Formula 1 is considered the pinnacle of motorsport. Racing in F1 is every young driver’s dream, but only a few make it to the category, as the competition is very high and only the very best succeed.
Age is really important in motor racing and all sports in general because the earlier you start, the earlier you can move up the ranks, and the more time you will have. That is why it is essential to start as a child.
During the first decades of F1, drivers debuted in their 30s and 40s, but with the professionalization of the category, that figure has dropped, and nowadays, most drivers debut in their 20s. However, there are always exceptions, and some drivers break the rule due to their extraordinary talent.
That said, today, we will review who are the youngest drivers in history to debut in F1.
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1. Max Verstappen
Age: 17 years, 5 months & 15 days
Debut Race: 2015 Australian GP
Active seasons in F1: 2015-Nowadays
Max Verstappen, son of fellow F1 driver Jos Verstappen, is probably the greatest Formula 1 talent of the last decade. The Dutchman has a natural ability for driving, as he has demonstrated since he was a child, winning practically every category in which he has participated.
Therefore, in 2014, when he was 16 years old, Red Bull signed him for its junior team, and in just a few months, it was announced that he would make his F1 debut with Toro Rosso for the 2015 season after participating in some free practice sessions in 2014.
At just 17 years, 5 months, and 15 days old, the Dutchman made his debut at the 2015 Australian GP and ran in the points until he retired due to an engine problem.
Since then, Verstappen’s racing career has been on the rise. In 2016 he was promoted to Red Bull, getting his first victory in his first race with the team. After several years of scoring numerous podiums and victories, in 2021, he won his first world championship, breaking the hegemony of Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes.
The Dutchman is only 24 years old, but he already has 26 victories, 68 podiums, and 16 pole positions, so he is set to break all records. Verstappen is also the youngest driver to lead a lap, set the fastest lap, score points, secure a podium, win a race, win multiple races, win the same GP multiple times, and the same GP in successive years.
2. Lance Stroll
Age: 18 years, 4 months & 26 days
Debut Race: 2017 Australian GP
Active seasons in F1: 2017-Nowadays
After winning Formula 4 and Formula 3, Lance Stroll made his Formula 1 debut in 2017 with the Williams team, aged just 18 years, 4 months, and 26 days. However, he was heavily criticized from the start, as his father, a Canadian billionaire businessman and the country’s 15th-largest fortune, has been boosting his son’s sports career.
Therefore, despite having some victories in the lower categories, everyone criticized Stroll for making it to Formula 1 for money and not for his talent. The Canadian was criticized during his early years for his nervousness, lack of speed, and ease in causing accidents.
However, we also saw some flashes of quality, such as in his incredible first podium finish at the 2017 Azerbaijan GP, becoming, after Verstappen, the second youngest driver ever to score a podium. In 2019, Stroll joined Racing Point, formerly Force India, and is currently rebranded as Aston Martin.
His signing with the team was also highly criticized, as his father, Lawrence, was the one who bought and saved Force India from bankruptcy. Since then, Stroll has shown greater maturity, consistency, and skill in the rain. In 2020 he scored a podium at the Italian GP and another at the Shakir GP, and pole position at the Turkish GP in wet conditions.
In 2021 he was very close to his teammate, four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel, although, in 2022, he was showing less pace.
3. Lando Norris
Age: 19 years, 4 months & 2 days
Debut Race: 2019 Australian GP
Active seasons in F1: 2019-Nowadays
With an excellent track record in the lower categories, including titles in Formula Renault 2.0, Toyota Racing Series, and Formula 3, and runner-up in Formula 2, Norris jumped to Formula 1 in 2019 with the historic McLaren team.
The Briton made his debut at 19 years, 4 months, and 2 days, and from the very beginning, he demonstrated great talent, scoring points already in his second race. 2019 was a learning year for Norris, who scored points regularly. In 2020, he scored his first podium in the opening round in Austria and was closer to his more experienced teammate, Carlos Sainz.
In 2021, Norris’ great year, he obtained 4 podiums and scored in all but two races. The Briton has established himself as one of the great talents of Formula 1, being a regular, reliable driver who does not usually make many mistakes or come into contact with rivals.
In 2022, McLaren had a less competitive car. Still, the Briton outperformed his car, taking a podium at the Emilia-Romagna GP, and has once again proved far ahead of teammate Daniel Ricciardo.
4. Jaime Alguersuari
Age: 19 years, 4 months & 3 days
Debut Race: 2009 Hungarian GP
Active seasons in F1: 2009-2011
Jaime Alguersuari started racing at a very young age, as his family has been very involved in motorsports. His father was a motorcycle racer, the creator of a motorsports magazine, and an organizer of competitions, while his grandfather was a sports photographer.
At 15, the Spaniard joined Red Bull’s young driver program and won the Italian Formula 2.0 and British Formula 3. After his excellent performance in the lower categories, in 2009, he jumped to Formula 1 with Toro Rosso, replacing Sébastien Bourdais from the Hungarian GP due to his poor performance.
At only 19 years, 4 months, and 3 days old, Alguersuari was the youngest driver to debut in Formula 1 and was destined to become one of the great legends of the sport. However, perhaps due to the high expectations placed on him, things did not go as expected, and Alguersuari was never up to the task, even though in 2011, he beat his teammate, Sébastien Buemi.
Both drivers were replaced at the end of 2011. After that, Alguersuari raced in Formula E in the category’s first season, 2014-15, and after that, he lost his enthusiasm for racing and is now happily living a new life as a DJ.
5. Mike Thackwell
Age: 19 years, 5 months & 29 days
Debut Race: 1980 Canadian GP
Active seasons in F1: 1980, 1984
Mike Thackwell was the youngest driver in history to qualify for a Grand Prix in his time, at just 19 years old, 5 months and 29 days and held this record until Alguersuari broke it. However, despite his record, his debut, as well as his Formula 1 racing career, did not go well. Thackwell made his debut at the 1980 Canadian GP with the Tyrell team.
The kiwi qualified twenty-fourth out of twenty-eight drivers and behind his two teammates. After a multi-car crash at the start of the race, Thackwell had to hand over his car to teammate Jean Pierre Jarier, whose car was severely damaged, thus ending the young driver’s debut.
Thackwell also took part in the following race. However, he was unable to qualify, and in 1984 he tried his luck again in 2 races, one with RAM Racing and the other with Tyrrell, although he could only qualify for the Canadian GP, where he retired after 29 laps.
6. Ricardo Rodríguez
Age: 19 years, 6 months & 27 days
Debut Race: 1961 Italian GP
Active seasons in F1: 1961-1962
Mexican driver Ricardo Rodriguez made his Formula 1 debut with Ferrari at 19 years, 6 months, and 27 days in the 1961 Italian GP. Rodriguez was the youngest driver to debut in F1 history when drivers were racing in their 30s and 40s. He held the record until 1980 when Mike Thackwell broke it.
Rodriguez participated in 5 Grand Prix in 1961 and 1962 with Ferrari, obtaining a fourth and sixth place in the 1962 Belgian and German GPs as his best results.
The Mexican still holds the record of being the youngest driver to race for Ferrari. He had the record for the youngest driver to start a race from the front row until the 2016 Belgian GP, beaten by Max Verstappen, and the youngest driver to score points until the 2000 Brazilian GP, beaten by Jenson Button.
Ricardo was the younger brother of Pedro Rodriguez, who was also an F1 driver from 1963 to 1971, achieving 2 victories and 7 pole positions, being the only Mexican, together with Sergio Perez, to achieve a victory in F1. In 1973, the Magdalena Mixhuca circuit in Mexico City, current venue of the Mexican F1 GP, was renamed Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez in honor of Pedro and Ricardo.
7. Fernando Alonso
Age: 19 years, 7 months & 4 days
Debut Race: 2001 Australian GP
Active seasons in F1: 2001, 2003-18, 2021-Nowadays
Fernando Alonso is one of the best drivers of his generation and history, even if the statistics are not with him. The Spaniard made his F1 debut in 2001 with Minardi at 19 years, 7 months, and 4 days, finishing twelfth in his first race with one of the least competitive cars.
In 2003 he signed for Renault and soon proved his talent, achieving several podiums and a victory. In 2005 and 2006, he dominated the grid, winning two titles in a row. In 2007 he was runner-up, level on points with Hamilton, after mutually destroying each other, and returned to Renault after that.
In his period with Ferrari, from 2010 to 2014, the Spaniard established himself as one of the best drivers, even if he did not have the best car, standing up to Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull and being runner-up twice. Alonso is a complete, fast driver, a true team leader, and rarely makes mistakes.
After four long, uncompetitive years with McLaren and two trying his luck in other categories, the Spaniard returned to F1 in 2021 with Renault, now called Alpine. Although the car is not entirely competitive, the Spaniard has proven to be in top form, achieving his first podium since 2014.
8. Esteban Tuero
Age: 19 years, 10 months & 14 days
Debut Race: 1988 Australian GP
Active seasons in F1: 1998
At the time of his debut, Argentine Esteban Tuero became the third youngest driver in history to make his Formula 1 debut at 19 years, 10 months, and 14 days. Tuero had previously participated in single-seater categories such as Formula Renault Argentina, Formula 3000, and Formula Nippon.
Tuero made the jump to Formula 1 with Minardi, a team that, as mentioned above, was not very competitive, as it had a very limited budget, but was one of the most loved teams on the grid, as it generated great sympathy.
The Argentinean failed to score any points during the 1998 season, and his best result was eighth place in the San Marino GP. Although he had a contract with Minardi for 1999, Tuero decided not to continue in Formula 1 and subsequently dedicated himself to racing in national touring car competitions.
9. Daniil Kvyat
Age: 19 days, 10 months & 18 days
Debut Race: 2014 Australian GP
Active seasons in F1: 2014-17, 2019-20
Having belonged to Red Bull’s young driver program from a very young age, and after becoming Formula Renault 2.0 champion in 2012 and GP3 Series champion in 2013, Russian Daniil Kvyat made the jump to Formula 1 in 2014 with Toro Rosso at the age of 19 years, 10 months and 18 days.
In his first race, the 2014 Australian GP, Kvyat, finished ninth, making him the youngest driver in history to score points in F1. Despite being beaten by his teammate, Jean-Éric Vergne, the Russian was promoted to Red Bull in 2015 following Sebastian Vettel’s departure from the team.
Kvyat struggled to adapt to the car, but in the end, he scored a podium and finished ahead of his teammate Daniel Ricciardo in the championship. However, in 2016, after incidents at the Chinese GP (where he finished third) and at the Russian GP, Kvyat was demoted to Toro Rosso in favor of Max Verstappen, an unprecedented move and one that generated a great deal of controversy.
The Russian drove for Toro Rosso until the end of 2017, when Pierre Gasly replaced him, and in 2018, he was a test driver for Ferrari. In 2019, Kvyat drove a final season for Toro Rosso, replacing Gasly, who was promoted to Red Bull, and despite scoring a podium at the German GP, he was left without a seat for the next season.
10. Chris Amon
Age: 19 years, 10 months & 20 days
Debut Race: 1963 Belgian GP
Active seasons in F1: 1963-1976
Chris Amon was considered one of the fastest and most talented drivers but incredibly unlucky. The New Zealander made his F1 debut in 1963 with Reg Parnell Racing, and during his Formula 1 racing career until 1976 drove for 13 teams, including Ferrari, March, Matra, and Tyrrell.
Amon was a very fast driver, and during his time in F1, he achieved 11 podiums, 5 pole positions, and 3 fastest laps. Still, victory eluded him, mainly due to the consistency and reliability of his cars which were not in line with his incredible talent.
For this reason, Amon is considered the best driver who has never won a race. Although he was, on several occasions, on the verge of doing so, his cars did not allow him to do so. As for his bad luck, he never considered it as such:
“I’m luckier than many who died on the tracks. I had several serious accidents, but I barely broke a few ribs.”
Amon also participated in other competitions outside Formula 1 and won the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans with his compatriot Bruce McLaren, thus proving that when he had a good car, he could be at his best.
11. Esteban Ocon
Age: 19 years, 11 months & 11 days
Debut Race: 2016 Belgian GP
Active seasons in F1: 2016-18, 2020-Nowadays
Unlike many other F1 drivers, Esteban Ocon has a humble background, as his parents ran a garage when he was born. Ocon soon became interested in motorsports and gradually worked his way up through the lower categories, winning the European Formula 3 in 2014 and the GP3 Series in 2015.
His outstanding results allowed Ocon to test some F1 cars in 2014 and 2015, and in 2016 he jumped to the category with Manor, a backmarker team, replacing Rio Haryanto from the 2016 Belgian GP. In 2017 and 2018, the Frenchman drove for Force India, establishing himself as a very fast driver and doing quite well.
In 2017 he scored in all but two races, although in 2018, he scored in only 10 races, as the car was less competitive. In these two seasons, he had several clashes with his teammate, Sergio Perez, whom he put in trouble on more than one occasion.
Ocon was left without a seat for 2019, becoming a development and reserve driver for Mercedes. He returned to the category in 2020 with Renault, scoring regularly and taking his first podium at the Sakhir GP. In 2021, with Alonso as a teammate, Ocon took his first win at the Hungarian GP. In 2022, he also looks pretty competitive, being ahead of Alonso in the championship.
12. Sebastian Vettel
Age: 19 years, 11 months & 14 days
Debut Race: 2007 United States GP
Active seasons in F1: 2007-Nowadays
Sebastian Vettel joined Red Bull’s young driver program when he was just 11 years old, and with them, he worked his way up through the lower categories until he reached Formula 1. The German was a reserve driver for BMW Sauber in 2006, and in 2007 he jumped to F1 at the United States GP after Robert Kubica’s serious accident in Canada.
Vettel finished eighth, becoming, at 19 years, 11 months, and 14 days, the youngest driver to score points. His great result allowed him to race for Toro Rosso from the Hungarian GP onwards. In 2008, Vettel took the team’s first victory at the chaotic Italian GP, and in 2009 he was promoted to Red Bull.
With Red Bull, Vettel etched his name in the history books, winning four championships in a row between 2010 and 2013 and becoming the youngest driver to win one, two, three, and four titles, records that still stand today.
After an uncompetitive season in 2015, the German signed for Ferrari, unsuccessfully trying to break the hegemony of Mercedes in the hybrid era but obtaining excellent results with the Italians. In 2021 he joined the new Aston Martin project, achieving a podium at the Azerbaijan GP. In 2022 the car is somewhat less competitive, but Vettel is still in great shape, outperforming his car and scoring points regularly.
Age is very important in Formula 1 and sports in general, as it is a large factor determining the duration of your sporting career. That is why, with the professionalization of sports, more and more athletes are making their debuts at an increasingly younger age in the higher categories.
However, as we have seen today, debuting very early is not always a guarantee of success. Many drivers debut very young but do not last long in F1 due to the tremendous pressure and competitiveness.