Eight F1 champions who wouldn't have had a superlicence - The Race

Eight F1 champions who wouldn’t have had a superlicence – The Race

A superlicense is a driver’s ticket for Formula 1.

But as seven-time IndyCar race winner Colton Herta discovered, even if you’re offered a racing seat, without the right paperwork, it can’t be yours.

Currently, to qualify for an FIA Formula 1 Driver’s Super License – to use its official name – you must accumulate 40 points based on your achievements in three of the last four years.

Herta has just 32 superlicense points and despite lobbying from Red Bull, who wanted to place him at AlphaTauri, the FIA ​​stood firm despite legitimate criticism that IndyCar is undervalued by the points system.

Obviously the problem is with the criteria rather than Herta himself, who is obviously a driver who should tick the safety, experience and performance boxes for F1.

And as Formula 1 history reveals, there are eight world champions who would likely have failed in their bids for a superlicence if the current system was in place.

We only consider their achievements in motor racing and do not take into account the potential for earning extra points through hypothetical free practice. And for some, we can only estimate the number of superlicence points given that the changing junior ladder landscape means it’s not always possible to draw direct equivalents.

So here’s our pick of eight world champions who might not have gotten a superlicence under the rules in their time.


Fernando Alonso is the most marginal case on our list. He entered F1 with Minardi in 2001 aged 19 with just two seasons in motor racing under his belt.

He finished fourth in the 2000 F3000 International Championship – the equivalent of today’s Formula 2 – after jumping from ninth in the points with victory in the season finale at Spa. This is worth 30 superlicense points.

But the previous year he won the Euro Open by Nissan, mainly based in Spain. Although it was the forerunner of the Nissan and Renault World Series categories, at this stage it was a much lower level series. And it was a relatively new one that wasn’t part of the mainstream scale.

While it’s possible winning it paid for the 10 points Alonso will need to qualify for a superlicence, it’s far from a foregone conclusion.

It cannot therefore be said with certainty that Alonso would not have obtained a super license, but at best it would have been close, especially with a few more points for karting.

But given that he is one of the great F1 drivers of the 21st century, it is remarkable that he could even have been a marginal case.


Canadian Grand Prix Montreal (cdn) 12 14 06 1992

Damon Hill came out of nowhere to land his big F1 break with Williams in 1993, but his first chance in F1 came with latecomer Brabham in 1992.

Given that British F3 at that time was roughly the equivalent of the current European F3 Championship, this would have earned Hill 20 points for third place in the standings.

To that he would add eight more for seventh place in F3000 – although his career at this level was more impressive than the results would suggest when you consider he took three pole positions.

This puts Hill 12 points from qualifying for a super license, meaning he would never have started on the path that led him to the 1996 world championship if the current system had been in place at the time. era.



Alan Jones did nothing to stand out during his pre-F1 career as the driver who would go on to win the 1980 world championship for Williams.

While the racing landscape was vastly different at the time, Jones would likely not have reached the superlicence threshold despite enjoying some success in Britain’s three ongoing Formula 3 championships – culminating in finishing second in the MCD series in 1973.

He also finished second in the British Formula Atlantic Championship the following year. But even with a generous allocation of superlicence points for those achievements, it wouldn’t have been enough to give him the first F1 chances that allowed him to shine while driving for Shadow.

There, he won the 1977 Austrian Grand Prix before joining Williams where he became one of the great drivers of the time.


San Marino Grand Prix Imola (now)

Jenson Button was considering a move to International F3000 after finishing third in British F3 in 1999.

But his impressive performance in a test for the Prost F1 team caught the attention of Williams, who needed a replacement for Alex Zanardi.

Button’s winter testing for Williams was effectively part of a shootout for the drive with Bruno Junqueira, in which Button ultimately prevailed. But would he have qualified for a super license?

He gets 20 points for his success in British F3. In 1998 he won the British Formula Ford Championship, which is roughly the equivalent of today’s Formula 4. So that’s 12 extra points. It also finished second in the European Formula Ford series, but it was a short, sharp series that overlapped the British FFord, meaning it couldn’t be counted either anyway.

So that puts him at 32 points, and even with a few more points for karting he wouldn’t have hit the 40-point threshold, meaning his stellar first season with Williams in 2000 might never have had venue.



Nigel Mansell is believed to have collected just around 17 superlicense points before making his Formula 1 debut for Lotus in 1980.

The majority of these would have been earned by winning the British Formula Ford Championship in 1977, although he also finished eighth in British F3 in 1979.

This meant Mansell arrived in F1 with relatively little-heralded Team Lotus, but he made a strong impression over five seasons with the team to land a Williams driver in 1985.

But the team even underestimated at that time how good he was, with Mansell winning 31 Grands Prix and the 1992 World Championship.


Formula 1 Italian Grand Prix at Monza

Kimi Raikkonen would have been a long way from getting a superlicense under current F1 regulations, given that his main achievement was winning the British Formula Renault 2000 championship in addition to Formula Ford outings the previous year.

The move from Formula Renault 2-litre to F1 was unprecedented, meaning it was hugely controversial that he would get a superlicence.

After its impressive performance in testing, Sauber wanted to race it in 2001 but it took a vote from the F1 Commission to allow it to get a superlicence. This was granted on a provisional basis and for consideration, with FIA President Max Mosley the only member to vote against the proposal.

“Unfortunately the F1 Commission doesn’t always do what I tell them, despite speculation to the contrary,” Mosley said at the time.

“I don’t believe they have taken a defensible position by granting a license to an inexperienced driver like Raikkonen. That’s quite wrong given that we have strict criteria to get into F1.

“When there is a major accident caused by the presence of very inexperienced drivers in F1, it is me who will have to explain it to the media around the world.

However, Mosley proved wrong with Raikkonen excelling for Sauber and soon emerging as a race-winning driver with McLaren and then world champion with Ferrari.

While we’re generous with Raikkonen’s points, awarding the 18 that the Formula Renault Eurocup has awarded until its end in 2020, he would be far from making the cut on current criteria.



Few would have picked Niki Lauda as a future F1 race winner, let alone a three-time world champion and Ferrari legend, based on his junior career.

Before making his F1 debut in March 1972, Lauda made few impressions in his first tin-top or Formula 3 outings. After what he described as an “off-season” run in F3 in 1970 , during which he was not impressed with the standards of conduct, he decided to play.

“I wanted to be in the race, I always have. But I didn’t want to be a crackpot in a field of two dozen other crackpots,” he once said.

“There was a logical conclusion – to get out of Formula 3 and move up a class in Formula 2 as quickly as possible.

“There would be a lot of financial hardship involved. That would be like doubling the bet without having won a single match.

He took out a big loan to fund a move up to F2 with March, which saw him finish 10th in a championship won by Ronnie Peterson.

It was nowhere near enough to earn superlicense points under current rules, but he expanded his contract to cover F1 and F2 with March in 1972.

It wasn’t until he joined BRM in 1973 – a move that also required him to bring in cash – that he caught Ferrari’s attention, especially with his performance on the streets of Monaco where he dropped out of third place after suffering a gearbox failure.


Formula 1 World Motor Racing Championship Australian Grand Prix Preparation Day Thursday Melbourne, Australia

The arrival of Max Verstappen in Formula 1 at the age of 17 in 2015 was, curiously given his quality in his first year, the trigger for a reform of the superlicense system.

Changes made for 2016 would have meant he was ineligible for a superlicense in several respects.

First, the rules were changed to only allow drivers who are 18 years old and hold a road license to race.

Under those rules, Verstappen wouldn’t have been eligible for a superlicense until 2016. It was his second season in F1, the one in which he took his first Grand Prix win just after being promoted to the main team. of Red Bull.

But he wouldn’t have had enough points either, with just 20 for finishing third in the European Formula 3 Championship.

Verstappen was proof of the old adage that if you’re good enough you’re old enough and it’s a strange quirk of fate that his arrival caused the FIA ​​to create a system that would have stopped him from arriving in the first place. .

After all, as our ranking shows, those rare talents capable of winning the world championship will still be able to cut it in F1, even if their careers so far haven’t been as spectacular as one might expect.

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