Jaime Alguersuari is about to become Formula One’s youngest ever driver this weekend, and is already drawing criticism from fellow drivers over his inexperience even before he makes his debut at the Hungarian Grand Prix.
The 19-year-old Spaniard spoke to reporters on Thursday for the first time since being named as the replacement for 30-year-old Frenchman Sebastien Bourdais. He said his main objective this season is simply figuring out what being an F1 driver is all about.
“I know I’m not really experienced, I know I don’t have mileage with the car but that’s what we’re here for,” said Alguersuari, who joins from Renault’s World Series. “It’s a new car for me, a new championship for me, but I have to learn. I have to have experience.”
Alguersuari will set the age record tomorrow at 19 years and 126 days, breaking New Zealand driver Mike Thackwell’s mark by 57 days.
Several drivers were critical of the move, including Mark Webber — who drives for sister team Red Bull.
“I probably wouldn’t have been ready [at 19] to be honest, but these days they seem to be ready a lot earlier,” Webber said.
“I’ve never been a big fan of Formula One being a learning school, but it seems that it is these days. When you arrive in Formula One you should be ready, it’s not a place to learn,” he said.
Current championship leader Jenson Button of Brawn GP said the move could “make or break” Alguersuari’s career.
“At his age it could absolutely destroy his career,” Button said. “It could end his dream of being competitive in Formula One.”
“I don’t know the reasons for him getting the drive. I can guess, but he’s not going to help the team develop the car,” he said.
Alguersuari, whose only test drives have been in a simulator, is following in the footsteps of Sebastian Vettel and Robert Kubica, two young and widely lauded drivers who also made the jump directly to F1 from the World Series.
“I’m happy to be here but in the end it’s just another car in my racing career and my life,” Alguersuari said. “I’m relaxed, I know what I can do and know what people can expect from me. At the end, it’s one steering [wheel] and two pedals.”
The 32-year-old Webber became one of the oldest winners in F1 at the preceding German GP. It took the Australian 132 races over seven years to finally reach the top of the podium.
“He’ll be quick enough but he’s got to learn,” Webber said. “It’s not that easy when you arrive.”
Admitted to Red Bull’s young drivers program in 2005, Alguersuari went on to win the British F3 title last year at 18.
A nine-page brochure entitled All About Jaime Alguersuari sent out by his PR team labels him a “serious driver, thoughtful, fast” and one who “sees the races and championships with a wide angle lens and not with a zoom.”