Max Verstappen, above, won the Formula 1 Spanish Grand Prix yesterday. The first lap was a disaster for Mercedes and with a bit of luck and good strategy from the Red Bull Racing F1 team on the day Max finished 0.616 seconds ahead of (former World Champion, so no slouch) Kimi Räikkönen. Max is now the youngest F1 driver, the youngest to score a World Championship point, the youngest leader of a race, youngest podium sitter and youngest Grand Prix winner.
All of this, however, came as no surprise to Dr Helmut Marko. Dr Helmut is an advisor to the Red Bull team and more importantly runs the Red Bull Junior Team. For almost 20 years the junior team has been scouting the best and nurturing relationships with those racing drivers they hope will be F1 World Champions some day. Sebastian Vettel was part of this programme from 1998 and went on to win 4 World Championships in a row in a Red Bull F1 car (and at the time Vettel was the youngest driver, point scorer, pole sitter, winner…).
Ferrari, by contrast, don’t have a driver development programme to speak of. They do, of course, have a great history. Ferrari have competed in F1 since the very beginning in 1950 and have won more constructor (16) and driver (15) championships than any other team. Instead of the Red Bull approach they have patience. They have been able to afford the luxury of waiting to see who might be the best driver then paying handsomely to tempt them over to Maranello. When you’ve been in a sport since 1950 it’s a long game, however Ferrari haven’t won a World Championship since 2008 (constructors, they won the driver championship in 2007) despite having arguably the best driver in their car from 2010-14 in Fernando Alonso. There are many complexities involved in winning but the lack of a young driver programme is a huge gap.
Ferrari simply cannot and must not rely on heritage and money to get world beating drivers and engineers. There’s a new order forming and building relationships early and with a long term vision are way more important than a cheque book and history lesson.