F1 News

'Verstappen effect' applies again as Antonelli arrives

Does Antonelli partly owe his F1 debut to Verstappen?

14 June at 16:30
  • Jeroen Immink

All signs are green that Andrea Kimi Antonelli is going to be Lewis Hamilton 's successor at Mercedes. After much deliberation, team boss Toto Wolff has finally made his choice. Is this arrival of Antonelli due to a 'Verstappen effect'? GPblog finds out.

Wolff has waited a long time in the search for a replacement for Hamilton. The Briton, who in turn will leave for Ferrari, has left a big hole to fill. With six world titles with Mercedes, Hamilton will leave with an unprecedented track record. So there are also risks involved in this choice for Antonelli. Nevertheless, Wolff is behind the Italian as a block. "We want to concentrate on Kimi, he is our future," Wolff recently revealed.

Antonelli's arrival matches Verstappen's

Antonelli's arrival certainly has some common ground with Max Verstappen. On 18 August 2014, the entire Formula 1 world was rocked by the arrival of the then 16-year-old Verstappen at Toro Rosso. 'Irresponsible, dangerous and out of all proportion,' were the sounds in the paddock. After Verstappen moved on to Red Bull in 2016 and immediately won his first race, he quashed all that criticism. This success opened the door for a lot of young talents.

After Verstappen, all teams invested in their Driver Academies. Before Verstappen, Jaime Alguersuari was the youngest driver ever at 19 years and 125 days. Only a few times were those records broken for the number of years. Verstappen then became by far the youngest driver ever at 17 years and 166 days. Following in his wake were Lance Stroll (18 years and 148 days), Oliver Bearman (18 years and 305 days) and Lando Norris (19 years and 124 days).

Incidentally, Verstappen's record was no longer broken because the FIA introduced a minimum age of 18 and drivers also had to have a valid driving licence. The latter rule has now been scrapped by the FIA and, with the FIA 's permission, F1 teams could possibly put 17-year-old drivers in the car again.

Teams like Ferrari and Mercedes, which are known for their drive for stability that meant they always drove experienced drivers, have given the chance to the likes of Charles Leclerc and George Russell. Even these kinds of big Formula 1 teams are increasingly daring to put younger drivers in their cars.

Consequently, before Verstappen's arrival, fewer young drivers debuted than in the years following Verstappen. If we dive all the way back to 1950, when the first Formula 1 season was run, the average age was a whopping 39 years and 255 days. Over the years, this age has gone down drastically. Former Formula 1 driver Giedo van der Garde gave a logical explanation for this in 2019: "Children used to get into a kart for the first time around 10,11 years old. Now that age is around 4.5. So talents naturally get the hang of it faster and faster and have a lot of racing experience at a young age when they switch to motorsport," Van der Garde said.

A total of 27 drivers have debuted in Formula 1 under the age of 21. Of those 27 drivers, six debuted after Verstappen's arrival and Max and Carlos Sainz both debuted in 2015 at an age under 21.

Verstappen convinced of more guts at Formula 1 teams

In an interview with Humberto Tan ahead of the 2019 Jumbo Race Days, Verstappen was asked whether the arrival of young talent could be a 'Verstappen effect'. To this, the Dutchman responded, "I think more and more teams are daring to put younger drivers in the car. They have seen with me that it can be done. When Red Bull signed me, everyone thought: 'You can't do that and it won't work'. But when you see that it does succeed, you see that they do take the risks now. It will definitely have helped."

With Antonelli's arrival, the average age of the 2025 grid will go down another notch. Currently, the average age is 27.75, making it slightly higher than it was in 2014. Yet this cannot be separated from veterans such as Fernando Alonso (42 years old), Lewis Hamilton (39 years old) and Nico Hülkenberg (36 years old) who are still walking around the grid.

This article was written in collaboration with Sophia Crothall.