After Emerson Fittipaldi no one claimed the title of youngest ever F1 champion for over thirty years although, over that period, the third, fourth and fifth oldest world champions were crowned (Nigel Mansell, Mario Andretti and Damon Hill, if you’re wondering, after Farina and Fangio). However the last six years have seen three men stake their claims to this achievement, and now on day 11 of Badger’s Advent Calendar here are the three youngest ever F1 Champions – starting with…
Fernando Alonso, 2005, 24 years, 1 month, 27 days.
Alonso was the man who finally broke the Schumacher dominance of the championship in the new millennium and this is very appropriate as, like Schumacher, Alonso is one of those drivers who is easy to admire, but difficult to love. When everything is going his way he is joy itself, but when he is frustrated, he will take out his frustrations on other drivers, as witnessed by his Dick Dastardly fist-shaking at the hapless Vitaly Petrov at the Abu Dhabi GP at the end of this season, Petrov having been inconsiderate enough to have attempted to drive as well as he could to help secure his seat at Renault. And, of course, nobody mention the famous Hungary 2007 qualis pit stop.
Alonso was born in Oviedo in Spain in 1981 and started karting as a child, winning four consecutive Spanish junior championships before moving on to win both Spanish and Italian Inter-A titles. After impressive trials for various teams, he moved into F3000 before beginning his F1 career with Minardi in 2001. His manager Flavio Briatore originally considered using him to replace Jenson Button as driver in the Benetton team, but when Renault took over the team in 2002 Alonso became their test driver. In 2003 he moved up to join Jarno Trulli as the team’s second driver, a controversial decision, which was proved correct as he became the youngest driver to take pole at that year’s Malaysian GP and eventually finished the season in 6th place overall. The following year he consolidated his position, finishing in 4th.
2005 was the season where it all came together and he won seven races, with eight other podium finishes, and clinched the title with two races remaining. He followed that up by becoming the youngest ever double world champion when he won the 2006 championship as well.
Since then his career has been dogged by controversies and he has become immortalised by F1 Icons as the Man of Many Gates, with Spygate (2007), Crashgate (2008) and Switchgate (2010) to his credit, but after his incredible comeback during the second half of the 2010 season for Ferrari it still needs to be said that Alonso is quite possibly the best current driver in F1. Not the most popular, but probably the best.
Lewis Hamilton, 2008, 23 years, 9 months, 27 days.
If you look up the word ‘precocious’ in the dictionary, you would probably just find a picture of Lewis Hamilton, as it is hard to think of anyone who better defines the word.
Born in Stevenage in 1985 he began karting at the age of eight. Two years later he approached McLaren’s Ron Dennis for an autograph at the Autosport Awards and told him that he wanted to drive for them. Less than three years later he had been signed to the McLaren young drivers’ programme and, after winning the British Formula Renault, the Formula Three Euroseries and the GP2 championships, he was driving for the McLaren F1 team in 2007. After podiums in his first four races he became the youngest driver to ever lead the world championship, a record once held by Bruce McLaren himself back in 1960. He finished his first season in F1 by nearly winning the championship, finishing second to Kimi Raikkonen by just one point.
He followed that up by taking the championship the following season, although it went down to the last lap of the last race at Interlagos, where his overtaking Timo Glock to move into 5th place meant he had beaten race winner Filipe Massa to the title by just one point. Hamilton became the youngest ever champion, the first British champion since Damon Hill in 1996 and the first ever black world champion. I have also been asked to point out by my other half that he is also incredibly cute.
Sebastian Vettel, 2010, 23 years, 4 months, 11 days.
Finally, the latest holder of the title Youngest Ever F1 Champion, Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel. Dubbed by some people ‘Baby Schumi’, but the jury is still out as to whether that refers to Michael or Ralf.
Vettel was born in Heppenheim, Germany in 1987. Starting in karts he worked his way through the lower series, winning the 2004 Formula BMW ADAC title, before reaching F1, initially with BMW Sauber, then progressing through Torro Rosso and on to Red Bull. As he moved through F1 he set a series of ‘youngest ever’ records: youngest ever driver to take part in a race weekend (Friday practice, Turkey 2006), youngest driver to score points (US 2007), youngest driver to lead a race (Japan 2007), youngest driver to get pole and youngest driver to win a race (both Italy 2008), youngest ever runner up (2009 season) and finally youngest world champion (2010).
There has been some criticism of his, at times, erratic driving style – just ask Jenson Button, Robert Kubica and Mark Webber (twice) – and some people say that he can drive well from the front, but doesn’t have the maturity or skill to win a race from a poor grid position, but these are the sort of criticisms that could be levelled at many young drivers and the fact is that, despite his occasional immaturity, there is no doubt whatsoever about his incredible driving abilities. As he develops more experience as a driver he will just keep getting better and better.
The new Schumacher? Ask again in six years time and I wouldn’t be surprised if Schumacher is referred to as the old Vettel.