jacques Villeneuve in this year's title race. Risky, eh?
"There are now three categories that are primary feeder categories - F3000, the F3 championships, and now Formula Renault," pronounced Ron. "I think some of the smaller categories like Formula Ford have tended to fade in regards to being significant indicators, and that's where they need to be if they expect to be seen and ultimately selected."
Ron's theory presumably came about because Raikkonen was himself, a mere twelve month before, a Formula Renault driverÉ although before that he made his mark in, erm, Formula Ford.
Lack of knowledge is not F1's fault of course. When the supply of youth and bravery exceeds demand by such a gigantic percentage, the mandarins can simply go about the business of making the next few million without needing to look for the next Nuvolari. You could tell Jean Todt that Felipe Massa was grown in a flowerpot from a sachet marked 'Brazilianus Quickus' and he'd believe you.
Eddie Jordan will attest to that I'm sure, for just three years before he was duped into taking on Michael Schumacher, Jordan and his partner Fred Rodgers turned up at the offices of another renowned talent spotter, the late Ken Tyrrell, to offer the services of a lad by the name of Alesi. Four days later he finished fourth in the French Grand Prix.
Days when new caused as much excitement as Alesi and Schumacher were however few until names like Heidfeld, Button, Raikkonen, Alonso, Massa, Webber, Wilson, Enge, Courtney and Sato arrived on the lips and spotting the next big thing became all the rage.
The truth is that there'll be perhaps one world champion among them, if they're lucky, and that statistics tell us most of them won't even win a race. They may simply suffer bad luck, they may be injured, they may be psyched-out, they may run out of cash, they may be in the wrong team or they may be in the right team but at the wrong time.
For all this, though, the hard part is over when you hit F1. If any driver were to turn round at the end of their first season and say 'I've got a Ferrari and a couple of mill in the bank, I'm going to live off the interest on my yacht thank you very much,' he would still be a winner by anyone's definition.
In the meantime, though they don't grow on trees and don't go near Formula Renault or Formula 3000 if they can help it, young drivers they represent the biggest bang to the buck in motor racing for the likes of you and I, dear reader.