On the stage at the Autosport Awards last December, David Coulthard took a mobile phone and shot a selfie with what he described as ‘the future of F1’.
In the shot with him were three fresh young faces; Charles Leclerc, Lando Norris and George Russell.
DC wasn’t wrong. A year on and all three of them are confirmed 2019 F1 racing drivers for three of the sport’s most storied teams; Ferrari, McLaren and Williams.
Norris is the youngest and least experienced, he’ll turn 19 next month. Russell is 20 and will shortly add the FIA F2 title to his GP3 title won last year.
Leclerc, as we know, has landed the big prize as he will race for Ferrari next year at the age of just 21.
The announcement at the end of the week that Russell had been signed to Williams not only greatly strengthened British talent in F1, but it does underline the generational shift that began with the outrageously young Max Verstappen hiring by Toro Rosso, but which has since continued with Esteban Ocon, Lance Stroll, Pierre Gasly and more recently the trio in the photo above.
And significantly, Gasly and Leclerc have already been elevated to top teams for 2019.
With F1 cars being so much safer, we’ve seen a trend since the 1990s for numerous drivers to have careers lasting over 15 years, which makes it hard for young talent to break through. With so much money at stake, teams were unwilling to take risks on young drivers who inevitably makes mistakes as they learn the ropes.
Verstappen broke that mould and gave teams confidence to hire young talent rather than the old reliables.
But there’s no doubt that this crop of drivers aged between 18 and 21 now taking up the grid slots in F1 are particularly talented cohort, with several potential world champions among them.
This should make for some great competition in a few years time, as they hit their prime and this will co-incide with the likely timing around the retirement of multiple champions Hamilton and Vettel. If F1 can also capitalise on this in the 2021 rules by levelling the playing field a bit so the gap between the top teams and he rest can narrow, then there is a lot to be optimistic about for the sport.
The noises are not too encouraging on that at the moment; the old vested interests are well entrenched. But fans want to see great drivers battling it out and at least those vital ingredients appear to be in place.