Features - News Feature

NOVEMBER 1, 1991

The rising stars of tomorrow


Formula 1 is a consumer society. Everyone involved from drivers to engineers, team managers to mechanics, motor home hospitality to journalists has to deliver.

Formula 1 is a consumer society. Everyone involved from drivers to engineers, team managers to mechanics, motor home hospitality to journalists has to deliver.

F1 prides itself on having the best people and if they do not perform in this high-pressure environment, they do survive for long.

There is no shortage of people who believe that they could do a better job and, each year, there are new people, knocking on the door of F1, wanting a place in the glamorous world of F1. What they find is a place where one has to work hard to survive.

The F1 circus, collectively, has a very short memory: you are only as good as your last result. Last year's sensation is just that -- last year's news. The pressure is on drivers to perform. Unless they are quickly able to establish themselves they are passed over because a new generation is arriving. It is not always a fair system and a little luck is essential, but second chances are rare.

Every young single-seater racing driver dreams of becoming one of the 35 or so F1.

Times have changed. Back in the 1960s when F1 was infintely more dangerous, young drivers had more chances to graduate: others were killed and injured. The turnover of drivers was higher. Today, thankfully, things are much safer.

For a young driver, therefore, breaking into F1 is ever more difficult. The big teams will not very often take the risk of hiring a young driver who needs time to learn about the sport -- it is costly business repairing damaged cars. The top teams are looking for fast, reliable and experienced drivers. They recruit from within the F1 driver circle, leaving the smaller teams to hire the new boys. Youngsters must, therefore, grasp at every chance they are offered and make the most of the equipment available.

Once a driver is established and experienced -- a known quantity -- they tend nowadays to stay in Grand Prix racing for a long time.

A youngster who does not show potential is quickly replaced.

In recent seasons there has been a large influx of new talent -- these are the men who will shape the form of F1 in the 1990s, but outside F1 there are still plenty of young drivers struggling to make it to the top.

Almost all of the new drivers entering F1 come from the International Formula 3000 championship, long-acknowledged as being the training ground for F1 talent.

The 3-litre cars are fast enough to give drivers the chance to get used to speeds close to those F1.

If you look back over the history of F3000 you see that most of the frontrunners ended up in F1 and all the F3000 champions have become Grand Prix drivers: Christian Danner, Ivan Capelli, Stefano Modena, Roberto Moreno, Jean Alesi and Erik Comas.

If you look at F3000 in 1991, you can see two drivers who are presently dominating the action: young Christian Fittipaldi from Brazil and Italian Alessandro Zanardi.

Fittipaldi is barely out of his teens. The son of former Grand Prix driver Wilson Fittipaldi and nephew of double World Champion Emerson Fittipaldi, he was bought up with racing all around him. His progress has been remarkable. He spent a year with the famous West Surrey Racing team in the British F3 series and then moved straight into F3000 with Pacific. He is both fast and consistent and has all the makings of becoming a fine F1 driver.

Zanardi is similarly talented. A fine kart racer, his path to F3000 has been through the Italian national F3 series. Like Johnny Herbert before him, he won his first F3000 race and is currently fighting for the title with Fittipaldi.

But Fittipaldi and Zanardi are just the tip of the iceberg of talent, Italy has several other youngsters hoping to break through: Marco Apicella has been competing in F3000 for several seasons and has tested for several F1 teams, while Andrea Montermini spends much of his time when he is not racing F3000 testing for the Ferrari team. In addition Antonio Tamburini, Fabrizio Giovanardi and Vincenzo Sospiri have all shown talent.

France has a number of young stars in F3000 including the highly-rated Laurent Aiello and former French F3 champions Jean-Marc Gounon and Eric Helary.

Great Britain too has several drivers who are tipped for future success. Scotsman Allan McNish is perhaps the best known. McNish finished fourth in last year's F3000 title in his first year and has been recruited by McLaren as a test driver.

Another Briton who is currently testing for an F1 team is Damon Hill (son of double World Champion the late Graham Hill) who is involved in development driving for Williams-Renault while pursuing his F3000 ambitions.

Test driving for F1 teams is now an established route to getting a Grand Prix drive. Testing enables the young drivers to get accustomed to F1 cars without the pressure of having to qualify.

Among the first to reach F1 by this route was Emanuele Pirro, who tested several seasons testing for McLaren. By the time the Roman arrived in F1 he had completed more miles in an F1 car than many drivers manage in their careers. Ferrari too has used a string of test drivers, including Roberto Moreno, JJ Lehto and Gianni Morbidelli, all of whom have reached F1 after doing development work for Ferrari. Mark Blundell is another to have profited from this kind of work having done similar work for Williams before getting his F1 chance with Brabham.

More and more teams are now finding it necessary to hire test drivers to complete all the development work required. Ligier has taken a particularly bold step, employing Emmanuel Collard when he was just starting out in French national Formula 3 races. It may take some years, but Collard will probably turn up in F1 in the future.

For many young talented drivers, the major problem is finding the sponsorship necessary to compete in F3000. In these times of recession budgets of up to $1.5million dollars are hard to find.

One outstanding feature among the young drivers on the verge of F1 today is that a large number of them come from famous racing families. This makes it much easier for them to find sponsorship, but once they have the money to race, the pressure to live up to their name is intense.

The obvious examples are Fittipaldi and Hill, but there is also Paul Stewart (son of triple World Champion Jackie), Jacques Villeneuve (son of the great Gilles), the two Brabham brothers David and Gary (sons of Sir Jack Brabham), Paul Warwick (brother of Derek), Ross Cheever (brother of Eddie) and Justin Bell (son of five times Le Mans winner Derek).

In addition, from America, there is Michael Andretti (son of 1978 World Champion Mario).

Michael is something of an oddity as he is trying to take the unusual step from American Indycar racing straight into F1. He has recently signed a long-term contract with the McLaren team and is involved in the testing for the team this year.

Contacts are very important in F1. If you know the right people, progressing up the ladder is a great deal easier. Relatives of top racing drivers have an easier time than most, but several F1 stars of today are involved in promoting youngsters: Nigel Mansell runs his own Mansell Madgwick F3000 team in the British F3000 championship, while Nelson Piquet is looking after the career of Monagasque F3 driver Olivier Beretta and Gerhard Berger has been supporting fellow Austrian Karl Wendlinger for several years.

The support may not amount to much money, but being associated with a successful driver is a good way to pull in sponsorship.

Another way for drivers to progress is to be associated with a sponsor or major manufacturer. In addition to being the F3000 champion Erik Comas's move to Ligier was helped by a career-long link with Renault, while Marlboro has long supported young drivers and tries to place as many of its proteges as is possible in F1.

In F3000 this year Marlboro supports McNish and young French star Laurent Aiello. Aiello's rise to fame has been very rapid. A top kart driver he enetered French F3 with a middle-ranking team. He dominated the 1990 Monaco F3 race and suddenly became a name to be watched. His performance that day was largely reponsible for him being signed as McNish's team mate in the DAMS F3000 team. In the French F3 Championship Marlboro is supporting young Christophe Bouchut who should move up the ladder to F3000 in 1992.

The French long ago established a 'stairway to stardom' which helped to produce the generation of French stars inthe 1970s and 1980s. Elf and Gitanes hae now clubbed together in a scheme cald 'La Filiere' which aims to bring yet more Frenchmen to F1.

The scheme takes young drivers from their very early days at racing school all the way to F1 -- if they prove to be quick enough. Over the years this has helped many, notably Alain Prost, Didier Pironi, Patrick Tambay, Eric Bernard and Erik Comas.

Today 'La Filiere' supports six drivers in French national racing: Olivier Panis, Collard and Guillaume Gomez in F3 and Jesse Bouhet, Emmanuel Clerico and American Richard Hearn in Formule Renault.

Britain does not have a similar scheme, but the McLaren team and Autosport magazine have joined together to help youngsters through their early careers, when money is hard to find.

The first winner of the McLaren/Autosport prize was Scotsman David Coulthard, who is a frotnrunner in the competitive British F3 title race.

The British F3 series has long been the place for young drivers to learn their trades: a look back shows that drivers such as Nelson Piquet, Stefan Johansson, Ayrton Senna, Mauricio Gugelmin, Martin Brundle, Martin Donnelly, Johnny Herbert, Bertrand Gachot, JJ Lehto and Mika Hakkinen all cut their teeth in British F3 racing.

This year the competition is as intense as ever with Coulthard up against talented Brazilians Rubens Barrichello, Osvaldo Negri and Gil de Ferran. Japanese driver Hideki Noda has aso chosen this route to advance his career. Fellow countryman Ukyo Katayama also chose to race in Europe early in his career, taking part in the French Formule Renault and French F3 championships. Ukyo has since returned to Japan to compete in the All Japan F3000 series while also conducting testing work for the Brabham-Yamaha team.

While Britian, France and Italy all have strong traditions in single-seaters the Germans have a difficult time. A few years ago BMW had a Junior Team to help promote youngsters and in the 1970s Eddie Cheever, Manfred Winkelhock and Marc Surer were all helped to F1 by BMW. Later the Junior team idea lapsed but BMW was behind Gerhard Berger's rise to F1 and a renewed Junior Team backed Eric Van de Poele.

Mercedes has a similar scheme, taking young drivers and giving them international exposure in its sportscar team: Heinz-Harald Frentzen, Wendlinger, Michael Schumacher have all been helped on their way by Mercedes. Bernd Schneider has received similar help from Porsche.

The Swiss have even more troubles for motor racing in Switzerland does not officially exist, having been banned in 1955 after the disastrous accident at Le Mans. Switzerland has several drivers keen to follow in the footsteps of Clay Regazzoni and Marc Surer into F1, chief among these being Andrea Chiesa and Alain Menu, both currently competing in F3000.

The Scandinavians have produced some of the great rallying stars over the years, but today there is a young generation of Finns, inspired by Keke Rosberg's Wold Championship victory in 1982. Rosberg himself has helped both JJ Lehto and Mika Hakkinen to find drives in F1, while Mika Salo, another very fast Finn, has not been so fortunate and, despite a fine year, competing with Hakkinen in British F3 in 1990, has found himself without a budget to progress into F3000.

And the Japanese who race in Japan? The problem is that, despite being highly competitive the Japanese F3000 is not widely publicised around the world. Winning the title helped Satoru Nakajima and Aguri Suzuki into F1, but both were aided on their way by large Japanese sponsors and manufacturers.

The road to the top is slippery, but in the years to come many of these name swill appear in F1. Not all will be successful and, behind them, there is another generation waiting to leap intot their shoes...