Formula 1

The 10 Youngest Drivers in Formula 1 History

Scott MitchellContributor IOctober 2, 2013

The 10 Youngest Drivers in Formula 1 History

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    In 2014, there is a very real chance a record will be broken in Formula One with the expected arrival of Russian teenager Sergey Sirotkin at Sauber.

    Sirotkin will be 18 years and six months old if, as reported by Autosport, he lines up on the Australian Grand Prix grid with the Swiss team—a result of the team's new Russian investment deal.

    Current Sauber driver Nico Hulkenberg has raised his own reservations about an 18-year-old in F1, as per quotes picked up by PlanetF1, and the announcement has split fans' opinions.

    Is it a risk? Certainly. But that's not to say that young starters are always a failure. In this rundown of the 10 youngest drivers to start a Grand Prix, there are three world champions, drivers who should have won races in F1 and drivers who went on to win elsewhere.

    There are also drivers whose F1 careers were not given the chance to breathe and drivers who were not good enough to give their careers traction. So without further adieu, here are the 10 youngest drivers to grace a Formula One grid.

10: Tarso Marques

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    Marques' time in F1, and elsewhere, was below-par
    Marques' time in F1, and elsewhere, was below-par

    Age: 20 years, two months and 12 days

    Race: 1996 Brazilian Grand Prix

    Tarso Marques was not the most underprepared driver when he lined up on the Brazilian Grand Prix grid in 1996, then the sixth youngest driver to start a Grand Prix.

    He was a race winner in Formula 3000, finishing fifth, and in modern terms that’s not the worst pedigree in the world. But, when you make your break with Minardi, you need to more than just adequate. You need to be special.

    He spent two bit-part years with Minardi, competing in seven races in ’96 and two in ’97. Having taken two years out of F1 spent struggling in Champ Car, he raced with Minardi again in 2001. He was totally outclassed by rookie teammate Fernando Alonso.

    He returned to Champ Car, and spent a season of FIA GT racing. His latest racing exploits were half a dozen years in the midfield in Brazilian Stock Car.

    Verdict: Miss

9: Jenson Button

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    Button was impressive on his debut
    Button was impressive on his debut

    Age: 20 years, one month and 22 days

    Race: 2000 Australian Grand Prix

    A lot of hype surrounded the Grand Prix debut of this young Brit, who had won a shootout with Williams off the back of a brief but impressive junior single-seater career in which he rarely had the best machinery.

    Button did not disgrace himself, either, acquitting himself brilliantly upon his arrival to Grand Prix racing. He stormed from 21st to sixth on his debut until he suffered an engine failure. He then scored a point in only his second Grand Prix. The Williams was solid, rather than unspectacular, and offered Button the perfect learning environment required for a debut season.

    Troubled seasons at Benetton/Renault followed, but he soon proved the talent that had seen him make his Grand Prix debut shortly after his 20th birthday. After all, this man went on to become the world champion—one of only three men in this list to do so.

    Verdict: Hit

8: Eddie Cheever

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    Cheever's single-seater career transcended F1
    Cheever's single-seater career transcended F1

    Age: 20 years, one month and 22 days

    Race: 1978 South African Grand Prix

    Eddie Cheever was a teenage runner-up in Formula Two before he made his GP debut, but his South African Grand Prix appearance in 1978 was only a one-off, and he spent the remainder of the ’78 and ’79 seasons racing full time in Formula Two.

    They were less spectacular than his ’77 campaign, but by the time he made his full season debut in 1980 with Osella he was still only 22. He became a points scorer with Tyrrell in 1981, claiming his first podiums with Talbot in ’82.

    A move to Renault in ’83 yielded four podiums, but he was unable to claim a maiden win and struggled for rest of decade with uncompetitive machinery.

    Cheever returned to podium once in each of two seasons with Arrows in ’88 and ’89, before a switches to Champ Car/IndyCar. He became a multiple race winner in the latter and also won the 1998 Indy 500.

    Verdict: Hit

7: Sebastian Vettel

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    Vettel has grown into a truly great F1 driver
    Vettel has grown into a truly great F1 driverPaul Gilham/Getty Images

    Age: 19 years, 11 months and 14 days

    Race: 2007 United States Grand Prix

    Sebastian Vettel’s Grand Prix debut with BMW at the United States Grand Prix came as the result of a "loan" from his backer Red Bull, for whom the young German (who had a great, if not spectacular record in lower formula) was an official junior.

    He was superb, adapting to his competitive machinery quickly and becoming F1’s youngster points scorer in the process. That was all he would do behind the wheel of a BMW as Red Bull swooped, placing him in its Toro Rosso team.

    The following season he claimed his and the team’s first win, beating a McLaren in a straight fight in the wet at Monza, before being promoted to the official Red Bull team.

    Having earned that team’s first win in China, 2009, Vettel has since racked up three consecutive world titles from 2010-2012, and looks set to make it four in 2013.

    Verdict: Hit

6: Chris Amon

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    Amon developed into a talented and versatile driver
    Amon developed into a talented and versatile driver

    Age: 19 years, 10 months and 20 days

    Race: 1963 Belgian Grand Prix

    After making his Grand Prix in 1963, aged 19 years, 10 months and 20 days, Chris Amon went on to start 96 Grands Prix with a best finish of second, which he achieved three times. His strong F1 CV includes 11 podiums, five pole positions and three fastest laps during stints with Matra, Martini, Tyrrell, his own team, BRM and Ensign.

    Amon's talent might not have been reflected in terms of outright F1 success, but his diversity is a testament to the ability he had in droves. A Le Mans 24 Hours winners, he finished fifth overall in the 1967 F1 season driving for Ferrari and also won the Daytona 24 Hours that year.

    On top of that, he was the Tasman series champion in 1969, and also won the 1970 F1 BRDC Invitiational Trophy before becoming a race winner in European touring cars in 1973.

    Verdict: Hit

5: Esteban Tuero

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    Tuero impressed despite inexperience
    Tuero impressed despite inexperience

    Age: 19 years, 10 months and 14 days

    Race: 1998 Australian Grand Prix 

    Esteban Tuero's junior record was not stellar, with his most promising season coming in Italian Formula Three, but he was rushed into various championships at a very young age. After appearances in various F3 championships, he finished 16th in Formula Nippon prior to a F1 graduation with Minardi.

    Having been initially rejected a Super License, Martin Brundle said of the Argentine:

    As for Tuero, it would have been scary. I don't like to see these guys out there with so little experience. Imagine it: even if he didn't qualify, he'd be getting in the way during qualifying. And if he did qualify, then he'd definitely be being lapped plenty. He'd have really needed to have his wits about him. To be honest, it annoys me, people like that, with zilch credibility.

    However, Tuero did not disgrace himself, and qualified an impressive 17th on his debut, though disappeared after solitary season with his best result a twice-lapped eighth in an attritional San Marino Grand Prix.

    He injured a neck vertebrae crashing with Toranosuke Takagi at Suzuka, ending his single-seater career. Tuero spent the second half of the noughties racing touring cars and Brazilian Stock Car, but it would be unfair to dismiss him as a failure given he did a solid job in uncompetitive machinery.

    Verdict: Inconclusive

     

4: Fernando Alonso

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    Alonso excelled during debut season with Minardi
    Alonso excelled during debut season with MinardiClive Mason/Getty Images

    Age: 19 years, seven months and three days

    Race: 2001 Australian Grand Prix

    Few people have made the same sort of impression Fernando Alonso did in his debut year of Formula One racing, which was made all the more impressive given his age at the time of his start.

    Lining up alongside the more experienced Tarso Marques, and later fellow rookie Alex Yoong, Alonso comprehensively outperformed his older teammates and also outqualified and outraced several faster cars in the process, including the Benettons and BARs.

    He was signed up as a Renault test driver for the following year and was promoted to the race team for 2003. Two world titles would follow in 2005 and 2006 and the Spaniard has since developed into the driver many consider to be the best on the grid.

    Verdict: Hit

     

3: Ricardo Rodriguez

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    Rodriguez deserved a long and successful F1 career
    Rodriguez deserved a long and successful F1 career

    Age: 19 years, six months and 27 days

    Race: 1961 Italian Grand Prix

    Ricardo Rodriguez made his Formula One debut at just 19 years, six months and 27 days, making him the youngest driver to do so for 20-odd years.

    That came by virtue of an impressive performance in the 1960 Le Mans 24 Hours when, at 18 years of age, he finished runner-up while driving in the official Ferrari entry, the North American Racing Team.

    He qualified second on his Grand Prix debut, but his fuel pump failed while running third. Rodriguez made five more appearances the following year but failed to finish three times. 

    Ferrari did not enter the non-championship Mexican race in 1962 and so Rodriguez signed to drive a Lotus 24. He tragically died in practice, aged 20.

    Verdict: Hit

2: Mike Thackwell

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    Thackwell's F1 career failed to sparkle
    Thackwell's F1 career failed to sparkle

    Age: 19 years, five months and 29 days

    Race: 1980 Canadian Grand Prix

    For almost 30 years, Mike Thackwell held the record for the youngest driver to start a Grand Prix.

    He was 19 (and a half!) when he lined up on the grid for the Canadian Grand Prix, but was actually a few months younger when he had his first experience of a Grand Prix meeting. His junior record was sedate at this point, owing to his age, and he won during a one-off European F3 meeting, but failed to qualify for the F3 Monaco GP.

    He graduated to F1 with Arrows but failed to qualify for his first race and immediately switched to Tyrrell, where he qualified for the aforementioned Canadian race. This was dovetailed with a season in European Formula Two, in which he won one race. He spent the next four years concentrating on Formula Two, gradually becoming more competitive, becoming champion in 1984.

    That year he also finished third in the F3 Macau GP, and made one more F1 appearance with Tyrrell. But that was it for his F1 career, despite finishing second the following year in the Macau F3 race and also finishing runner-up in Formula 3000.

    Verdict: Miss

1: Jaime Alguersuari

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    Alguersuari was not prepared for F1 debut
    Alguersuari was not prepared for F1 debutPeter Fox/Getty Images

    Age: 19 years, four months and three days

    Race: 2009 Hungarian Grand Prix

    Heads turned when it was announced Jaime Alguersuari would make his Grand Prix debut at only 19 years, four months and three days.

    The Spaniard, a Red Bull junior, had impressior in junior formulae but was still a kid, after all. He’d had the absolute bare minimum in F1 experience: some straight-line testing. Thrown in at the deep end, Alguersuari coped as well as could be expected.

    He grew into a solid if unspectacular Toro Rosso driver, but at the age of 21 was cut from the team. Pirelli development driving aside, his career seems done (though he’s still only 23).

    Alguersuari himself has admitted he was thrust into F1 too young, and that had the knock-on effect of him being underprepared, though viewed as underwhelming, and cast onto the Red Bull scrapheap far from his potential peak.

    Verdict: Inconclusive

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