One of the most fascinating things about the AUTOSPORT Awards evening is seeing the different generations of drivers all together.
From the kids picking up their national karting championship awards, through the top up-and-coming junior car racers such as McLaren AUTOSPORT BRDC Award winner Lewis Williamson, to the youngest world champion Sebastian Vettel, F1's elder statesman Rubens Barrichello, retired stars of the '80s like Derek Warwick, '60s/'70s icons Jackie Stewart and John Surtees, right the way back to two legends of the '50s, Stirling Moss and Tony Brooks. It's like a geologist's trench cut through the sport's history. All the generations united by a common passion.
In an illustration of how what has gone before informs the present, one of the karters made a point of introducing himself to Red Bull team boss Christian Horner, in a repeat of Lewis Hamilton's 1996 strategy with McLaren's Ron Dennis at the same event.
Tony Brooks's wife Pina was struck by how much in the racing world has changed since the informal days when she first met her future husband, at Reims in 1956.
One fundamental change is how much younger the participants are when they enter the sport. Brooks was quite an early starter by the standards of his day, aged 20 when he first took to the tracks in his club racing Healey. Three years later he was winning a non-championship F1 race on his debut in the category and soon thereafter established himself as one of the most supremely gifted drivers of all time. Moss's youth made him something of a cause celebre when he took up Formula Junior at the tender age of 19 - he was even referred to as the 'Boy Wonder'.
To start at such an age now would make it very difficult - though not impossible - to reach F1.
In recent years Takuma Sato and Robert Doornbos both made it through, despite starting about a decade later than most of their F1 contemporaries. But how much better might they have been had they started earlier? Or does a driver quickly reach the same potential regardless? Well, possibly not. A few years ago Kinetic did a study in association with Williams on how a driver senses movement in their kart or car. It was part of a wider study for military-aircraft pilot selection.
It was established that the driver senses g-force, yaw and rotation largely from sensors in the body between the coccyx and the third vertebra. Attuned to the driver's inner ear, these form the system that essentially determines how accurately the driver is feeling the car - the raw fundamentals of what makes one guy quick, another not (it would be fascinating to know what human evolutionary factor has driven this skill - camel riding perhaps?).
It was further found that these inputs are processed by the sub-conscious with almost none of the time delay of the conscious mind. The sensitivity of the sensors in the lower back was found to be greater in the control group that had started karting as eight-year-olds than in the group of those who had taken up the sport at a later age. When the physiological reasons for what might be behind this were investigated, it seemed that these sensors were more malleable to 'learning' when stimulated at an earlier age.
It was even suggested that the peak age of training these sensors would be between the ages of one and three! Which would put a whole new spin on the idea of a 'karting dad' - in that they could be stimulating the sensors of a kid not even old enough to know what a kart is, trying to establish a competitive advantage before he's even aware he's going to be competing in the future! Gyroscopic baby bouncers anyone?
As ever, knowledge is neutral; it's how people choose to apply it that can lead to trouble.
To continue reading this feature, subscribe to Autosport Plus today.
Are you an Autosport magazine subscriber? Activate your online account
- Your Autosport Plus subscription includes:
- Unlimited access to Autosport's news - no monthly cap.
- Read the best motorsport features, analysis and opinion.
- Explore Forix, our comprehensive motorsport stats database.
- Choose from a monthly or yearly membership.