Nearly exactly ten years ago I underwent metamorphosis. At the beginning of 2006 I was more Slim Rhino than Fat Hippo. That changed when I was afflicted with burn-out syndrome, way before it became a trendy disease for the terminally lazy and the utterly hopeless. The doctors thought that a drug named Mirtazapine would help keeping me from doing the grim reaper’s job myself. According to Wikipedia it is “an atypical antidepressant with noradrenergic and specific serotonergic activity. It blocks the α2 adrenergic auto- and heteroreceptors (enhancing serotonin release), and selectively antagonizing the 5-HT2 serotonin receptors in the central and peripheral nervous system. It also enhances serotonin neurotransmission at the 5-HT1 receptor and blocks the histaminergic (H1) and muscarinic receptors.”
That’s a fairly fancy way of saying it knocks you on your arse and turns you into a drooling wreck. What it also does is making you fat. Substantial weight gain is a common side-effect, but the nasty bit is, another side effect is increased appetite, which makes you eat a lot and since you are dazed most of the time and therefore just sitting or lying around, dribbling, you gain even more weight. In fact, I went from 66 kilograms to 104 in less than six months. It was so bad I had to descend stairs backwards because my brain couldn’t adjust quickly enough to the rapid change in centre of gravity. I was in constant danger of falling over.
So, it might not come as much of a surprise that some bits and pieces of Hippo don’t work properly anymore. For once, I can’t run. In fact, my doctor strictly advised against jogging to lose weight, as that very weight would wreck my knees and ankles in no time. But, and this is where I come to the actual point of my ramblings, all that is completely meaningless and I wasted five perfectly usable minutes of your life because, apparently, I’m useless anyway because I’m older than thirty.
If you look for a job, they tell you that you are actually a trifle older than the candidate they have in mind. They are looking for twenty-year-olds who’ve studied abroad for five years and have ten years of job experience. Since that is a wee bit unrealistic, they just hire the twenty-year-old anyway and hope he’ll gain the necessary experience by osmosis.
And we see the same in F1 these days. Nearly exactly four weeks ago Carlo and I met at Watford to do what we do best – being grumpy. Our resident Italian absolutely despises the fact that Verstappen is in Formula One, because he thinks this isn’t a kid’s game. While I don’t share the intensity of his dislike for Verstappen’s presence, I can see where he’s coming from.
Back in the day when cars were driven using three pedals, a steering wheel and a gear lever, people came to F1 with ample racing experience from junior formulae, and they were usually in their mid-to-late twenties. Those who could hack it won a championship around the age of thirty. Some won even more than one.
These days a Sebastian Vettel has four titles and is only a year older than Ayrton Senna was when the great Brazilian scored his first of three. One of my big heroes, Nigel Mansell was nearly forty when he became F1 World Champion and he was forty when he won the PPG Indycar title a year later. 1978 F1 world champion Mario Andretti won his last Indycar race at the age of fifty-three.
And yet, we have articles written and noises made about the fact that Ferrari sign a thirty-six-year-old Finn, and Jenson Button, at the same age, has to justify his very existence.
Somehow the boat left and I wasn’t at the pier. When was the memo distributed? The one that I apparently missed, and which said that from this day forward experience shall not have any more value whatsoever.
“But they lost their edge,” you may say, to which I answer: What edge? The current generation of Formula One cars is never driven at full speed except for qualifying. You don’t need an edge. What you need is knowledge and experience. Someone who’s been in F1 for a decade is a much safer bet than someone who’s driving his thirtieth car race ever, especially in changing conditions, or when the order is to play it safe and collect points, or if you need to catch up to a dominant team and therefore need reliable input for the engineering department.
I’m not trying to say that people with the necessary amount of talent shouldn’t be fast-tracked into F1, after all Kimi and Jenson both made their way into the top-flight with relatively modest racing experience. What is absolutely not palatable, however, is having a constant go at ‘the older generation’.
Take a look at Kimi. Thirty-six is hardly retirement age, and the little detail that people seem to miss is that save for his two retirements, he’s always finished in the top six. No other driver has managed that, not even the Mercedes drivers. Could someone please try and assume that Ferrari know what they’re doing? For over twenty years now the number 2 car at Ferrari has always been piloted by a safe pair of hands, and Kimi fits that job requirement perfectly.
And what about Jenson? He too is thirty-six. Back in the day that meant he was good for another four, maybe five years. And you know what? He still is. Of course he won’t get any letters from Mercedes anytime soon, but if I had something to say at Williams, I would sign him up in a heartbeat.
What about the young ones then, you may say. Well, like everywhere in life, you have to wait your turn. If you hop onto the train and all seats are taken, you’ll have to spend your journey standing up, no matter if you are potentially better at sitting than any of the others.
Of course there are also other trains you could take.