F1 drivers, Melbourne, 2004

F1 has least-experienced driver line-up since 2004

2013 F1 season previewPosted on Author Keith Collantine

F1 drivers, Melbourne, 2004The most highly experienced field F1 has ever seen at the start of a new season lined up on the grid at Melbourne in 2011.

Two years on the loss of some of the sport’s longest-serving drivers means the combined experience of the F1 field is at a nine-year low.

The last two seasons have seen the departures of Rubens Barrichello (F1’s most experienced driver ever with 322 starts), Jarno Trulli (252 starts) and Michael Schumacher (306 starts).

Meanwhile five new drivers will make their first Grand Prix starts next weekend: Valtteri Bottas, Esteban Gutierrez, Giedo van der Garde, Jules Bianchi and Max Chilton.

The level of experience in the F1 field is trending upwards but there are periodic drops, of which this appears to be one. The greatest occured in the mid-nineties when several highly experienced drivers’ careers ended (mostly out of choice with one sad exception in the case of Ayrton Senna).

However this year’s grid has started more races on average than every other season prior to 2004 (pictured).

Drivers’ experience in round one

This chart shows how many drivers were on the grid for the first race of each season, and the average number of starts they had made in previous world championship races.


1951 1952 1953 1954 1955 1956 1957 1958 1959 1960 1961 1962 1963 1964 1965 1966 1967 1968 1969 1970 1971 1972 1973 1974 1975 1976 1977 1978 1979 1980 1981 1982 1983 1984 1985 1986 1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013
Drivers 21 20 17 17 22 15 16 10 16 22 16 20 15 16 20 16 18 23 18 23 25 21 19 25 23 22 22 24 24 24 24 26 26 26 25 25 21 26 26 26 26 26 26 26 26 19 22 22 22 22 22 22 20 20 20 22 22 22 20 24 22 22 22
Average starts 2.85 3.6 7.53 11.35 12 11.2 15.81 27.2 19.75 15.45 21.94 16.6 26.47 31.5 23.6 34.75 32 31.3 37.39 36.57 30.72 24.86 28.05 31.84 35.39 36.68 44.05 50.92 52.29 54 42.83 47.85 45.96 43.04 56.56 61.12 55.1 58.58 63.35 62.58 64.8 61.65 66.85 45.62 37.15 47.68 51.68 50.09 60.5 67.09 65.95 64.23 73.15 68.65 80.55 87.54 79.5 79.95 88.35 75.5 96.95 81.32 74.86

Of course what this doesn’t show us is how much testing mileage the drivers have covered, which is especially important for rookies. In the era of unrestricted testing it was not uncommon for new drivers to arrive in the sport having completed over 10,000km of running. Each of this year’s new drivers has less than that.

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79 comments on “F1 has least-experienced driver line-up since 2004”

  1. While I am a huge advocate of bringing in new talent, it does have to be that: talent. Of the five new drivers I am only looking forward to two of them making their debut (Valtteri Bottas and Jules Bianchi). Of the rest I think there are better drivers more worthy of the seats in the lower categories, especially with regards to Max Chilton and Giedo van Der Garde.

    1. Notably, of which, 3 are champions…
      The other two are notable drivers, or have been at some point in their career (Massa being the could have been champion).

      Goes to show that, pay drivers come and go… But the best of the best do come and stay.

    2. nice spot! its shocking to think really that only 5 drivers from 9 years ago would still be driving i think. Interesting also that those 5 are in the top cars this year (so we think) ferrari, mclaren, lotus, red-bull

  2. This chart shows how many drivers were on the grid for the first race of each season, and the average number of starts they had made in previous world championship races.

    This does however make things a bit more biased: between 1965 and 1971, the South African GP was the first GP of the season, in which many privateers entered their one and only GP of the year. Also the number of GPs increased in time, which obviously accounts for the green line’s trend. I especially like how the ‘golden era’ is represented in the graph as a plateau.

    1. @hohum – actually, I think it is very much related to the economy. Up until around 2009 (the recession) there was inflation, which actually happened to do the opposite of increasing privateer teams because the bigger teams were “rolling in it” so to speak and the others simply couldn’t compete.

      Which makes the issue of cost-cutting all the more prominent: we haven’t had a full 26-car grid since 1995 if I’m not mistaken…

      1. @vettel1, recessions come and go in regular cycles but the 70’s for the UK were a disaster with UK mining and manufacturing collapsing, workers working 3 day weeks, it was with this as background that Maggie Thatcher swept into power and introduced “Thatchernomics” shortly to become “Reaganomics” after Ronnie Reagan swept to power in the USA having read Maggies script.

        1. @hohum – Maggie’s reign seems to have left a lasting impression of the Conservative party here in Scotland! ;) (I’m too young to be bothered though).

          I can almost guarantee Tobaco sponsorship had some influence also, as that was the major funding for most of the privateer teams. That said though, BAR and Ferrari were still sponsored by Tobaco companies well into the 2000’s…

          1. @hohum – I do think teams were simply “priced-out” by Ferrari’s almost unlimited testing and budget, and it stopped any plucky underdogs from makin anything from it. The 107% rule I’ve just remembered was introduced in 1996 though, which prevented any teams who were uncompetitive from starting purely just to act as moving advertising boards and pootle about 6 laps down from the leaders!

          2. Simply put, due to a variety of factors, some under our control, F1 is only viable if you are at the sharp end of the grid. I think this needs to be fixed.

          3. @mike – absolutely, and I think this stems from the regulations stifling creativity at the expense of out-and-out refinement, which requires huge funds. So a less constrictive rule book and more restrictive cost-control is the answer.

  3. I think when Webber retires from the field, the average will go down even further. I think Webber , along with Button, Kimi and Alonso are the seniors of the field now.

    1. And Räikkönen has 176 starts due to his 2 year break, and is closely followed by Massa on 172 starts. So the drivers you mentioned plus Massa are the 5 most experienced drivers in the field, and all of them debuted between 2000-2002. The next drivers to follow are Rosberg, Hamilton and Vettel, who made their debuts between 2006-2007.

      1. It’s amazing to think some people, myself included to some extent, still consider the likes of Rosberg, Hamilton and Vettel as young’uns… Even though they’re in the second-oldest starting bracket on the grid!

          1. Look at it like this: the year 0 doesn’t exist: -1 BC skipped 0 and went to 1 AD. Therefore the 1st century started in the year 1 AD. Therefore it makes sence that the second century started in 1001 and the third in 2001.

          2. I had actually never thought of this, so it surprised me, maybe since I’m not a native English speaker. I find it odd to imagine it that year 0 doesn’t exist though. To me, surely year 0 would be the first year. Like when a child is born, it’s 0 years old, but it’s the child’s first year. When the child turns 1 it’s its second year. I guess it depends on what logic you apply.

          3. @metallion Year 1 doesn’t mean a year has passed, it means it’s the first year. Just like January is the first month, it doesn’t mean a month has passed, but that the first one is ongoing. So 2013 doesn’t mean 2013 years (of counting) have passed, it means we’re in the 2013th.

          4. @enigma You’re correct. I guess it’s just because I’m used to a different way of thinking. In Swedish, when we say “1900-talet”, it means the years 1900-1999, which is why I’ve always thought of “the 20th century” in the same way. If only there was a year 0 in our calendar, there wouldn’t be this issue. A bit late to change it though:)

      1. Unfortunately that has the effect of pushing up the overage starts. Also in the years where drivers might only do a few or one race a season, it would push up the average there again.

        It’s a very hard graph to do!

      1. Ah, if only. JPM’s open wheel days are long behind him. He’s far from “fighting fit” for F1.

        Such a shame he had that shoulder injury that marred his McLaren days and the subsequent falling out with Ron Dennis.

        What a ridiculously talented and brave driver. A true natural born grand prix driver. Such a shame we were denied more, and that things didn’t quite work out despite all the wins, poles, and memorable passes.

        1. 100% agree with you. I still lurk in youtube looking up his old races, passes, flying laps, radio messages. I miss that Columbian. He was a classic victim of F1 politics, but he left with his head high, he was never a no. 2 driver and he even gave Raikkonen and Schumacher a run for their money at every opportunity. He is the only driver to be on Letterman Show other than Vettel.

          1. Oh yes, JPM was the driver that really got me following F1 with great interest (and I’m British :) ), really took it to Schui from the work go. It was such a shame to see him go, I was convinced he would have been WDC.

  4. I think the number of races in a season warps the statistics somewhat. I would be more interested in the number of seasons the drivers had competed in, as I dont think a driver beginning his second season tomorrow would be considered more experienced than a driver beginning his second season in, say 1960, even though there were only half as many races.

    1. Well what makes a driver experienced? Racing or sitting around waiting to race? Its obvious to me that the more track time you have the more experienced you are. 20 races is 20 races regardless of the number of years it took to complete them and I would suggest that to complete them all in quick succession serves as better experience than doing 6 a year.

  5. The most worrying thing I realized when looking at that photo is that only 3 teams didn’t change ownership in the last 9 years. That’s a pretty big. Sauber has returned though, so it is 4 teams that were racing back then too, but the reality is that both times team was sold because money was running short.

    2 of those 3 teams have lost manufacturer backing and Williams is only barely coming back. Thankfully, one of those 2 manufacturers didn’t leave, but actually increased involvement in the sport. But again, it’s one that increased involvement, while 1 has gone the other way (Renault) while there were 4 other manufacturers who left completely (Honda, Toyota, BMW and Ford).

    The reality is, only Ferrari managed to survive in the same form. All other teams either lost manufacturer backing, went out completely or in case of Honda, replaced one manufacturer with another.

    1. I’d also like to think so but that’s not the case. I mean think of it, with spiraling costs of managing teams, R&D, banning tobacco companies from sponsoring, a recession every 5 years, the future of F1 is rather bleak. These days it’s all about pay drivers, have you checked the Max Chilton article? Talents like Kobayashi, Senna, Heikki have to take the back seat while the rich kids have a go with their dad’s money.
      Other than that look at the engine trend- V12 to V10 to V8 now V6 turbo. Soon we’ll be seeing F1 racing in hatchbacks.

      1. @aish

        Talents average drivers like Kobayashi, Senna, Heikki have to take the back seat

        None of the drivers you’ve mentioned we’re going to be world champions, so I won’t miss their presence.

        look at the engine trend- V12 to V10 to V8 now V6 turbo

        I’m partially inclined to agree with you here but I like the engine change: it provides an extra engineering challenge and if they’re even half as powerful as the old turbos I won’t be disappointed! But the progression from V12’s to V8’s was indeed disappointing, especially the V10 – V8 step down.

        1. I think Kobayashi is a pretty impressive driver. Did you see how he was able to hold up Vettel in Brazil last year? He had some pretty good starts, started from the front row in Spa but that French Grosjean decapitated half the field within the first corner. He is a good shot, just need a better car. e has a lot of experience too, he is much quicker than Gutierrez anyway, but compared to Hulkenberg he was slow.
          He would have finished in the podium for sure if it wasn’t for Grosjean in Spa.
          He only lost out his seat in Sauber F1 because he was not able to rope in sponsors, given Japan’s horrible economic conditions.
          And EG got the drive because of his TelMex backing anyway.

  6. Very nice picture. I tend to forget that we did not have so many WDCs on the grid a few years ago. It is interesting, that in the picture only Schu was a WDC, but three other became champions in the following years. And of course another interesting thing, Baumgartner is in the picture the only Hungarian F1 driver, I still dont know how did he get the drive (even with the government and MOL backing).

  7. I really want to know what Rubens and Michael are chinwagging about.

    And, is it just me, or hasn’t Webber aged a day since that photo was taken?

  8. Personally I like the idea of having new drivers in the sport, despite the fact that some may feel they are not deserving of the opportunity. Its easy to become nostalgic. Many were excited by the prospect of Michael Schumacher’s return three years ago for all the obvious reasons, or Rubens Barrichello becoming the sports most experienced driver. These were all good headline grabbers, but the eternal issue is that there have only ever been so many seats at the table.
    Sadly in days gone by, drivers rarely lived long enough to be classed a ‘veteran’. I remember Jackie Stewart saying that if only ‘four drivers were killed in a season it was classed a good year’, such was the lack in safety. The knock on effect ofcourse was that the sport had a higher turnover in drivers than it does now, although the sport was more akin to the Battle of Britain than a racing series. Atleast, judging by Stewart’s accounts.
    Thankfully, these days are long gone along with the hay bales and other obsticles such as trees, ditches, and the occasional telegraph pole that used to line our racing circuits unprotected limits. But with that, has come longevity.
    Drivers now, allowing for talent ofcourse, have a lot better odds of staying in the sport as long as Rubens Barrichello did. That would have been unthinkable years ago, but it is a fact now. This only makes it all the more difficult for young drivers trying to break into Formula One, and almost impossible if they don’t have the financial backing. This problem is as old as the sport itself but is a problem that still persists.
    I can remember when Fernando Alonso was paying for his drive at Minardi back in 2001, and look how that turned out. Even Aryton Senna had to cough up some dough to drive the Toleman back in 1984, so it goes to show just how difficult a journey becoming an F1 driver really is. Many extremely talented drivers have missed out on F1, but I will not turn my back or pass judgement on the ones that do. Especially when I have yet seen them turn a wheel!

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