The FIA has ratified a new set of rules for Formula 1 Super Licences for 2016 in an effort to stop younger and more inexperienced drivers joining the grid.

In a move that relies on a points system based on success in junior formulas, the likes of Australian Red Bull Racing driver Daniel Ricciardo – who claimed three race wins last year – would not have been eligible for F1 due to his perceived inexperience in previous series. Prior to making his F1 debut with the HRT F1 Team in mid-2011, Ricciardo was the former champion of the Formula Renault 2.0 WEC (2008) and British F3 Championship (2009) and a runner-up in the Formula Renault 3.5 Series.

Under the new rules – as we reported late last year – drivers will have to be 18 years of age with a regular driver’s licence, passed a test on the international sporting code and regulations, completed at least two years in a junior category and accumulated at least 40 ‘licence points’ in the three years prior to the application.

Licence points can be delivered from by finishing in the following championship standings position in the below series:

1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th 7th 8th 9th 10th
FIA F2 Championship 60 50 40 30 20 10 8 6 4 3
GP2 Series 50 40 30 20 10 8 6 4 3 2
FIA F3 European Championship 40 30 20 10 8 6 4 3 2 1
FIA WEC (LMP1 only) 40 30 20 10 8 6 4 3 2 1
IndyCar Series 40 30 20 10 8 6 4 3 2 1
GP3 Series 30 20 15 10 7 5 3 2 1
Formula Renault 3.5 Series 30 20 15 10 7 5 3 2 1
Japanese Super Formula 20 17 10 7 5 3 2 1
National F3 Championship 10 7 5 2 1
National F4 Championship 10 7 5 2 1
Formula Renault 2.0 (EuroCup, ALPS, or NEC) 5 3 1

The Formula 2 championship does not currently exist – also begging the question of why it’s the easiest pathway to get into F1 – meaning the GP2 Series will be the most attractive championship for younger drivers. The winner of GP2 will take home 50 points, with second place earning the coveted 40 licence points.

The FIA will also face criticism from the perceived imbalance in the points’ weighting it is assigning to a number of highly credible series where many of today’s drivers have come through the ranks. Giving the FIA Formula 3 Championship a higher weighting that the considerably higher-horsepower Formula Renault 3.5 Series (480bhp) or Japan’s Super Formula (550bhp) contradicts the objective of the rules where young drivers should have a proven ability to handle top-end machinery. To raise a serious argument that winning the F3 Championship in a 225bhp Dallara somehow serves as a better qualification than these other championships is indeed questionable.

GP3 and Formula Renault 3.5 (FR3.5) will no doubt suffer from this development given that they will both only offer 30 points to the winner. FR3.5 provided tarmac and entries for the likes of Daniel Ricciardo, Fernando Alonso and Kevin Magnussen, but without enough points for the winner to be eligible for the licences, it will become a less desired championship on its own. Previously, FR3.5 winners could apply for a F1 licence within 12 months of their final race and it was beginning to attract quite a strong following and fan base.

The rule change is obviously aimed at reducing the number of younger drivers, such as the young Max Verstappen who makes his Formula 1 debut in Melbourne with Scuderia Toro Rosso at the tender age of 17. However, the likes of Jenson Button, Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso also would not have been eligible to make their debuts as early as they had if the new rules been in place in previous years.

There are also interesting repercussions for Formula 1 more broadly. GP2 and similar feeder series have become prohibitively more expensive to race in; GP2 costing in the ballpark of €1,800,000 for the main series alone in comparison to FR3.5’s €750,000.

Drivers were electing to ‘skip’ GP2 in favour for cheaper series where they could still attract some level of exposure at a lower cost. Obviously prioritising the GP2 series through its number of points indicates that the FIA is strongly pushing for a more consistent progression through the series for drivers, perhaps in the hope that they arrive on the grid with a level of racing competence necessary for the premier Championship stage.

Requiring more experience for qualification may be seen as stifling talent by some, however the net result will largely be positive. Racing at the Formula 1 level requires a level of experience and trust in the capabilities of the other drivers on the grid as well. Waiting a year or two may seem like a long time for a teenager, but if it reduces the likelihood of accidents as well as levels the playing field for drivers from all walks of life, it will be one of the more progressive moves the sport can make.

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Yassmin Abdel-Magied

Two-time Young Australian of the Year finalist, qualified mechanical engineer, social advocate, author and 'petrol head'

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