After a wee break from the blogosphere I’m back!
This time out, I’m going to look at the opposite end of the spectrum from my previous Formula Young article and look at the drivers who are closer to getting their pension (not that they’ll need it) than their first race. This selection of drivers have won a combined 10 world championships between them in the last 12 years – that’s quite an impressive pedigree to still have on the grid! But as we enter the twilight of their careers, let’s have a look at what they’ve achieved, and what unfinished business they may have.
1. Kimi Räikkönen (37), First Race – Australia 2001
The only driver on the grid born in the 70s earns the crown of ‘Oldest Driver’ by a comfortable 2 years to Felipe Massa! Since starting out at the erratic Sauber team in 2001, Räikkönen has always been impressive on track. He finished 10th overall that year, and caught a glimpse of the podium on two occasions in Austria and Canada. Boasting a lowest finish of 10 (ignoring the 7 DNFs), he quickly caught the eye of Ron Dennis at McLaren who signed him up for the following 5 seasons. His premier season at the big team didn’t exactly bring him the success he may have been dreaming of; he only finished 7 of the 17 races. and only manged a best of 2nd in France. Granted, the races he did finish were never lower than 4th, but the inconsistency of his results meant he finished 6th overall at the end of the year behind team-mate David Coulthard by 17 points. The next 4 years brought him 9 victories, and a sniff at the championship in 2003 and 2005, missing out by only 2 and 21 points respectively.
Things shifted when he moved to Ferrari in 2007, which brought him the championship that year in what was a closely contested battle with F1-newbie Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso, both of whom he beat by a single point!
Unfortunately for the aptly named ‘Ice-Man’, he was unable to replicate the victory with Ferrari, and left the sport completely at the end of 2009. He spent the next two years dabbling in Rallying and NASCAR, neither of which brought him success. This prompted a return to Formula One in 2012 with Lotus. Again, this change didn’t bring him much success aside from the two victories over the next two seasons.
Since 2014 Kimi has been back with Ferrari and seems to have settled into an unofficial ‘number 2 driver’ position recently, though everyone involved would deny that! Winless since 2013, and his pole position in Monaco 2017 being his first since 2008, it does seem that it’s been a downhill slope since his championship. It’s his chill attitude and interview responses that have made him very popular with fans, and that’s an appeal which hasn’t gone anywhere over the last 16 years. It doesn’t take long to find compilations of his best radio responses or interviews that’ll prove that point! A recent highlight – Baku 2017, shown below.
What lies ahead for the ice-cold Finn? Not a lot I reckon. This time last year Ferrari had confirmed that he would be with them this year, but everything’s been quiet on that front in 2017. He’s even received criticism from Ferrari head honcho Sergio Marchionne who called him a ‘laggard’. I’d be surprised if Räikkönen doesn’t call it quits after this year – he seems disinterested and isn’t a main player in this year’s championship despite being in one of the best cars on the grid. He’s been lucky to have been in a Ferrari the last few years, but I don’t see that luck continuing.
It’s hard not to like the man, admire him even. If you don’t, well, he won’t care to be honest!
Old Man Rating – 5/5
His no-nonsense attitude and lack of displaying emotions ticks all the stereotypical ‘old man’ boxes. He may only be 37, but I’m sure he goes home at night to put his slippers on, do the crossword and reminisce about the ‘good ol’ days’. Probably refers to Verstappen and Wehrlein as ‘those pesky kids’.
2. Felipe Massa (36), First Race – Australia 2002
Ah Felipe, F1’s favourite ‘nearly man’. While he doesn’t share the success that his peers may have enjoyed, he’s still proven to be a good driver and one fans all over the world alike have a special fondness for. He’s a ‘nice guy’, and maybe that’s why he never found the ultimate success. It’s hard to look back on Massa’s career and not stick him in the ‘Number 2 Driver ‘ box, but heck, he is the perfect number two!
A young fresh faced Massa (with a full head of hair!) first appeared on the F1 grid way back in 2002. His first season was a bit unstable. He did manage to score 4 point over the season and managed an impressive 5th at the Spanish Grand Prix but his initial season was pock marked by a number mistakes such as spinning the car off the track. After being given a 10 place grid penalty for the Indianapolis GP for causing a collision with Pedro De La Rosa, Sauber decided it was better just to swap Massa with Heinz-Harald Frentzen. Not the best of starts to a F1 career!
Sadly, Sauber dropped Massa for 2003 in favour of the veteran Frentzen. Instead of giving up on his F1 dream, Massa spent 2003 with future employer Ferrari as a test driver, no doubt sowing the seeds that would one day grow into a race seat with the Italian outfit. Massa returned to Sauber for the 2004 and 2005 seasons, and gave an impressive showing finishing on average inside the top ten every race. Add in a couple of fourths, and this was enough for Ferrari to offer him a race seat for 2006, replacing co-patriot Ruebans Barrichello as he headed to Honda. It’s hard to imagine anyone making the jump from a Sauber to a Ferrari nowadays!Unsurprisingly, Massa was number 2 to the statistically brilliant Schumacher until the German’s retirement in 2006.
Massa’s Ferrari career in 2006 & 2007 brought him 5 wins and 17 podiums, but it was 2008 when his underlying skills really came to the surface. Despite retiring from the first two races of the ’08 season, Massa went on to win 6 races that season, locked in a head-to-head battle with Lewis Hamilton. As we all know, the season ultimately went Hamilton’s way, who won by a single point. After winning the Brazilian race, Massa was world champion for all of 38.907 seconds, sadly the closest he ever got to being crowned world champ. He hasn’t won a race since.
Massa’s career began a slow downward spiral since then. In 2009 he missed most of the second half of the season after being struck by a suspension coil that had broken free from Jenson Button’s car. Striking him on the head and doing serious damage, it was lucky that Massa was able to retake his seat for 2010.
There’s not much to say about Massa’s remaining time at Ferrari. He scored 8 podiums over the next 4 seasons before moving to Williams. He hasn’t found any great success here – only 5 podiums in the last 4 seasons (up to Austria 2017) and hasn’t finished higher than 6th in the Drivers’ Championship.
Massa announced his retirement in 2016, but then Rosberg threw a spanner in the works! Massa’s team-mate, Valterri Bottas moved to Mercedes leaving Williams with an empty seat. Who better to fill that seat than Massa? So he’s been mentoring the young Lance Stroll this year and has expressed a desire to remain in the sport into 2018. Whether that’s a good idea or not remains to be seen, though I have my doubts. After such a heart warming goodbye last year, it seemed like the right time to leave. Without the chance of winning, I don’t see why Massa would hang around any longer.
Old Man Rating – 4/5
He’s the old man who’s denying he’s old! Hanging around with teenagers, hanging on to the ‘cool’, but his disguise is seen through by everyone. His hair is telling him he’s no spring chicken anymore, but he’s refusing to listen. 36 is the new 30 right?!
3. Fernando Alonso (35), First Race – Australia 2001
Widely regarded as one of the best, if not the best driver on the grid today and maybe ever, Fernando Alonso does not have the success he deserves. He got off to a flying start, out-qualifying his team-mate by 2.6 seconds on his race debut. At Imola, he qualified 18th beating both Bennetons (interestingly, one place behind Jos Verstappen, Max V’s father!). An impressive start for a rookie in a Minardi.
Alonso became the Renault test driver in 2002 before being promoted to a race seat in 2003. He wasted no time in showing his talent – a stunning pole position in Malaysia and 4 podiums over the season, including a win in Hungary. That year he finished 6th in the Drivers’ Championship, which he only improved on over the next 3 years!
After a respectable 2004 picking up 4th overall, it was 2005 that was really Alonso’s time to shine. He won 7 of the 19 races, appeared on the podium at all but 4 races and ultimately this was enough to win the championship, ending Schumacher’s reign of supremacy. 2005 gave him exactly the same result – 7 wins, (out of 18 this time) and only missed out on the podium 4 times! Unsurprisingly this gave him his second and most recent championship, scoring one more point than his previous championship.
This success brought about a team move, this time to the heavy-weight team McLaren. Partnered with the protegé Lewis Hamilton for his first season, many thought that this would be the dream team, destined to dominate the 2007 season. Dramatically, the old adage of ‘an unstoppable force meeting an unmovable object’ is apt here. McLaren’s wunderkind vs. a proven 2 time world champion may seem like a good idea on paper, but the reality was that there wasn’t enough room at the team for both of them. Hamilton’s raw talent took Alonso by surprise, and neither of them were willing to give the other anything. It was maybe this internal competition that allowed Räikkönen to sneak in and steal the championship at the last race, despite going into the last race 3rd in the championship standings .
This bitter rivalry caused Alonso to jump ship back to Renault for 2008 and 2009. There wasn’t much success for him back in the French team; just two wins, one of which was achieved under controversial circumstances.
2010 saw Alonso team up with the superpower of Ferrari, which left many speculating that we were on the verge of another Schumacher-esque domination. The next 5 seasons saw Alonso finish 2nd THREE times. On two occasions he was only beaten by a handful of points. Realistically, Alonso could be 4 time world champion, but for the domination of Red Bull at the beginning of the decade and some plain bad luck for Alonso, he was denied that.
After a falling out with Ferrari, Alonso moved to McLaren in 2015. This was the first year of the new McLaren-Honda partnership and no doubt Fernando would have been dreaming of the success that Ayrton Senna had with the same partnership some 20 years previous. Unless you’ve been under a rock for the last three years, you’ll know that this hasn’t happened. Not even nearly. It’s been a disaster for McLaren, who have gone from a championship winning team to a back marker team. Even know McLaren are doing well to finish in the points. This has led to serious doubts over Alonso’s future – he want’s a 3rd title, but it seems unlikely that will come from McLaren unless they have a miracle car for next year. Problem is, Alonso’s contract is up at the end of the year, causing real speculation where, if anywhere, he’ll be in 2018.
Doubtless Alonso has the skill, but he needs the machinery beneath him to work to a winning level. Although his streak seems to have chilled him out a bit, he still has the desire to win. He’s become well-known when it comes to his radio communications, and they are proof that he still wants to win so so badly. It’s unlikely he’ll go back to Ferrari or Renault. Mercedes seems unlikely while Hamilton is there. So what do you do with a problem like Alonso..?
Old Man Rating – 3/5
The old man who has realised that he’s getting on, and is determined to achieve as much as possible before he hangs up his gloves. He wants a 3rd F1 championship, and also has his sights on Le Mans and the Indy 500. The racing equivalent of a mid- to-late life crisis!
4. Lewis Hamilton (32), First Race – Australia 2007
The poster boy of Formula 1, the simultaneously most loved and most hated man on the grid. He’s been dividing opinions since his astonishing rookie year back in ’07 in which he very nearly won the championship! Regardless if you’re a die-hard Hamilton hater or a Lewis lover, it’s impossible to deny that he’s one of the greatest driving talents we’ve seen on the grid ever. Now in his 11th season in Formula 1, his stats are now proof that he’s up there with the greats; Schumacher, Senna, Prost, Hamilton. 20 years from now he will be a part of that elite group.
He started his career basically as a McLaren test-tube baby. Ron Dennis signed him up to the McLaren Young Driver program in 1998 after Hamilton approached him for an autograph in 1995 and told him “Hi. I’m Lewis Hamilton. I won the British Championship and one day I want to be racing your cars.”. Sure enough, in 2007 Hamilton was there lined up forth on the grid for his inaugural Formula One race. He managed to finish third, behind winner Kimi Räikkönen and team-mate Fernando Alonso.
Despite falling out with Fernando Alonso and missing out on winning the championship in his first season (something that never has been achieved), Hamilton came back with a vengeance in 2008. This year saw him go head-to-head with Ferrari’s Felipe Massa in a fight that went right up to the last race in Brazil. Even though Massa won the race in dominating style, Hamilton managed to get himself up into 5th on the last corner of the last lap to clinch the championship.
The next four seasons brought Hamilton 12 wins, but no world championships as Button won in 2009, then the Red Bull dominance started, leaving Sebastian Vettel king of the grid for a few years. Change came for Hamilton when in 2012 it was announced that he would be moving to Mercedes for the 2013 season. What seemed like an odd move, for a world champion to leave his winning team to go to a newly rebooted team (Mercedes had bought the Brawn GP team at the end of 2009) has certainly paid of dividends for Hamilton. Partnered with long time friend and racing rival Nico Rosberg, the two would come to dominate the vast majority of the 2014-2016 seasons, leaving Hamilton with an additional 2 world championships to his name, matching with his hero Aryton Senna.
2017 is proving a little different for the Brit. Gone has the rivalry with Rosberg, and in its place a multi-team battle for victory has emerged. Sebastian Vettel, current championship leader, is now Hamilton’s target in the red Ferrari. Never before have these two juggernauts gone up against each other in such evenly matched machinery. This is the duel that fans have been clamouring to see for years, and to see these two big names go at it in a Mercedes and a Ferrari is certainly a spectacle that will be long remembered, whatever the outcome.
Hamilton has always been coy about his future. We know that he has other interests outside of the sport, and technically there’s nothing stopping him from pulling a ‘Rosberg’ and leaving at the end of the season. I find that unlikely though – the last few years have seen some of the best driving we’ve ever seen from Lewis, so it would be surprising if he left while he could still achieve so much. He’s also hinted that he’d like to drive for Ferrari one day, so if that opportunity came up I’m sure we could see him make the switch from silver to red. I reckon will have Hamilton on the grid for another 2-3 years at least and more championships are certainly not out the question.
Old Man Rating – 1/5
Lewis doesn’t feel or look old. Out of the 5 drivers we’re looking at, he’s definitely the ‘coolest’ – hanging out with pop stars, a huge social media presence and insanely popular the world over. He doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon, in or out the car!
5. Sebastian Vettel (30), First Race – United States 2007
During Vettel’s era of Red Bull dominance, he went about smashing records left right and centre – youngest driver to do this, that and the next thing. He won his first championship when he was only 23, and then went on to win the next three in succession. Whether or not young Max Verstappen can grab those records off him remains to be seen, but there’s no denying Vettel’s talent.
Since his first race in 2007 at Indianapolis standing in for Robert Kubica, Vettel has always been impressive on track. Despite a somewhat ropey first full season in 2008 with Torro Rosso, he put in impressive performances in Japan and China, managing to put his Torro Rosso much further up the field that they were used to being at that point. Although he fell foul of Mark Webber (not for the last time!) in Japan after crashing into him under safety car condition, he bounced back the next year and actually won in Italy – providing Toro Rosso with their only pole and win to date.
It didn’t take long for Vettel to work his way up into the main Red Bull team as he replaced the retiring David Coulthard for 2009. He had an impressive year despite the dominance of the Brawn team at the beginning of the season and managed to earn Red Bull the first of many poles and wins to come, this time at the Chinese GP. He finished second overall that year.
2010 was when the magic combination of Vettel and Red Bull really came alive, and so began the 4 years of Red Bull victories. Over the 2010-2013 seasons Vettel won 44% of the races (that’s 34 out of 77), and that led him to win the championship four times in a row! Of course, there were ups and downs, particularly in the souring of his relationship with team-mate Mark Webber, but Vettel showed his strength as a supremely talented driver.
At the end of a disappointing 2014 where he only finished 5th overall, Vettel made the move to Ferrari for 2015 in search of more wins and more championships. Although he finished consistently high and even won 3 races in his first year, it wasn’t enough to compete with the Mercedes. 2016 was tougher, only managing 7 podiums and Ferrari remained winless for the year.
Things turned around at the beginning of 2017, as Vettel comfortably won in Australia, showing Ferrari’s improvement over the winter. That form has continued, and so far Vettel has won 3 races and sits top of the championship standings (as of Austria 2017). Vettel is in with a real chance of winning this year, and ending Ferrari’s championship drought since Kimi Raikkonen won in 2007. A close battle with Hamilton’s Mercedes has ignited this season, as both drivers aim to add to their championship collection. Vettel seems comfortable at Ferrari, so it’s unlikely that he’ll be going anywhere next year, though a possible move to Mercedes has been rumoured. How would a Hamilton/Vettel partnership work out? Hard to say, but that would be putting two top drivers together which as Hamilton knows, hasn’t worked well in the past…
Old Man Rating – 2/5
Despite a few angry outbursts, Vettel is acting his age! He’s not given up on attitude a la Kimi, but he’s not trying too hard to proove his youthfulness like Hamilton. A few years left in him yet, let’s see what he can do!
So that’s a brief look at the careers of 5 of the oldest drivers on the grid. They’ve all been successful in their own way, they’ve all had disappointments (some more than others though, eh Massa?) but they’ve all been a crucial part of the Formula One World Championship over the last 10 years. It’s not unthinkable that in 2-3 years, the grid may be missing all these names, and while that will be sad, there will be more room for the incoming generation who will be seeking to emulate the giants of the last decade.
Yes, I know Roman Grosjean is older than Vettel at 31, but I left him out as he’s only been in F1 in the 2009 season and then again since 2012. He’s also not in the same class as those mentioned above, I’m sure you’ll agree!
Who’s your favourite oldie? Let me know in the comments or Twitter @formulaed_up!