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Are F1 rookies too harshly critiqued now?

Written by Caitlyn Gordon, Edited by Tarun Suresh

Photo credits: JAVIER SORIANO/AFP via Getty Images

F1 is a sink-or-swim world. To survive in the sport, drivers need to prove they deserve a seat, usually by contributing to the Constructors Championship and being able to match or beat their teammate's results. Every few years, a new rookie enters the world of F1. It is always exciting to see what unique talents these rookies can bring to the table and watch them develop throughout the season.

The 2023 season saw three rookies take the next step in their careers to the pinnacle of the sport – the first time since 2019 that three rookies have joined at the same time. The Class of 2019 – Alex Albon, Lando Norris and George Russell – are big names in the sport and have become the mainstays of their respective teams' futures.

It was safe to say that the Class of 2023 had some exciting names on the grid, but as we head into the final stint of the season, two of the rookies have come under heavy media scrutiny for their lack of results and frequent mistakes. The question is: Are F1 rookies now being judged too harshly in their rookie seasons, and have the Class of 2019 set new standards for rookies to aspire to as teams now look for their future champion?

Nyck de Vries

Photo credits: AlphaTauri

Nyck de Vries headed into his first F1 season with Red Bull’s sister team AlphaTauri and partnered with Yuki Tsunoda for 2023.

Before the season kicked off, fans already had a small taste of what de Vries could bring to the table.

Rewind to Monza 2022, Alex Albon had to pull out of the race due to a medical emergency – this gave way for de Vries to finally have his long-awaited shot at F1. The Dutchman had a stellar debut in Italy, putting Albon’s Williams into the points and finishing six places ahead of Williams’ other full-time driver, Nicholas Latifi.

Looking at de Vries’ curriculum vitae, he had a rather impressive list of racing achievements — being a former Formula 2 (2019) and Formula E (2020) Champion – which, on paper, made him a great candidate for a season in F1. The former Formula E champion looked like an exciting driver to watch in 2023. However, it wasn’t the fairy-tale many thought it’d be. De Vries struggled with the AlphaTauri – albeit the AT04 wasn’t a top-performing car, and Tsunoda was also finding it difficult to pilot. But the extremely high standards people already set for de Vries at the start of the season inevitably became his downfall.

The sixth race of the season fast approached, and the F1 world travelled to the crown jewel; Monaco. De Vries entered this weekend with a string of poor results, suffering from two DNFs in a row, finishing 18th in the fifth round and being one of two drivers yet to score a single point. The heat on de Vries was starting to fire up, and the strong vitriol the driver was about to receive in the media was going to be hard to avoid.

The media campaign against him started just before Monaco when Red Bull advisor Helmut Marko revealed to the press that de Vries had received a three-race ultimatum. If he did not start performing and trying to earn points, he was bound to be replaced.

Marko also mentioned that they were happy with Tsunoda’s season and condemned his ‘unfortunate results’, but were not satisfied with de Vries: "Yuki is having a very good season, with unfortunate results and penalties - but the performances are good. But we're not satisfied with Nyck de Vries, we'll look into that."

The pressure seemed like a huge motivator for the Dutchman as the race in Monaco started to unfold, de Vries improved and finished in 12th and more impressively, three places ahead of his teammate. The momentum was carried into Spain, where de Vries was looking strong and finished in 14th place. It seemed like de Vries would continue in the sport – although questions of him being replaced only six races into his rookie F1 season were a little premature and only added more pressure to his shoulder.

Heading into Canada, was the beginning of the end for de Vries. The Dutchman finished in 18th after fighting with Magnussen on the 36th lap for 12th place, de Vries out-brake himself, leading to both drivers heading off into the run-off area. That incident sacrificed both of their races and meant neither of them gained any points.

Helmut Marko then revealed on ‘The Inside-Line’ podcast that Christian Horner was not a fan of de Vries and didn’t want to sign him until Marko convinced him to. He went on to say: ‘At the moment, it looks like he was right [Horner].’

After the British Grand Prix – de Vries finished 17th in the last two races – it was announced that the Dutchman would not be returning and Daniel Ricciardo would be replacing him from here on. The lofty expectations on the rookie meant that after only 10 races in F1, he would not be continuing. It shocked not only fans but F1 drivers as well. Lewis Hamilton, George Russell and Charles Leclerc all spoke about how harsh and unfair it was to sack a rookie. The whole situation was completely unfair to de Vries, who deserved at least the entire season to prove he deserved his seat.

Logan Sargeant

Image credits: Williams Racing

Alongside de Vries in the 2023 rookies, American youngster and Williams Racing Driver Academy member Logan Sargeant made his debut in F1. Sargeant, unlike de Vries or Oscar Piastri, hadn’t won the F2 Championship.

In 2022 – his first full year in the series – Sargeant won two F2 races and finished fourth overall in the series standings – just one point behind Liam Lawson.

With Nicholas Latifi’s contract coming to an end, Williams decided not to extend his contract. This meant a seat was available, and Williams opted for the 22-year-old. As previously mentioned, de Vries was one of two drivers yet to score a point in 2023, and the other driver is Sargeant.

Williams and AlphaTauri were two of the back markers at the start of the season. The opening race wasn’t terrible, with Alex Albon securing a point and Sargeant finishing in 12th place; it was a good start to his rookie season.

However, the issues with Williams kept arising with sudden brake failures and the car struggling to match the pace of the cars in the front. The season kept getting worse as by the seventh round in Spain, only one point had been collected for Williams, and the team was at the bottom of the standings.

Miraculously, a sudden turnaround of events saw Williams start to battle for points, and Albon was making more regular visits to the Q3 deciding round. But Sargeant was nowhere near the points in most races. The American has had five crashes this year, which has resulted in him not finishing these races and missing out on gaining some valuable points for the team.

Two further crashes happened in qualifying, one of which occurred during his first appearance in Q3. Sargeant is yet to beat his teammate in qualifying this season.

The American is not having a great start to his rookie season, but isn’t that what rookie seasons are for? Making mistakes, building confidence and gaining experience to use in future years? However, the media week in and week out are putting further pressure on Sargeant’s shoulders and asking for a different driver to take his place for 2024. Vowels – team principal – himself has backed his driver stating that he wants Sargeant to stay in Williams.

The American has shown he has talent, can drive fast and put in good lap times; however, silly mistakes have cost him immensely. An example of this happened in Saudi Arabia when Sargeant put in a mammoth lap during the Qualifying session – the time was not only faster than his teammate's but also secured entrance into Q2 – however, his lap time was deleted due to ‘track limit infringements.’

With the clock quickly ticking down, Sargeant tried to recover and push his Williams through to Q2, but it didn’t go as planned; he pushed too hard and spun out, costing himself entrance to the next knock-out phase.

Let’s look at how Sargeant is performing in contrast with his predecessor, Latifi. The Canadian scored zero points in his rookie season, with his best finish being 11th place. On his debut weekend, Latifi spun out during FP3, another free practice incident would happen later in Russia, and three separate crashes would result in the Canadian retiring throughout the season.

George Russell – the second Williams driver – would trounce Latifi in all qualifying sessions, with Russell making regular visits to Q2 and Latifi only entering it once. Latifi then went out to have a further two seasons with Williams, his rookie season wasn’t a great start, but he was still given another couple of seasons to try to prove himself.

Did the 2019 class set a new bar of standards for teams?

Image credits: Steven Tee / LAT Images

Travelling back to 2019, the rookies during that season seemed to have set a high standard for new upcoming drivers in F1. All three of those drivers had a strong debut season and proved that they not only deserved a seat in F1, but all have chances of being World Champions one day – with the three now the core of their respective team’s future.

Starting with Norris, who debuted with McLaren at only 19 years old, the Brit was partnered with an experienced teammate, Carlos Sainz. The youngster was a highly regarded star, and as the season progressed, he showed why that is.

Norris beat Sainz 11-10 in qualifying, which for a rookie to do against their teammate who has four years more experience in F1, shows the level this driver came in with. Norris’ qualifying pace was just three-hundredths of a second off Sainz, which was the tightest margin of the season. When the season wrapped up in Abu Dhabi, the standings saw Sainz finishing in 6th position, whereas Norris finished in 11th.

McLaren finished fourth in the Constructors Championship, their best finish since 2011. To further look at how great of a rookie season the Brit had, Norris finished in the top 10 ten times throughout the season.

However, some last-lap misfortune for the youngster hindered his results in two races– Norris was on his way to finishing in fifth in Belgium before having to retire his car because of reliability and due to some strategy calls in Britain, Norris ended up without points in that race. The following year, Sainz left, and Norris became the future of McLaren.

Image credits: Andy Hone / LAT Images

Looking next at Alex Albon, who finished third in the 2018 F2 Championship, Albon was en route to head to Formula E. However, a late call-up saw him being placed into Red Bull’s sister team, formerly named Toro Rosso, for 2019 alongside Daniil Kyvat.

Although his first race was underwhelming, finishing in 14th place, Albon showed the talent he possesses during the Chinese Grand Prix – the third round of the season – where he started in the pitlane due to having a new chassis after a big shunt during FP3.

The Thai driver fought back with a one-stop strategy and kept the two hungry Haas drivers behind him to finish in P10 – his second race in a row with points. By the summer break, he already finished in the points five times.

However, the big news that would happen saw Pierre Gasly dropped by the senior Red Bull team, and Albon was drafted in from August onwards. On his first outing with the RB15, Albon had to start at the back of the grid due to reaching the power unit change limit. However, the pressure of starting at the back of the grid for his first race in the Red Bull team didn’t seem to faze Albon.

The 23-year-old climbed up the ladder of drivers, making magnificent overtakes – famously when he overtook Sergio Perez on the grass during the final lap — and finished in fifth place. Throughout the rest of the season, Albon went on to consistently place his car fifth or sixth for six more races; he racked up more points in nine races than his predecessor could do in 12. The newest addition to the Red Bull family then won Rookie of the Year, finished in 8th overall place with 95 points and earned himself a seat for the following year in Red Bull.

George Russell’s rookie season can often be overlooked due to Williams being a 'backmarker' team and often not being the focus of the race. The car was 2% slower than the rest of the field. This was an automatic disadvantage for the Brit.

However, Russell was incredible in his first season, out-qualifying his experienced teammate, Robert Kubica, 19-0. Russell finished ahead of his teammates 16 times throughout the season. Although Russell didn’t quite get enough attention in his rookie season due to the state of the FW42, the stats and performances alone showed the bright raw talent he had.

Looking at the class of 2019, their performances and talent were incredible. All three drivers excelled in their respective teams and proved to the sport that they could all be potential World Champions one day. Their performances throughout the 2019 season have raised the bar for future rookies.

To return to the original question at hand, are F1 rookies now being judged too harshly? Well, with one rookie already getting axed 10 races into their season and calls for Sargeant to be dropped and replaced, it points to an astounding yes.

Albeit, neither rookie has had many impressive performances all season; however, it needs to be taken into account that Sargeant was thrown into the deep end, with only one year of experience in F2 and limited testing time in comparison to other drivers.

The American was already at a disadvantage at the start of the season; it would be unfair to push him out after the season he has had. de Vries’ was an unfortunate tale and sadly, his long-awaited dream in F1 got cut short. The media and his own team scrutinizing him most weeks added extra pressure to the Dutchman’s shoulders every race weekend. Although the AT04 isn’t a perfect car, high standards were already set for the driver after Monza 2022, which he didn’t meet.

Piastri has been incredible this season, becoming the first rookie since Lance Stroll to be on the podium since 2017, taking pole and sprint race victory, while matching his experienced teammate, Norris, for most of the season. He is the first rookie since 2019 to reach, and exceed expectations.

This shows the difficult and unrealistic standards that are put on top rookies. F1 will always be a cutthroat sport, and with the driver talent pool widening and the age of rising talents becoming younger every year, rookies now have to stand out more than ever to retain their seats.


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