In recent years, there has been a change in attitude among the top-tier F1 teams regarding fielding an inexperienced driver. Red Bull’s recent success with making a young driver the cornerstone of their team has received a lot of attention from fans and rivals alike.
They have reaped the rewards of this with the team’s success in the early 2010s, and thus, because of this, other teams have started to follow their approach.
In 2021, Ferrari will field their youngest driver line-up since 1968. Mercedes, instead of giving the drive to their test driver Stoffel Vandoorne, chose George Russell to replace Lewis Hamilton for the 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix.
So, despite this apparent change in attitude, why haven’t there been many young World Champions?
The main reason has to be that when young drivers enter F1, they generally start off with teams at the bottom of the ladder. At these teams, they learn the ropes of the sport, having just made the jump from a lower category of motorsports like F3 or F2.
Moreover, these teams generally have inferior machinery compared to the top teams. In F1, raw talent can only help so much. Without the best machinery in the sport, you can never hope to consistently win. This is not the case in F2 and F3, as every driver has more or less the same car.
Older drivers generally have the experience to counter these issues. They would know when to bend the rules in their favor. They are also able to maneuver the racing line to his advantage.
An older driver is also able to assess on-track conditions very well and could call for a pit-stop. This is something a young driver may not have the confidence or experience to do.
Many drivers, over the years, have waited years for their first Championship after their first win. Jenson Button (three years) and Nico Rosberg (four years) are prime examples of this phenomenon.
However, despite all this, there have been a few drivers who have been able to overcome the drawbacks of being a young gun in the sport and clinch the coveted title.
So, without further ado, let’s take a look at the top four youngest World Champions in F1.
Emerson Fittipaldi of Brazil was 25 years and 273 days old when he secured his maiden F1 Championship in 1972. This made him at the time the youngest ever driver to win the Championship. He held this record for more than three decades.
The Brazilian had a 10-year F1 career that spanned across three teams. He’s a Double World Champion having won with Lotus (1972) and McLaren (1974). He also entered F1 as a constructor, with his team Fittipaldi Automotive having a very short-lived tenure.
The 74-year-old has won a total of 14 races across 144 race starts. He has also finished on the podium a total of 35 times. The Brazilian has also qualified as pole position on six occasions. He has also won the Indianapolis 500 twice in 1989 and 1993.
Fernando Alonso of Spain was 24 years and 58 days old when he won his maiden F1 Championship in 2005. The Spaniard is still racing and is about to make his return to F1 after two years in 2021. He will be racing for Alpine which was rebranded from Renault.
The Spaniard will embark on his 18th season in F1 having raced for four teams. He has raced for Minardi, Renault, McLaren (2 stints), and Ferrari. He’s a Double World Champion having won both his titles with Renault (2005 and 2006).
The 39-year-old has won a total of 32 races across 311 race starts. He has also finished on the podium a total of 97 times. The Spaniard has also qualified as pole position on 22 occasions. He has also won the World Endurance Championship in 2019. He has also won the 24 Hours of Le Mans on two occasions in 2018 and 2019. This makes him the only driver to have won all three titles.
Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain was 23 years and 300 days when he secured his first F1 Championship in 2008. He has raced for just two constructors in his 15-year F1 career.
He’s raced for McLaren and Mercedes having won titles for both constructors. He’s a Seven-Time World Champion winning with McLaren (2008) and Mercedes (2014-2015, 2017-2020).
The 36-year-old also holds the records for the most wins (95), most podiums (165), and the most pole positions (98). He’s done this across 266 race starts. He’s also been involved in many initiatives outside F1 like music, fashion, and social justice.
Sebastian Vettel of Germany was 23 years and 134 days when he won his first F1 Championship in 2010. This makes the youngest ever World Champion, as of 2020. He will be racing for his fifth team in Aston Martin for the 2021 season.
He has raced for BMW Sauber, Toro Rosso, Red Bull, and Ferrari before 2021. He’s a Four-Time World Champion winning all his titles with Red Bull (2010-2013).
The 33-year-old has won a total of 53 races across 258 race starts. He has also finished on the podium a total of 121 times. The German has also qualified as pole position on 57 occasions.
He also holds the record for most podium finishes in a season (17 in 2011), most wins in a season (13 in 2013), most pole positions in a season (15 in 2011), and most wins from pole position in a season (9 in 2011) among many other records.
He also has the quirky habit of naming his F1 cars for the season following in the tradition of American pilots in World War 2.