Who hasn’t dreamt at some point of being an F1 driver? There’s no other motorsport that even comes close to the sheer intensity and drama of F1, and while the prestige and glamour might make it appear at times to be an opportunity solely for the rich and fortunate, many drivers in the past have demonstrated that pure talent and true dedication to the craft (and a little luck!) can be enough to perk up the ears of F1 teams.
Other than having a big budget to fund a racing career and a particularly sharp set of driving skills in single-seaters, the ideal F1 driver candidates will be at the top of their game both physically and mentally, allowing them to remain focused in high-stress situations and adapt in an environment that is constantly evolving.
If you don’t feel put off by the enormous challenge and feel strongly that being an F1 driver is what you want more than anything, this article will give you the steps and advice you need to get started on the right track.
How do F1 drivers get started?
Formula 1 drivers often start their racing careers at an incredibly young age, already driving some kind of motor-powered car, while others are still getting the hang of walking. Having supportive parents from a young age that can finance the early stages is how drivers like Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton started out.
Why Karting is so important
Karting is where almost all race drivers learn and master their race craft in the beginning, learning much of the fundamental rules and safety regulations that govern racing on race tracks of all types.
Karts are the simplest form of single-seater available, and allow many drivers to carry out their own maintenance tasks, in the beginning, to keep costs down. Despite being the most accessible form of single-seater racing, karting is still expensive for most, with a competitive kart costing in the range of $8,000-$15,000 depending on age, spec, and year.
Other ways to get into F1
Not all drivers started their racing careers in karting; some skipped straight to Formula 3, NASCAR, or GT cars before progressing to F1 later on. There are many obvious and some more obscure ways of possibly securing a drive in F1.
Here are some possible routes drivers can take to enter F1:
- Junior race driver academies – Driver academies for aspiring rookies like the Red Bull Junior Team Formula can prepare and season drivers for the intense demands of driving single-seaters at the highest level. Some of the sport’s finest drivers such as Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton, and Daniel Ricciardo have all graduated from race driver academies that helped fuel their chances of reaching F1 from a young age.
- Sponsors/other funding – A crucial factor that often determines the lifespan of a driver’s racing career, not just in F1, is the level of financial support available to cover the range of costs associated with race driving professionally at such a high level. The more sponsorship money and deals you can get to help cover the high costs, the more attractive you’ll appear to struggling teams that could benefit greatly from signing you. In the past, drivers like Pastor Maldonado, Lance Stroll, and Nikita Mazepin have all demonstrated the ability to leapfrog other more successful drivers in other race series to land a drive for a Formula 1 team.
- Test driver – Drivers that have gained experience and achieved some successful finishes in other racing classes are sometimes fortunate enough to attract the attention of an F1 team who are looking to hire a new test driver. Several F1 drivers landed their lucky break whilst working as a test driver for an F1 team. On an occasion that one of the 2 drivers is unable to race due to illness, injury or another issue, it can often be the test driver that is put forward to fill their place.
- eSports – If you’re lacking the financial backing, or even a racing license there could be another way you could get your foot in the door of single-seater racing with eSports. eSports, in essence, brings race simulators forward as the cars and a grid full of professional gamers at the helm as the drivers, competing from all around the world with real prizes up for grabs, like actual seat time in a race car. The idea of a virtual F1 championship based on a video game might be some peculiar to some, but it’s already hugely popular and fiercely competitive.
Train your body and mind
F1 drivers are more than just race car drivers; they’re dedicated athletes that devote the majority of their free time off the track keeping their bodies in the best shape they can, working to keep their reflexes agile and their minds fast and focused.
Cycling, running, tennis, swimming, and soccer are just some of the ways F1 drivers uphold their impressive physical and mental abilities on and off-season. Having a high level of physical fitness allows drivers to maintain the energy and concentration levels required to competitively take part in all the sessions over the race weekend, with up to 2 hours of flat-out racing on race day.
The best step you can make towards being fit enough to drive a racing car is to develop some good habits and stick to them. Get into eating healthy foods, don’t smoke or use drugs, exercise regularly, sleep as much as you feel you need, and try to remain as organized and involved in the whole process as possible.
Requirements to be an F1 driver
The key requirements that every driver must fulfill before being able to compete in Formula 1 are:
- Must be 18 years of age or over.
- Must hold a valid driver’s license in home country
- Must have earned more than 40 points towards Super License
- Must have driven 300 hours or more in a Formula 1 car
To drive an F1 car, you’ll first need at least two years of competition in a recognized single-seater formula, completing 80% of the season’s races; however, most F1 drivers today spent more than just two years fighting their opponents on track in a desperate effort to clinch race wins and win world titles.
One of the requirements of being an F1 driver is the possession of a Super License, acquiring which is no easy task.
There is a long list of motorsport series across the globe, such as Formula 3 and Formula E, that hold relevance to obtaining the Super License, although make sure you research to find which series could be most suitable for you as the number of points you can earn towards the Super License varies between classes.
Get a foothold in Europe
Formula 1 is a global racing series in every sense, with drivers and teams from all over competing on international tracks. Yet F1’s origins have always meant that the majority focus of the season lies in Europe.
With 10 out of 22 races in 2022 being held in the European continent, the value of sparking interest in the European racing scene is clearly apparent.
Getting yourself into a single-seater formula that features well-known tracks like Monza, Monaco, Catalunya, and Spa will prove highly beneficial when you reach the ranks of Formula 1, as you’ll already have learned a trick or two on these circuits that might just give you the edge over drivers that are new to the track.
Gain financial backing
Despite relatively-new budget caps being put in place for all F1 teams to try and minimize the advantages available to big-budget teams like Mercedes and Ferrari, Formula 1 is still an overly expensive sport to be a part of.
While it might appear that every driver on the grid is being paid a sizeable stack of money for each appearance they make and each race they finish, the reality can be quite different and hard to believe.
Many drivers racing for teams that often place towards the back of the pack are racing with contracts that don’t feature a salary from the team, as the risk is too high and the teams simply don’t have the funds to pay the drivers anything that resembles an F1 driver’s salary.
This financial problem is the reason that acquiring lucrative sponsorship deals with big-name global brands can be instrumental in not only keeping your racing career going but also opportunities to climb the motorsport ladder and reach F1.
Without a substantial budget, staying afloat as an F1 driver is impossible, and failing to keep sponsors and investors satisfied is most often the reason why many F1 drivers’ careers come to a premature end.
Becoming a full-time F1 driver is definitely the hardest journey to take for any race driver, and only a select few from hundreds of hopefuls ever make it to the pinnacle of single-seater racing. The route to take to becoming an F1 is simple in theory but very difficult when you consider all the resources and sheer amount of luck needed to make it happen.
The path to becoming an F1 driver can seem daunting, but it’s not impossible. Use what you might have learned in this article to start your journey as an aspiring Formula 1 driver.
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