Why We Should be Patient with F1's Underperforming Rookies
By all accounts, several of F1's young guns have had a distinctly average start to the season. Nelsinho Piquet at Renault, Timo Glock at Toyota, and Adrian Sutil at Force India have all come under some pressure to up their game recently.
However, we seem to have unreasonable expectations of our rookies to provide immediate results. This is understandable, I suppose, when you consider that just 14 months ago, Lewis Hamilton jumped straight into a McLaren-Mercedes and finished on the podium in his first nine races. But Hamilton is, by any measure, a special case—and we should hardly expect all of F1's newcomers to live up to his standard.
In fact, it's not at all surprising that many newcomers have an average start to their careers. It's no condemnation of Glock and Piquet that they are taking some time to settle into their new roles as Formula One drivers (Glock drove a couple of races in 2004, of course, but the cars are quite different now).
In their first year of F1, drivers should be provided with security enough to make mistakes and take time to settle in.
You hear some people talking about the possibility of Renault, Toyota, and Force India replacing their young drivers—but this is preposterous. At this time last year, Heikki Kovalainen was yet to deliver any impressive results at Renault—but by the end of the season he recorded a second place finish. Now he's matching Lewis Hamilton on pace (officials at McLaren said he was well-placed to win Sunday's Turkish Grand Prix).
Plenty of other highly-regarded F1 drivers have had nightmare debuts, too. Heidfeld's first season—in the uncompetitive 2000 Prost—was unspectacular. Both Sato and Massa showed speed in 2002, in which they both debuted, but both looked too erratic to every develop into well-rounded racing drivers.
All of this shows that we should give Glock and Piquet several more races, at least, before we start talking about them losing their seats. Both have shown in GP2 that they have huge racing talent—and we should give them plenty of opportunity to display that in F1 before we start criticizing them too hard.
Sutil is a slightly different case. This is, of course, his second year in F1. Both, however, have been in the uncompetitive Spyker/Force India car. It's very difficult to judge a driver's talent when they're in such cars. The worry for Sutil at the moment is that Fisichella is beating him. But Fisi has much more experience of driving poor cars, as I noted in a previous article.
Given that Sutil is highly-regarded—don't forget that McLaren tried to sign him over the winter—we should give him the benefit of the doubt for the time being.
Let's reserve judgment on the F1 talent of these drivers for the time being. Their average starts to the 2008 season need not condemn them to the scrapheap.
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