Meet 6 racing young guns who hit the track early
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These drivers’ careers remind us that starting early is key for success in motor racing.
He's been called the Mozart of rallying, but Kalle Rovanperä – who's already a Latvian national championship winner and factory Peugeot driver in Italy by the age of 16 – is just the latest in a long line of child prodigies in motorsports.
Starting early is key when it comes to racing success. Rovanperä was tearing up frozen lakes in his native Finland when he was just eight-years-old. It certainly helps that his dad is Harri Rovanperä, a former factory driver in the World Rally Championship,and that four-time WRC champion and Toyota boss Tommi Makinen is a family friend, which is how Rovanperä ended up testing the new Yaris WRC.
Having only celebrated his 16th birthday last October, Rovanperä could still be two years away from making his WRC debut, as that requires tedious details such as a holding a driving licence.
Still, he's not holding back in the meantime. By receiving special dispensations from various championships, co-driver Risto Pietilainen (who was also once co-driver to dad Harri) drives the road sections, while Rovanperä takes over for the bits that matter.
Here are six more drivers who prove that you're never too young to turn pro.
The Welshman has competed in the World Rally Championship and British Rally Championship, and now, at the venerable age of 25, he has driven everything from a Subaru Impreza WRC car to a showroom-class Ford Fiesta.
Cave was one of the first foreigners to exploit a special loophole that was plundered by Rovanperä as well, and his debut stage rally was in Latvia, aged 14. The Baltic nation was a pioneer in allowing young rally drivers to take part in events even if they were underage, provided the co-driver did the road sections. Several countries have followed suit, with Rovanperä now allowed to drive a rally car on the stages in Finland (but only a moped on public roads).
Former WRC star Evgeny Novikov used to drive both stages and road sections of rallies in his native Russia before he had a driving licence, but that was, how shall we put it... a more informal arrangement.
One other solution if you want to race rallies, but are too young, is simply to falsify your documents. This was the approach taken by Alessandro Nannini, who would go on to become a successful grand prix driver before a helicopter crash truncated his career.
"I actually always wanted to be a rally driver," said Nannini. "But I was only 16, so I simply got a licence made up with a false name and age."
Remarkably, 'Maggiorelli' ended up winning a few events, although none of them were particularly local, as Nannini had to make sure he was competing where nobody knew him. It was all too good to last though. “I got to the start of one rally and they said to me, 'OK Nannini, get out.' So then I thought it was better to concentrate on circuit racing instead."
Kevin Hansen is the latest member of the Hansen rallycross dynasty to try his hand at the top level of the sport – as team-mate to Sébastien Loeb, no less. At the tender age of 18, he takes the wheel of a 600 horsepower Peugeot 208 RX Supercar for the first time this year, having been the youngest-ever European Rallycross champion.
Famously, Max Verstappen first raced a Formula 1 car when he was 17-years-old, beating the record that was first established by Ricardo Rodríguez, who was 19 when he made his Grand Prix debut in 1961. The Dutch driver is also the youngest-ever winner of an F1 race.
Other teenage F1 debutants included Mike Thackwell in 1980 and Jaime Alguersuari in 2005, not to mention Lewis Hamilton in 2007. But Verstappen made them all look like pensioners when he burst onto the F1 scene two years ago with Toro Rosso, despite being too young to have a drink, drive a car on the road, vote or shave.
By the time he was 14, Lando Norris was already karting world champion, having beaten the benchmark established by Lewis Hamilton. The Englishman looks set to follow Hamilton into Formula 1 as well, having recently signed a deal with McLaren.
He's also the youngest driver to have claimed pole position at a national karting event, which he achieved on his debut at the remarkable age of seven, which makes you wonder why Hamilton and Rovanpera bothered to wait until they were eight before giving driving a go.
The Canadian, who's the son of one of the richest men in the world, was signed by the Ferrari Academy when he was just 11, and some cynics have implied that those two facts may have been connected.
His ties with Ferrari ended though when he linked up with Williams, which not only offered him engineering support during his victorious Formula 3 Euroseries campaign last year, but also gave him a full-time F1 ride this year, at the age of 18. Stroll has had a few encounters with the wall in the early part of the season, but you can't make an omelette without breaking a few eggs from time to time.