Mark Webber’s decision to end his Formula 1 career last year shocked many fans but there might be a few other surprises coming along soon. With Formula 1 bosses being grasped by the madness to hire ever-younger drivers (Max Verstappen will not have time to finish high school before participating in races with Scuderia Toro Rosso), Kimi Raikkonen, Jenson Button, Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso are probably all thinking whether or not they should quit.
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Making the decision to retire is never easy, especially for athletes. Most fans would work well into their sixties, but sportsmen cannot afford to do that. They need to make the choice fairly early in life and this requires a lot of thinking and option assessment. This month, let’s look into some of the factors that Formula 1 drivers consider when deciding to retire.
It happens very often that athletes do not so much choose to retire as they are forced to. Injuries play a big part in it. At one point, one just loses the determination to continue to fight different sources of pain or is physically incapable to do so. In the old days of Formula 1, it was very much the case that drivers suffered carrier-ending injuries, recently – not so much. Yet, one wonders how much Kimi Raikkonen’s 2013 back problems are still bothering the Finn.
The declining physical abilities, especially in comparison with teenage drivers, also play into another side of the equation. Drivers that have been very successful in the past find it very difficult to keep their motivation up when they cannot keep the young guns at bay anymore. Michael Schumacher’s podium at the 2012 European Grand Prix would have made very happy 90% of the drivers on the grid but it probably meant very little to the driver that has won 91 races.
Team Principals make long-term decisions which include replacing drivers in their 30s with promising youngsters.
Interests outside Formula 1
Kimi Raikkonen’s first retirement after the 2009 F1 season was as much about diminishing motivation and a conflict with the Ferrari management as it was about the Finn’s interests outside the sport. Formula 1 is the pinnacle of motorsport but some drivers would love to challenge themselves in other series. In 2013, Mark Webber was driving one of the most dominant cars in the history of F1, but starting something new with Porsche in LMP1 seemed like a more tempting offer than staying around for the new turbo era.
Work-family balance is important in every profession, but active drivers are expected to travel around the world every other week. Sebastian Vettel, Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado recently became fathers and seeing one’s new baby only once in a while can put a lot of mental pressure on an athlete. A driver that has won and earned a lot can afford to call it a day and retire to become a full-time parent.
It is also true that some drivers do not so much retire as they are pushed out. Team Principals make long-term decisions which include replacing drivers in their 30s with promising youngsters. Michael Schumacher’s first retirement in 2006 broke the hearts of many fans (yours truly included), but the Ferrari management must have felt that Kimi Raikkonen was the better bet going forward.
The opposite is also true. Older drivers are more prone to think that pushing week in, week out just to get into the Top 10, because the car is not capable of anything better, is not worth it. With McLaren’s second miserable season, Jenson Button must also be considering his options. The Briton has won all there is to win, nobody would blame the 2009 World Champion, if he has decided he had enough, even if all the fans would dearly miss him.
So who will be first? The silly season is open and one of the older drivers might leave the party when the music stops.