Getting into any sports requires a lot of hard work. Whether it is football, baseball, rugby, cricket, skiing, or swimming, you must start at an early age and develop your skills with time if you are hoping to play sports professionally. Getting into Formula 1 is no exception as well. In the 1950s, when Formula 1 entered the scene, there wasn’t much attention given to Formula 1’s driver racing pedigree. If the driver was fast on the given day and had a few years of experience, he had a shot at driving an F1 car.
There were also cases of private entrants entering the sport just for fun. Not to take anything away from the champions of that time, the sport was much more fatal than it is now, and it took some profound courage to push the cars of that time to their limit and achieve the best possible result.
The trend continued for many years but as the level of competitiveness and professionalism increased, so did the driver recruitment process. Nowadays, any driver who wants to race in Formula 1 should have the FIA super license. A person has to start from an early age of 6 or 7 if they aspire to enter the sport. There are stages from which they ascend to the level where they are eligible to be a part of the sport, and of course, drivers should contain immense talent if they want to attract the attention of teams in the sport. You can participate in several types of series to be eligible to drive in F1, but we will now discuss only the open-wheel, single-seater racing series. What hoops the young drivers have to jump through to be a part of the F1 driving community are defined below.
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Kart racing is the stepping stone for any amateur driver for a future in motorsports. The open-wheel racing cars may not seem fast as you wouldn’t want to give a 6-year-old kid the luxury to achieve a speed of 200 km/h without the supervision of a professional. But they still indicate how fast a young driver is and how committed he is to pushing the car’s limits. Formula 1 teams are known to screen their future F1 prospects from the karting series. There are numerous examples of drivers starting in the karting series before racing for F1 teams. It would not be easy to mention all the names of the drivers who have started their racing careers in karting championships.
So we will be naming a few F1 world champions, which would give you the idea of why participating in karting would benefit any aspiring F1 driver. Ayrton Senna, Michael Schumacher, Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton, and Nico Rosberg are some famous names who have started their racing careers in the karting series. Today, the Formula 1 governing body, the FIA, has affiliated with two karting series. One is at the continental level, and the other is at the world level. Both the series have junior and senior categories. These categories give new drivers a roadmap that they would have to follow to get a chance to race in the most elite motorsports series of them all. The maximum points the driver can achieve by finishing first in both championships are 3 and 4, respectively. These points will help the driver accumulate enough points required for getting a super license.
Formula 4 Championship
Formula 4 is the first stage of a global pathway for drivers aged fifteen years or older. There are several different Formula 4 series taking place around the globe. To get points for Super License, a driver should participate in a series that should be at least five races long and takes place over three different circuits. The basic regulations of all these series are the same. A single supplier provides all the teams with the chassis, engines, and transmissions to make the series fair for all drivers. With the cars having the same designs and specifications, it all comes to the driver’s skill for him to win the championship and move up the global pathway ladder.
Regional Formula 3 Championship
The second stage of the global pathway, the Formula 3 Regional Championship, is contested in three different regions in Europe, North America, and Asia. The cars are more powerful than those run in Formula 4 championship. A single supplier gives chassis design, engine, and transmission to all the teams. As a result, all the drivers compete on a level playing field. The cars are designed and built by an Italian company named Tatuus. The car is made entirely of carbon fire and has a monocoque chassis.
The engine has a capacity of 2.0L compared to 1.6 in Formula 4. The only way to differentiate the cars is by the colours of the team livery. The series was started in 2019 after Italian Automobile Club and karting promotor WSK saw their bid accepted to organize the championship. The maximum number of points the driver can achieve for the super license in a single season is 18.
Formula 3 Championship
Immediately after the Regional Championship comes the Formula 3 championship. Formerly known as the GP3 series, the sport’s governing body decided to merge it with the formula 3 European championship and formed a new series named Formula 3, also known as F3. Getting some things straight out of the bat, the rules made in F4 and Regional F3 about using the same engine, chassis, transmissions, and tyres are also the same here. The difference is that a company called Dallara Automobiles provides the chassis. Dallara is famous for delivering chassis concepts and designs in several sporting categories. They also have several years of experience delivering chassis to Formula 1 teams under belts. Their last known entry in Formula 1 as a chassis supplier was with now defunct Hispania Racing Team HRT.
Pirelli, the sole tire supplier for Formula 2 and Formula 1 racing teams, is supplied with the tyres. The engine is a 3.4L naturally aspirated V6 made by Mecachrome. Formula 3 plays the role of feeder series to Formula 2, formerly GP2. The competition becomes serious here. The eyes of the Formula 2 and Formula 1 teams are fixed on the upcoming talents. They are not only interested in how many wins the driver has under his belt, but they also see how much the driver remains calm under pressure.
Let’s suppose a driver qualifies near the end of the grid. Then how can he manage to overtake cars in front of him and finish close to the front? Mick Schumacher, son of 7 times F1 world champion Michael Schumacher, was promoted to F2 in 2020 after showing strong and spirited performance in the F3 championship in 2019. He joined the Haas F1 team in 2021, following in his father’s footsteps in Formula1. He is striving to achieve a racing seat in Ferrari, the team with which Michael won 5 drivers and six constructors championships. The champion of F3 can have 30 points added to his F1 supper license requirement.
Formula 2 Championship
Formerly known as the GP2 series, the feeder series of Formula 1, Formula 2 or F2 is the second-tier category of single-seater racing competition. Most current drivers on the Formula 1 grid have come through F2. Mercedes’s current world champion, Lewis Hamilton, and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc went through this series. Williams George Russel was the champion after Leclerc in 2018. McLaren’s Lando Norris was the runner-up in the 2018 season, and Red Bull’s Alex Albon finished the season in third place the same year. All three drivers, Leclerc, Norris and Albon, were promoted in 2019 into F1. The most recent entry in F1 from F2 was in 2021 when Haas signed Mick Schumacher, and Alpha Tauri signed Yuki Tsunoda.
Many Formula 1 teams use F2 as the program for training and promoting young drivers whom they see as a possible contender for their race seats in the future. All the Formula 1 team have associations with groups in the F2 series. The F2 teams can also be considered junior teams of the F1 grid. The competition can be very tough here. A single misstep from a driver can decrease his chances of competing in F1. Many drivers have spent time in F2 and could not translate their performance into attaining a race seat in F1. Nicolas Latifi spent five years from 2014-2019 in F2 before securing an F1 race seat with Williams. In comparison, Lewis Hamilton won the F2 series in his first go in 2006.
Such was his dominance in the 2006 season that he was immediately promoted to the McLaren F1 team in the following year, 2007. Cars in the F2 series follow the same principle as in F3 and F4 regarding the same engines, chassis tyres, and transmissions for each team. The machine is a 3.4L Turbocharged V6 supplied by Mecachrome. Pirelli is the sole tyres supplier which provides the compounds as in F1: softs, mediums, and hards for dry running and intermediate and full wet tyres for rainy conditions.
The chassis supplier is again the same, which is Dallara Automobile. The other components of the car, like the Driver Train, Steering Wheel, Brakes, Fuel Tanks, etc., are also provided by single suppliers. The supplier remains impartial to every team so that no team can gain any competitive advantage against others in car performance. Only the driver’s skill can help him win the championship. The winner of the F2 title is awarded 40 points for his FIA super license.
FIA Super License
As discussed above, for a driver to race in Formula 1, he should be eligible for an FIA super license. The FIA International Sporting code has stated the requirements that the driver should meet to qualify for a permit. They are as follows:
- The driver must have a minimum age of 18.
- He must have an international grade competition license.
- He should have a valid road car license in his native country. Also he should have an immaculate record and not have his license suspended, revoked, or withdrawn.
- Must pass the FIA theory test, which helps the drivers to familiarize themselves with the rules and regulations of the sport.
- Participate and complete two seasons of single-seater motorsports competition of any category.
- Accumulate 40 points over the previous three seasons in any combination of the championship which the FIA has approved for being awarded license points.
Drivers are not obligated to follow the linear approach of the FIA global pathway to become Formula 1 drivers. There are other racing series as well, which the FIA recognizes as a precursor for having super license points. If the driver has competed and gained points in any of these series and his total tally of points reaches 40, they are eligible to participate in F1. Some famous and recognizable racing series outside of F1 are competed by drivers, which is a precursor to getting sufficient points for obtaining the super license. Below are some famous racing events mentioned from where drivers can earn super license points.
- IndyCar series
- Nascar Championship
- Super Formula Championship
- W series
- Super GT
- World Series Formula V8 3.5
- FIA World Endurance Championship LMP1
- Asian or European Le Man’s series.
So it is evident that there are many racing car series that a person can enter to start his journey to becoming a part of the crown jewel of motorsports racing. The trip, however, is very tough, filled with trials and tribulations. Only the best have reached the top of the F1 ladder. And among them, only a few have managed to survive on the top.