The RACER Mailbag, September 14

The RACER Mailbag, September 14

Insights & Analysis

The RACER Mailbag, September 14

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Q:  When did McLaren decide to move on from Daniel Ricciardo? If they signed Oscar Piastri in July, my estimate is that it was after the first series of races. Did they realize that the McLaren is not meeting expectations, so a comparison was made between Lando Norris and Danny?

Or, did they decide to move on after the last few races in 2021? It seems to me there was some form of buyer’s remorse.


CM: It was as early as Monaco that McLaren was really starting to worry and look around at other options, with the first hints being given to Daniel that partners and team members weren’t happy. But the actual decision was made at the British Grand Prix on July 3, where Daniel was 13th of 14 drivers and appeared to be getting further from Lando than closer.

That was the last race before McLaren had to officially sign Piastri and it felt things were not turning around with Daniel. The call wasn’t made before this year, though, as the team had been hoping the 2022 regulations would provide a reset for him.

The 2022 British GP. It’s fair to assume that McLaren doesn’t expect to see its drivers getting owned by Lance Stroll. James Sutton/Motorsport Images

Q: In the September 7 Mailbag, you said the current rules for obtaining a Super License for F1 drivers, was to prevent guys with lots of money and low on results from securing an F1 ride. Although I don’t disagree entirely with that, what you say is actually a byproduct of why we have the current Super License requirements today.

The current requirements, which were put into effect in 2016, were created to prevent an F1 team from fast-tracking a young and inexperienced driver to F1. This became known by some as the “Max Verstappen Rule.” Remember that Red Bull and Toro Rosso signed Max to an F1 contract, in 2014, when he was 16. Max also had less than a season of F3 when this happened. The current requirements say a driver must be at least 18 years old, hold a valid driver’s license, and race in a single-seater series for at least two seasons while competing in 80% of those events.

The points system for all of the various junior categories and other series (i.e. IndyCar) was put in place to create a higher expectation of driving ability for anyone wishing to race in F1. The fact that F1 has Nicholas Latifi and, last season, Nikita Mazepin shows that the rich guys will always break into the sport, regardless of their perceived talent level. Despite all the criticism those two have received, and rightfully so in many cases, they still got a Super License because they met the criteria and got the 40 points required to compete in F1!

I agree that IndyCar is undervalued severely when it comes to getting a Super Licence. However, you said that you didn’t want to see the Super License process undermined by having the FIA give Colton Herta an exemption or properly adjust Super License points, where IndyCar be weighted the same as F2, and award those points retroactively (in that event, Colton would have received the necessary 40 points from finishing third in the 2020 IndyCar championship).

My take on this is that the Super License system has had the opposite effect of what was originally intended. If the system is keeping good drivers out, doesn’t that mean the system is inherently flawed or broke? If that is the case, does it really matter if the Super License system is undermined or not? A lot of things went down in order to put Colton Herta in this position, involving a lot of different teams and players. Red Bull, Alpha Tauri, McLaren, Alpine, Michael Andretti, Zak Brown, and Helmut Marko. It will be a real pity if the FIA bureaucrats deny Herta his F1 chance in ’23, especially with a guy like Nicholas Latifi on the grid.

Paul, Mansfield, Ohio

CM: You’re right in a sense about Max, Paul, but that was not only based on age and experience, but also on how it could have set a precedent for other drivers to skip straight from low categories and inevitably get burned. More importantly for the FIA though (who wanted a ladder they control) it would have destabilized that ladder as it could have led to many drivers skipping F2 and they want them to go through it.

I agree with you about Latifi and Mazepin. They’re proof that money will still get you to F1 because it pays for the best seats and testing, but these drivers have to use that to their advantage. Lando Norris did loads of single-seater testing as a kid thanks to the finances available and it led him to honing his skills impressively — you only get better with practice and the richest get to practice the most.

But if they were truly useless they’d never get the required points. They still have to be good enough, and it has raised the minimum level so we don’t have embarrassments at the back of the grid, they’re just the slowest of a strong bunch (as someone has to be).

It’s not just related to the Super License that there could be an issue though if you choose the exemption route — it then opens the potential to selectively apply any rule at any time. The Super License points system needs changing, and I really wish they’d changed it quickly enough to open a door for Colton, but it might have to be next year now.