Written by Danny Jones, Edited by Nakul Naik
Max Verstappen’s sudden arrival on the F1 scene caused chatter up and down the paddock in 2015. Would a 17 year old, with just one single seater season under his belt, really be ready for F1? Although Verstappen would soon silence the doubters, new measures were put in place so that a repeat of the scenario would not happen again, leading to the introduction of the FIA Super Licence.
An FIA Super Licence is required for a racing driver to reach F1 where drivers are required to have 40 ‘points’ in three seasons of racing - which are awarded depending on successes in other series - with the magnitude/difficulty of the series also being a factor in the amount of points. A driver also needs to be 18 years old, meaning that Verstappen’s record for the youngest ever F1 driver will never be beaten.
F2 is the highest yielder of points in the system, with the top 3 drivers in the championship automatically achieving the 40 points required for F1, which is appropriate given F2 is the primary feeder series to F1. The F3 champion will receive 30 points, the FRECA Champion receives 25 and all the F4 Champions receive 12. But the F4 situation leads to the first issue. All F4 series are given the same weight, despite the difference in class between the Italian and Danish series being huge, meaning that it is unreasonable to give both series the same points.
A key debate over the Super Licence system is the points awarded to drivers in the IndyCar Series, which particularly flared up when Colton Herta was rumoured with a 2022 Alfa Romeo seat. The champion of the series receives 40 points automatically, meaning that drivers such as Scott Dixon and Alex Palou could theoretically enter F1. But, problems occur when you reach drivers such as Pato O’Ward or Herta.
IndyCar has employed professional drivers who make millions a year, whilst F2 is usually young drivers with a huge sum of money. This is where the points system should be called into question. A series with a much higher reputation and driver calibre should not receive less points than one with a lower reputation. Callum Ilott, runner-up in F2, has by no means set the IndyCar world alight in his first few races, while Christian Lundgaard has been absent in his first few ventures. Drivers such as Pato O’Ward and Colton Herta are comfortably better than the 3rd/4th place finisher in F2, but receive half the points if they were to finish 3rd in IndyCar compared to 3rd in F2.
The disparity between points and series quality is the key issue throughout the system. The DTM is one of the most highly regarded championships for GT cars, yet, it receives the same amount of Super Licence points as the uncompetitive W Series, whose drivers tend to struggle once they enter another series.
Strangely, drivers can earn up to a third of their licence in their karting days. The requirement is to gain 40 points in a span of three years, and most drivers kart up to the age of 13. It would be almost impossible to gain another 28 points in three years if they are competing in a low-level formula, which is the naturally progressive step after karting.
However, the points balance is accounted for by the possibility of drivers reaching F1, e.g. the NASCAR Cup Series receives very low points as it is unlikely that a NASCAR driver would move to F1. The weighting of some series against others is clearly unfair, and really hampers any driver’s chances competing outside of the traditional F4 - F3 - F2 system. It is really vital for F1’s diversification and its passages into the sport to make it more affordable and give opportunities to more drivers. But currently, the Super Licence system is too unbalanced and denies anyone outside the traditional route the opportunity to make it to F1 and needs to be heavily adjusted to create a fair system.