Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Super License and Registration please

A driver in Formula One needs a lot of things; skill, talent and money are a few. One other important need is a Super License. A super license is what allows a driver to compete in F1. Yes, just as in your road car you require a license to compete in racing. All series have some sort of licensing process. The FIA has a grading system for different levels and disciplines lettering in D, R, C, B, A and Super License.

How do you get a Super License? Even though that process is spelled out by the FIA International Sporting Code, there is still a level of subjectivity involved. There are examples of drivers that end up in F1 that make you scratch your head; and conversely there are drivers that do not get a super license that leave you equally puzzled. Nevertheless, first things, first. Here are the needs:

Driver must already hold a Grade A license and meet at least one of the following:

-minimum of 5 starts in F1 the previous year, or at least 15 starts within 3 years.

-previously held a Super Licence and have been a regular test driver in F1 the previous year.

-within the previous 2 years finish in the first 3 of the F2, GP2 Series, GP2 Asia Series, Japanese F/Nippon; or finished in top 4 of Indy Racing League within the past 2 years.

-be the current champion of Formula 3 Euro Series; F3 in Great Britain, Italy, Japan, Spain; or World Series F/Renault.

-be judged by the FIA to have consistently demonstrated outstanding ability in single-seater formula cars, but with no opportunity to qualify under the above. Then the F1 team concerned must show that the driver has driven at least 300km (186 mi) in a current F1 car consistently at racing speeds over 2 days, completed within 90 days prior to the application.

However by exception, if supported by the Safety Commission, the FIA may approve a super licence to persons judged by the Council to have met the intent of the qualification process.

However, after you get over this hurdle one remains, the fee. In recent years this has been a source of irritation and even a source of potential protest from the drivers. Fees vary from driver to driver due to the fact it's calculated by adding cost for insurance, total points scored in a season, and for the license itself. For example, if you were a rookie like Toro Rosso's Sebastien Buemi, in 2009 you paid 13,120 euros ($18,950). However, if you were the 2008 Champion, Lewis Hamilton you paid 218,920 euros ($316,000).

As mentioned above, there have been interesting decisions regarding who gets or does not get a Super License. Recently, rally legend Sebastien Loeb was denied a Super License in the midst of winning 50+ WRC rallies, having raced at the 24 Hours of LeMans in the prototype class, and having impressed the Red Bull team during a test. Seems counter intuitive that Kimi Raikkonen can freely go to the WRC, but Loeb a much more accomplished driver in his discipline and with some experience in circuit racing is denied an opportunity in F1. One would think that the provision allowing for exceptions would be used, but alas it was not. Even Kimi Raikkonen was almost refused a Super License back in 2001 because even though he was proving fast in testing, he had very little lower formula experience; and although it was eventually granted, it was initially on a probationary basis.

In 2006, the FIA granted Yuji Ide, a poor example of a F1 driver with the now defunct Super Aguri, a license before they revoked it after 4 races. USF1 is reportedly seeking a license for Jose Maria Lopez, a driver with a lackluster resume but has a conditional deal with the team. He has not been in single seaters since 2006.

In the next coming weeks when we get all of the F1 driver slots filled, and we have potentially drivers you never heard of, think about the basic process of just getting a license and then some of the subjective wrangling that may be associated with it.

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