Bernd Schneider, one of the fastest men in the DTM (German Touring Cars), is of the opinion that Gary Paffett, not Pedro de la Rosa, should have replaced Montoya in the McLaren team this year. Since Schneider has raced against Gary (and lost the DTM championship to him), he should know.
But who is this guy Paffett? Admitting to my somewhat hazy knowledge of the subject, I looked him up in the Wikipedia. And it turns out that the guy has a record that outshines even Lewis Hamilton’s. It seems whichever form of racing he entered, he would be champion sooner or later.
So Schneider may have a point, although it is certainly moot at this stage; there is no way we can change what actually happened. The consolation prize is that McLaren have taken him on for another year as a test driver and, from there, he could perhaps do a “Kubica” and force his way into F1 by sheer ability.
Whatever happens, Paffett must join the list of those new drivers with outstanding potential who are about to break into F1. There seems to be a long line of them eager for the next veteran to vacate his seat. I have even read articles in which it was suggested that the older drivers should get out and let the young ones have a go.
It makes me wonder whether the sport is becoming so competitive and demanding that drivers become worn out by their thirties. Decades ago a driver could continue to race well into his forties; indeed, Fangio was forty when he won his first World Championship. Slowly the age of retirement has come down and Michael Schumacher has set it now at 37.
It is interesting too that both Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen have hinted that they will not continue racing in F1 for many more years. Although they did not give their reasons, it seems likely that the pressures of the sport have become so great that very few can stand them for more than ten years or so.
We know that the physical demands have increased almost to the limit of human endurance. Many of the champions of the past would find their neck muscles inadequate to the task of winning today, for instance. But there are other stresses that a driver has to deal with now as well, the constant probing by the press, the attendance at functions for the sponsors, availability for testing the cars in between races; the modern driver gets little respite from his job.
Add to these demands the apparently inexhaustible supply of talented, ambitious youngsters streaming up from the lower formulae and one can see that the old soldiers of F1 have an enormous (and very often thankless) task to retain their seats. Even Mark Webber, who has been driving in F1 for only four years, is feeling the pressure.
It looks as though the sport is becoming a relentless machine that consumes drivers and then spits them out once they have served their very short time. In the future it may be that drivers will enter very young, as they turn twenty or twenty-one, give of their best for no more than a decade, and then disappear by the time they hit thirty.
Which is not necessarily a bad thing. I am all for new guys being given the chance to show how good they are. We will just have to get used to seeing new faces more often, I guess.