Over the past few years, the MSA (ahem MotorsportUK) and the FIA have been changing the minimum ages required to do various levels of motorsport. From lowering it for single seaters, raising it for Formula One, introducing Bambino karting, it’s been all change. Is it for the better though? Here is why I think not.
My experience in racing is at club level karting. I’ve been around tracks most of my life but only really been involved with the organisation of karting events.
If we start with karting then, the amount of younger kids in it has grown massively. Also what seems to have grown, is the desperation of parents to get their kids in to motorsport increasingly young. In the past few years the Bambino class has come in allowing kids to compete from the year of their 6th birthday. Before this, Cadets was the youngest and this allowed kids to race from the year of their 8th birthday. Initially the Bambino class was just a time trial event, but now it is a race, which makes more sense.
But at 6 years old. Is there really a point? I can’t remember anything I did at 6. I was probably still arguing with my parents about the sweets I’d just snuck into the supermarket trolley, of which I was definitely not trusted to drive around the supermarket, never mind a race track. Sure you could argue that they will learn how to control the karts, which they will, but would someone who started later really be any worse? Personally, I don’t think so.
Apart from F1, where the minimum age has increased, everywhere else it has decreased.
Now you can race in senior karts from the age of 15. That’s 15 year old kids racing in the same class as 20, 25, heck even 50 year olds. In no way am I saying some 15 year olds are not good enough to do it. On the contrary, I get my arse handed to me from plenty of people younger than me, but what’s the rush?
The fact you can race in cars from the age of 14 might have a part to play in this. A Racing car at 14 is just insanity. Again in no way am I questioning the skill of these drivers. A lot of them are really, incredibly good. Look at Conor Shanahan in drifting. 14 years old. Already beating people with years more experience. He’s clearly a top talent in that category. But take your time.
Spend another few years in junior categories, shaping your craft even more. It’s not going to hurt. Also the level of maturity will increase massively in those precious years. There has been a lot said of Verstappen and his occasional tantrum. It’s tricky as he is undeniably world class, but you can’t argue an older person would have been more likely to keep their mouth shut, put their head down and handle it a little better.
What about the safety aspect though? You ask any young person to do something slightly dangerous and exciting they will probably do it. At that age, if I had been at the same level as others would I want to do it? Absolutely. I was happy enough to jump off a ramp made of an old kitchen worktop, three breezeblocks on a bike and lose a tooth. A kart with safety gear would be positively sedate.
But is it right to let them do it? Being honest, motorsport is dangerous. It says so on the back of everyone’s tickets and all around the race tracks for a reason. Every precaution is taken in motorsport, the marshalls are top notch, the tracks are thought out very well and the cars are safe but things can go wrong. We saw this in Macau this year. Testament to the tracks and cars, everyone was okay in the end but it was a close call. But if you want to race, you have to accept the risk. As long as all of the competitors are aware, there is really not much else you can do, the circuits and regulations are always improving, making racing safer.
So what’s a good age to start racing then? In my opinion, karting at 12 and cars at 18. Mature enough for both and the 6 years of space gives good time to learn the craft. One thing I have noticed from years in karting is just how many cadets disappear when they should be moving up to junior. It’s a very tricky balance between pushing a kid to do something they do not want, and teaching them to be persistent, but more often than not, they chose to go and do something else. A bit of it could be the pressure applied with doing the sport. It’s not unheard of for a cadet to have £100,000 spent on them in a year of karting. As young as they are, they probably still know it is a lot of money. Heck, I managed to spend over £2000 on kart tyres in a year…
This insane cost means there is no way the governing bodies could now change the ages. There is too much money available. There is huge business in the industry specifically for the younger driver. Lots of karting teams, lots of race teams for junior categories like ginettas. You can’t just change the rules as there would be a huge knock on effect. So what can you do? Well luckily I’m not in the position to make a change, as I have no clue! And no money!
To a point I agree with you in terms of remembering a kart at 6, but by that same point, compare running when you were 6 compared to how you are now, you’re better at it because you’re body and brain found out how to do it at a young age, and it improved upon that basis. To me, karting at 6 is that basis of racing, cornering, so on and so forth, and you even say in terms of danger that everybody is aware of the dangers of Motorsport, but again that may not seem real to a 6 year old. I personally think it is halfway the responsibility of the parent, and half of the child. You mentioned how lots of kids drop out of karting younger because their parents pushed it onto them. That is an example of a parent not doing their job. In conclusion, I think a better age to start would be around 8 years old because that’s when children begin to remember things clearly and begin to understand the world around them, they could make the choice themself, with the guidance of a parent of course. Really good article by the way, gets a thumbs up from me.
I may have a different opinion than you do, because I live in the US. But over here we have parents starting kids in sports like football (the american one), which is as, if not more, dangerous than racing, at the age of 5 or younger (I played “organized” soccer [football] at 5). The advantage with starting kids with racing at such a young age is that they include racing in the range of sports that young kids could get into. If they start too late, they may lose interest in the sport, or they are too busy with football, basketball, soccer, baseball, etc.
I should start doing more go kart racing in the summer
I’m gonna start go karting soon. And in the summer I might try to get into races and start getting into the other racing series and championships and I’m 16. So I have a ton of work to do.
ton of work and huge amount of money. i tested Rotax max 125, thats one hell of beast, but then i looked at parts cost for them. i said, no thanks, touring cars are MUTCH cheaper :D
They say it takes 10 years to get good at racing