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To find out why countries with relatively small populations tend to produce so many good drivers, we must look into what kind of opportunities are being made available for the talent of tomorrow.
The universal starting point for all youngsters learning to drive is karting. It’s an extremely accessible hobby with most of the already mentioned countries providing numerous karting centres within easy reach of almost any location.
What appears to make karting a more popular pursuit in Finland is that F1 rivals Ice Hockey in terms of media coverage of the sport according to Wikipedia. It means that many children growing up want to follow in the footsteps of Kimi Raikkonen wheras in Britain there are many more distractions such as football, golf, cricket and rugby.
For those youngsters talented enough and lucky enough to be blessed with sponsorship or family funding, the next step is to rise through the ranks of the junior formulae. That’s where countries such as England, France and Germany have the advantage.
Future champions Ayrton Senna and Jenson Button made their first step on the ladder to F1 superstardom in the British Formula Ford Championship whilst both Renault and BMW supply feeder championships on national race circuits before drivers progress to the wider European championships, notably the Formula Renault 3.5 Series, GP3 and GP2.
Brazil is also notable for churning out super-talented drivers and world champions despite the country’s obvious passion for football and massive population. There is also a huge discrepancy between the classes with football the game for the masses and motorsport the domain of the wealthy, those lucky sponsored few jetting off to Europe to hone their skills.
Italy appears to be a bit of an anomaly here. Despite having the most iconic and successful team in motorsport, the country has failed to produce world-quality drivers of decent stature since the 1950s. A lack of junior formula series could be a contributing factor as well as football being the sport that consumes the passions of youngsters in the country.
Add to that the recent financial crisis in Italy and sponsors have simply not been willing or able to back any talented young drivers had they appeared on the radar.
Ferrari have recently made steps to redress this balance by inducting young Italian drivers into the Ferrari Driver Academy.