I wasn’t always a big fan of Formula 1. Like most kids, I watched F1 alongside my dad for a couple of years before I got into my teenage years. Nowadays, my love of go-karting fueled my passion for Formula 1. Every avid go-karting fan has dreamed of becoming an F1 driver. When I saw Max Verstappen winning the 2021 F1 season at only 24 years of age, I wondered whether it’s possible to become an F1 driver at any age or not.
After discussing it with my karting friends and some racers at a karting meet during the weekend, I came to a simple conclusion. It’s definitely possible to become a Formula 1 driver in your 30s. The chances of that happening, though, are incredibly slim. Becoming an F1 driver takes many years of racing experience and successful go-karting background.
This means that I will not become an F1 driver any time soon. That being said, you might be young enough to hop on the journey to Formula 1. So, let’s compare the data of racing legends so that you can judge whether you’re too old for F1.
At what age do F1 drivers start karting?
I hate to break it to you, but if you’ve just started karting, you’re probably too late compared to F1 drivers. Most F1 drivers start go-karting at around the age of 6. Some drivers might start out a bit later, but they’ve probably had professional karting experience by the time they’re teenagers.
So as you can see in the table below, most F1 champions started karting at a very early age. But, there are also drivers like Michael Schumacher who started out even earlier, at the age of 4.
|Driver Name||Current Age||Age Started in F1||Age Started Karting|
|Max Verstappen||25||17 years old||5 years old|
|Lewis Hamilton||37||22 years old||8 years old|
|Nico Rosberg||37||21 years old||6 years old|
|Sebastian Vettel||35||19 years old||3 years old|
|Jenson Button||42||20 years old||6 years old|
|Kimi Räikkönen||43||22 years old||10 years old|
|Michael Schumacher||53||22 years old||4 years old|
|Fernando Alonso||41||20 years old||5 years old|
UPDATE: Full List Of F1 Drivers Age In 2022
Many of you contact me privately and ask to know the age of current season drivers, so here is the table with the ages of Formula 1 drivers in 2022 (sorted from the youngest to the older):
|Zhou Guanyu||Alfa Romeo||23|
|Lance Stroll||Aston Martin||24|
|Max Verstappen||Red Bull||25|
|Valtteri Bottas||Alfa Romeo||33|
|Sergio Perez||Red Bull||32|
|Sebastian Vettel||Aston Martin||35|
As you can see, most of the time age isn’t a major factor, you can see Lewis Hamilton who is the 2nd older driver but still 7 times world champion in a row.
That being said, a current Formula 2 driver named Jake Hughes hadn’t stepped in a go-kart until he was 15 years old. According to him, age is just a number, so as long as you have the skill and the passion, you’ll be many steps ahead of your competitors.
Another great example is ‘The Iceman’ himself, Kimi Räikkönen. While he started karting at the age of 10, he began pursuing a professional karting career at 16 years old.
Then again, you’ll have to keep in mind that unless you’re extremely rich, or you’re the reincarnation of Juan Manuel Fangio (five times F1 championship winner from the 50s), your chances of making F1 are not many. While Formula 1 drivers start karting out at a young age, they’re still extraordinarily talented, managing to beat their competitors. And, with thousands of kids joining karting championships yearly, you’ll most likely be late to the party.
But, it’s not always about how early you start, but how long the journey is.
How long does it take to become an F1 driver?
Considering that most F1 drivers were karting professionally by the age of 8, it can take up to 15 or even 20 years to become an F1 driver. For example, 2016 F1 World Champion Nico Rosberg was a professional karting racer for 10 years before racing for Williams in 2005.
A vital stage of the F1 journey that most people forget is junior car racing. Every F1 racer has either won or participated in junior formula championships, such as Formula 3 (formerly known as GP3) or Formula 2. This raises many questions, like the age requirement for junior formula championships and how one becomes ‘worthy’ of Formula 1.
The answer to all of your questions is simple: the ‘FIA Super Licence‘. Anyone who holds an FIA Super Licence can participate in the F1 World Championship. But, having this qualification doesn’t guarantee that you’ll have a seat in F1.
Oscar Piastri, 2021’s F2 Champion, accumulated enough points to acquire a Super Licence, but he doesn’t have a seat on next year’s grid. This comes down to one thing: money.
Generally, the sport is dominated by money. Pay drivers are prioritized over drivers who don’t have substantial financial backing. That isn’t to say that pay drivers are bad drivers (after all, Sergio Perez is a pay driver, and he’s an animal on the track), but some talented drivers will never get an F1 seat because of their lack of funds.
So, the amount of money a driver has can significantly change his journey to Formula 1. For example, it took Nikita Mazepin, one of the drivers of HAAS, 10 years to get an F1 seat, while Louis Delétraz has been racing for 13 years, holds a Super Licence but doesn’t have an F1 seat.
I think I gave you an idea of how long it takes to become an F1 driver. That being said, I’ve mentioned karting a lot, but is it a necessity for Formula 1?
Can you get into F1 without karting?
There are some F1 drivers (and champions) that didn’t start from karting. But, nowadays, karting has become an essential part of the journey to Formula 1.
Go-karting teaches beginners basic racing etiquette, from the different flags and rules that need to be followed to the racecraft, like the optimal racing line, how to overtake correctly, and so on. Plus, some karting championships add points to the Super Licence, which is great.
That being said, I mentioned that some drivers never stepped foot in a kart. While it’s been more than two decades ever since he stepped into F1 and won the Championship, Damon Hill is still talked about to this day for the fact that he didn’t come from a karting background. He started out racing motorbikes, before he got into the world of formula racing.
The further back we go in time, the more drivers we’ll find with no go-karting background. In fact, on the very first F1 race, some drivers had zero racing background (but of course, this was a different era).
So, while it was usual for drivers to get into F1 without karting back in the day, it’s not possible in today’s era. That being said, take all of this with a grain of salt. The upcoming F1 regulation changes will stir many things up, and the journey to F1 might be one of them.
But, with all the info that we have at our disposal, it’s safe to say that if you’re in your late 20s or 30s, you don’t stand a chance of becoming an F1 driver. But, if you happen to have a child, it’s the best time for them to get into go-karting so that they can maybe get into Formula 1.
How to Teach my Child to Drive a Go-Kart?
Before I go on with my tips, let’s get everything straight. Don’t start your child’s karting career with a shifter or two-stroke engine karts. Single-speed 4-stroke karts are the optimal choice for beginners so that they learn how to race properly.
Also, your emotional support is much greater than any skills they learn on track in order for your child to become a fantastic karting racer. Keep reminding them of F1 champions like Lewis Hamilton, Max Verstappen, Sebastian Vettel, all of whom raced in karts before getting into F1.
But, let’s get down to the tips. For starters, familiarize your child with the steering wheel and the pedals. Before you let them loose on the track, you need to let your child know of some essential things, like not steering while braking and not pressing the gas and brake pedals simultaneously. Both of these will make them spin out, which might injure them. That’s one of the reasons why go-karting can be dangerous.
The best thing you could do is drive alongside them. Rent out a go-karting track near you for an hour, and show your child how to take each corner correctly, when to go flat out and when to brake, etc. This will help them get a better idea of the track while having fun.
And with that comes my main tip. Don’t see go-karting as a feeder series to Formula 1. Go-karting is meant to be a fun hobby, and if someone is really talented, whether it’s your kid or yourself, they can pursue it professionally.
But, never forget to have as much fun as you can when go-karting. Otherwise, what’s the point of karting?
To sum up, no matter how old you are, getting into F1 is a mix of extreme talent, dedication, and substantial financial backing. If you lack any of the three, you’re probably not going to get into Formula 1. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t try car racing or junior formula racing.
Stay tuned for more articles just like this one!
FAQs For Getting Into F1
Is there an age limit for F1 drivers?
No, there’s no age limit for F1 drivers. You could be 100 years old and still get into Formula 1, as long as you have an FIA Super Licence. Kimi Räikkönen, who retired in 2021, was still racing at 42.
What does it take to become an F1 driver?
It will take you a lot of hard work, time, skill, and luck to become an F1 driver. You’ll need to be dominating the karting scene for a few years, as well as ranking highly in junior formula racing or other FIA racing championships. If you’re lucky to secure enough sponsorships, you’ve guaranteed a seat in F1.
What Is the Best Age to Start Karting?
The earlier you start, the better your chances of becoming an F1 driver. If you can get your child inside a kart from the age of 4 or 5, they’ll probably be a step ahead of most other potential Formula 1 drivers. I’d say that the best age is around 8 years old.
Who Was the Oldest Active F1 Driver?
The oldest driver to partake in an F1 race was 55-year old Louis Chiron. He also took part in the practice session of the 1958 Monaco Grand Prix, at the age of 58.
Who Is the Oldest F1 Driver in the Current Season?
The oldest F1 driver in the 2022 season is 40-year old Fernando Alonso. The Spaniard has raced in F1 for over 20 years.