On This Day in #F1: 15th April

Brought to you by TheJudge13 chronicler Carlo Carluccio

– 2007: Lewis Hamilton – The best ever rookie?

On this day seven years ago, Lewis Hamilton finished second in Bahrain – adding to third in Australia and second in Malaysia – thus confirming the best start to a rookie season in F1. His subsequent six races garnered him six further podiums.


Quite exceptional in itself but when you factor in he was beating a reigning double World Champion in his sixth season then it was truly staggering.

Or was it? Irrespective of what we think of the situation within Mclaren in 2007 – this kind of performance is being seen more often with drivers debuts.

In our endless search for the best of our sport we make comparisons of different eras, technologies and individuals; always insistent that our memories are the most relevant. I grew up in the original turbo era and watched giants of the sport like Senna, Mansell, Prost and Piquet racing what were state of the art vehicles.

I have little doubt that anyone that lived through the preceding decades will have their particular favourites that could counter my selections and in the same manner the following years have introduced us to further advances and new generations of heroes. But as in everything in life we should take into account all contributing factors to arrive at our conclusion. Surely?

When Gilles Villeneuve drove a Mclaren M23 for the first time at the 1977 British Grand Prix tyre tests – he shook the establishment as he drove completely beyond his capabilities. He was spinning everywhere and although his times were getting faster he looked wild and out of his depth. Then the observers began to realise that he never spun in the same corner twice and his driving became less urgent and he matched the times of the leading runners.


“… I had to learn about the track very quickly. I needed to impress everyone in that test and for me, the quickest way to learn was to go quicker and quicker through a corner until it spun. Then i knew how quick was too quick.”

Unorthodox certainly but as a debut statement of intent it has probably never been matched. Yet he still made mistakes in races because he had such limited experience. He truly came of age two years later.

By the mid 80’s any driver of note was stepping from a F3 or F3000 car with minimal horsepower – compared to a F1 turbo behemoth which required two or three seasons to truly understand the dynamics. That was a major contributory factor in why Senna was lauded immediately.

Aerodynamics, in-car communication, electronics and vehicle dynamics were still in their infancy and the driver’s input and experience were fundamental in competition.

The latest generation of driver has never had to pass through this learning curve; which may in some sense neutralise their reception from the public. Many of the youngsters that have been promoted to Formula One have driven more powerful road cars then racing cars!

imagesscienceYet with access to countless laps in a simulator, electronics that are cutting edge, a pit crew that can inform the driver of engine issues, tyres not working in their optimum range and other endless parameters – maybe it’s time we returned the sport to entertainment rather than a science project which consumes billions in the name of research.


20 responses to “On This Day in #F1: 15th April

  1. Fascinating Carlo:) I do remember reading than Hamilton was one of the last rookies to be able to do a huge amount of pre-season testing prior to his F1 debut. Current rookies get much less car time out of the Formula 1 season with testing being so restricted and so have much less in-car experience when they start racing.

    I love the idea of the cars actually being so difficult to drive that you can’t pick it up in just a few hours – instead it can take several years of practice to perfect: more skill and less science…then again, what do I know – I’ve only been watching F1 for a couple of years:)

    It also reminds me of Mansell testing an Indycar and doing a “spin test”. Everyone watching was aghast as he purposely did some 360 spins with the car and he explained that he always liked to do a spin test so he knew what the car felt like before it spun, and what it took to make it spin…

    • Yes LH did get around 10k miles in before his debut, similar in amount to Jacques Villeneuve. But whereas these teams cannot run on track anymore, from everything we have been led to believe, the simulators they are using are good enough to replicate the mileage so they are not too disadvantaged. After all, they can place virtual parts on the sim and it replicates what it does on track.

      I remember the Mansell spins and it was also a party piece of his.

      To give some thought to my argument, Kimi returned after two years out of the sport and was ring rusty. Some of his over-taking manouvres were not as sharp as when he had a couple of seasons under his belt. Look at Schumacher also when he returned in 2010, it took him the best part of two years to get back up to speed and these guys weren’t rookies.

      i respect everyone enormously but we all get carried away with these debutants and the way I see it is that the sophistication of modern machinery disguises the learning curves. How often do we see rookies spin out of control anymore?

      • Good point about the simulators… I suspect it helps bridge the lack of on track practice to an extent. It is also less risky to push the boundaries with the simulator as you’re not putting expensive vehicles into a wall if you crash them.

        I do recall that K-mag had a few spins at Jerez….though he wasn’t the only one…

      • One thing I noticed was that the cars seemed to improve in how easy it was to drive throughout the 2000s. Look at Montoya or Raikkonen in early 2001 before TC came back in, they are really pushing the limits in applying the throttle to the full. This was then nullified by TC, where they previously could have gotten an advantage on the other drivers e.g. Imola 2001 by Montoya, or his fine showing at Interlagos.

        Suspension movement has reduced, especially after 2009 with that big rule change. Perhaps this is part of the ease of driving? 2014 has to be the first year in about ten years where the car is trickier to drive than last year – as engines started slowing down after 2004.

        I would have said it took Schumi and Kimi a few races to get back in the saddle.. For MSc I’m thinking out-qualifying Nico and being best of the rest by Spain 2010. Give him this year’s Mercedes and he would have won a few races, while Nico would have taken the title through consistency..

  2. In 1950 all drivers would have been F1 “rookies”, so either Farina or Fangio, who between them won all the races, should be considered the greatest F1 rookie.

    • But they weren’t top-level motor-racing rookies.
      This is just more infantile trolling.

    • Cav, I expect better of you. Farina was racing Grand Prix cars before the outbreak of war. He was actually in the same Alfa team as Tazio Nuvolari – so hardly a rookie.
      Fangio had also raced in top level competitions before the F1 championship was born.
      Following your line of reasoning, if the 1950 opening Grand Prix had Nuvolari, Carraciola, Lang, Varzi etc etc they would all have been rookies?

      • Following your logic if Jacques Villeneuve had won one more race or the F1 WC in 1996 he couldn’t be considered the best ever F1 rookie because he had raced Indy Car previously. Nigel Mansell shouldn’t have named the Indy Car rookie of the year in 1993 having been the F1 WC in 1992.

        I stand by my assertion. As F1 was new in 1950 everything anyone did prior to 1950 was irrelevant.

        • Really? Irrelevant before 1950? So you’re telling me that the only thing that counts is the history back to then. I’d imagine Enzo Ferrari would argue with you that what went before was pretty relevant.
          A fan-boy/girl on another site made claims a couple of years back that Vettel was the greatest ever. My nick at the time was herowassenna and they’d made remarks against Senna specifically.
          I challenged the comments and their reply stopped me dead. They’d only been watching since 2007, and had never seen any of the Greats driving. To them F1 history only mattered when they watched. You can imagine the replies that got!

          I won’t argue with your views, but to suggest that top level Grand Prix motor-racing only fits in to your neat little box due to it being named F1 shows a remarkable lack of knowledge of the heritage of the sport.

          If the likes of Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Bugatti, Mercedes, Auto-Union and others hadn’t desired to race on circuits that existed before 1950 there would be no F1 now.

          I have read your remarks here for some time and I know you’re choosing to wind people up.

          • Read what I wrote not what you think I wrote. What any driver did prior to 1950 has no bearing on the records of F1. What any team did prior to 1958 has no bearing on the F1 constructors WC. Your criteria was F1, not Formula A/B/C or Formula Libre or Formula 5000.

          • Carlo… don’t bother yourself with this troll, who comes and goes as and when he thinks he’s outwitted someone. Some people, by definition, are are too stupid to ever understand how stupid they are.

      • I have to say I think the rookie tag is always overdone for Hamilton. He’s the best example ever of the total opposite of a rookie, i.e. he signed the youngest ever contract with an F1 race seat in it, as he was not even in his teens. So he had the perfect preparation – and showed he was ready to succeed in F1 at 22, possibly ready by 20 as he swept up F3 and then GP2 at 21.

        Rosberg at 20 is more of a rookie in 2006. But even then he had won GP2 first time out in 2005 aged 19 – is GP2 and FR3.5 (and F3000 before it) not considered top level? They are only a few seconds off timewise, and F3000 was at the F1 speeds of a few years earlier in the 80s/90s.

        Similarly, where does the World Karting Championship stand? Hamilton also almost won that in his teens but for engine failure, while his contemporaries like Ardigo went on to win in 2007/8, just as Hamilton was having his first successes in F1.

    • Looking into the history of pre-F1 GP racing is also quite enlightening. It could be said the best driver never to win an F1 GP was someone like Luigi Villoresi, whose peak could be considered 1947..

      I find 88 GPs, with ‘champions’ like Jules Goux, Georges Boillot, Enzo Ferrari, Antonio Ascari, Robert Benoist, Louis Chiron, Achille Varzi, Giuseppe Campari, Tazio Nuvolari, Luigi Fagioli, Rudolf Caracciola, Bernd Rosemeyer, Hermann Lang, Raymond Sommer, Luigi Villoresi and Jean-Pierre Wimille.. lastly Alberto Ascari in 1949! And a fellow called Fangio was emerging in the non-WC races that year, the first to be run to a set of rules called ‘Formula A’, renamed ‘Formula 1’ for 1950..

      The scoring is vague though in the years without a championship.. and the Marques.. Alfa Romeo, Bugatti, Mercedes-Benz, Auto-Union, Maserati and Ferrari.. not to mention Delage, FIAT, Ballot, ERA and Talbot-Lago..

      PS. By my own estimates, the 1000th GP could be Monaco-Britain 2015!

  3. The reason Lewis could be regarded one of the greatest rookies (if not the greatest) is simply the fact he beat the reigning double world champion in the same machinery. We can never compare drivers across eras, but we can only make comparative arguments based on the competition and challenges around at each era.
    Is Senna the greatest for example? Probably yes. What’s for certain though is that he was the best in his era, as Fangio and Schunacher were the best in theirs.

    • Don’t disagree with you M78, just offering an opinion. As to the real shenanigans behind the Mclaren team of 2007, I doubt we will ever know. After all, RD is not known for his balanced treatment of drivers and he was attempting to placate Alonso by Bahrain that year so God knows.

      • I’m sure it is a fascinating story of what actually happened behind the scenes there, and hopefully it will emerge one day.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.