• The Inside Line

We don't need no education

Kate Walker August 23, 2014
Adrian Newey believes young drivers missing school is "a complete sham" © Sutton Images
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The big surprise of Friday's technical personnel press conference in Spa was a mini-rant by Adrian Newey. The Red Bull tech boss was asked to comment on the ever-declining average age of a Formula One driver, and had some very valid - and unexpected - points to make.

"I think what is a much more concerning question personally is the effect on education that happens for these drivers to get [to F1] at that age," Newey said. "A lot of the drivers in karting and in junior formulas frankly just aren't going to school. They don't go to school at all. The parents then hide behind that by saying that they have private tutors but I think in many cases - not all, I'm sure, but in many cases - that's actually a complete sham.

"I think if you asked a lot of those kids to sit their baccalaureate or GCSEs or whatever it might be that the results would tell a fairly depressing story which means that the few kids that do get through, fantastic," he continued. "Being at a motor race and so forth, the kids do learn in a different way - not an academic way but they learn in other ways - but I think for many of those children that don't quite make the grade, they have spent all that time not going to school, not having a proper tuition and then what happens to them afterwards is altogether another question. It's something which motor racing as an industry urgently needs to look at, because personally I think we're being irresponsible allowing that."

It's an open secret in Formula One that for every Nico Rosberg - who was made an unconditional offer for a place at one of the UK's top universities - there are drivers who would struggle to work out the gap between themselves and their teammate without recourse to the calculator app on their mobile phone. And these are the lucky few, the 22 who were able to make it to the top. Had any of their rises to Formula One been interrupted for any reason, it would have been very difficult to transition to a normal working life.

When it comes to educating the wider world about Formula One, we do a decent job. When it comes to educating children about the professional opportunities that exist within motorsport, initiatives like F1 in Schools are brilliant at promoting STEM as a compelling career choice.

F1 is where geeks go to be sexy.

As a sport, we hire top brains, be they university graduates or school leavers. To attempt to design a Formula One car without clever and knowledgeable people trained in the relevant skills is a fool's errand, after all. No one would hire an aerodynamicist without a working knowledge of the Venturi effect, just as no one would hire a CFD operator who admits to being a bit of a Luddite.

There are drivers who would struggle to work out the gap between themselves and their team-mate without recourse to the calculator app on their mobile phone

As Newey pointed out, those who fail to make the grade in professional motorsport do get an education of sorts as they attempt to work their way up the ladder. But becoming a racing driver is akin to an apprenticeship, where all the learning is aimed at one professional - and in the case of motorsport one rather unlikely - end. The skills learned inside the cockpit are not easily transferable to a role in the garage should the offer of a drive never appear. Related fields like driver management are also a difficult switch, as which up and coming driver would choose to have their career managed by someone who failed to make it themselves?

There is no easy solution to the problem, of course. The travel motorsport demands means that young drivers have patchy attendance records at best when it comes to their local schools, and the number of languages spoken in paddocks mean that a series tutor designed to get young racers through their baccalaureates would be impractical.

Perhaps the only way to ensure that young talent gets a traditional education is for the FIA to assume some social responsibility over the future of their young charges. Should any driver under the age of 18 apply for a super licence, the FIA could require that the application include proof of a school-leaver's qualification supplied by the relevant local education authority and counter-signed by the National Sporting Authority, with significant financial penalties in place for any ASN found to have forged such a document.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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Kate Walker is the editor of GP Week magazine and a freelance contributor to ESPN. A member of the F1 travelling circus since 2010, her unique approach to Formula One coverage has been described as 'a collection of culinary reviews and food pictures from exotic locales that just happen to be playing host to a grand prix'.
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Kate Walker is the editor of GP Week magazine and a freelance contributor to ESPN. A member of the F1 travelling circus since 2010, her unique approach to Formula One coverage has been described as 'a collection of culinary reviews and food pictures from exotic locales that just happen to be playing host to a grand prix'.