Like many occupations, motor racing tends to be a family affair. The children of professional racing drivers often become racing drivers themselves, to varying degrees of success. In very rare cases, both generations reach the pinnacle of their chosen racing categories. Let’s have a look at how this has happened in Formula 1.
In the history of motor racing, it’s not all that unusual for multiple members of the same family to race in Formula 1 (examples include Gilles and Jacques Villeneuve; Emerson, Wilson Jr and Christian Fittipaldi; Jody and Ian Scheckter; Michael and Ralf Schumacher; Jos and Max Verstappen) . Winning the World Championship, however, is a much more elite affair, so much so that only twice has a World Champion been related to a previous World Champion. In both cases, the relationship was a that of son-father.
The first son of a World Champion to win the title himself was Damon Hill, in 1996. Damon is the son of double World Champion Graham Hill, who won the title in 1962 for BRM and 1968 for Lotus. While Damon was certainly exposed to racing from a very young age due to his father’s career, it was by no means a given that he would find success in Formula 1. Having started his racing career on motorcycles, Damon only started racing racing cars from 1983, when he was already 23 years old.
Damon Hill made his F1 debut for Brabham at the 1992 Spanish Grand Prix. At the time, he was 31 years old, which even then was unusually old for a driver to break into Formula 1. In the same season, he was a test driver for Williams, who signed him for a race seat in 1993 when Riccardo Patrese moved to Benetton. Hill won 3 races in 1993, providing his team-mate and eventual champion Alain Prost with a stronger challenge than expected.
In 1994, Damon remained with Williams to partner Ayrton Senna, and would no doubt have expected to spend the season as Senna’s number two. Tragically, Senna was killed at the San Marino Grand Prix, and Hill inherited the role of team leader and challenger to championship leader Michael Schumacher.
Schumacher would go on to take the title in 1994 and 1995, with Hill second in both seasons. 1996, however, was Hill’s year, and he fended off a strong challenge from Williams team-mate Jacques Villeneuve to realise his dream of becoming Formula 1 World Champion. In doing so, he became the first son of a World Champion to win the title.
For a while, it seemed that the Hill family might have a chance of producing a third-generation champion. Damon’s son Josh raced single seaters for a few years, progressing as high as the European Formula 3 Championship in 2013, but decided to retire from racing that season.
Nico Rosberg became only the second son of a World Champion to win the title himself when he beat Lewis Hamilton to the 2016 crown just a few weeks ago. Nico is the son of Keke Rosberg, who won the title for Williams in 1982.
Success at F1 level was a long time coming for Nico Rosberg. He made his debut for Williams in 2006, but had to wait until the 2012 Chinese Grand Prix, his 111th Grand Prix start, to take his first win in Formula 1. It was worth the wait, however, as the younger Rosberg would go on to win 23 races and eventually the 2016 World Championship.
Nico Rosberg owes his F1 success to a significant extent to the dominance of the Mercedes team over the past few seasons. That’s not to minimise his achievement – the vast majority of F1 championships have been won in the fastest car. However, being at Mercedes has also brought the challenge of being team-mate to Lewis Hamilton.
Rosberg finished runner-up to Hamilton in 2014 and 2015 before finally besting his illustrious team-mate in 2016. Such was the dominance of the Mercedes team, though, it could easily have been Rosberg who topped the standings in all three seasons. His defeat of Hamilton in 2016 was testament to Rosberg’s determination and consistency. Never before in the history of F1 has a driver beaten his own triple-World Champion team-mate to the title.
In winning the 2016 World Championship, Rosberg became only the second son of a World Champion to win the title. His shock retirement from F1 immediately after securing the crown means there are no drivers currently in Formula 1 who can repeat the achievement – assuming they continue to race in 2016, Max Verstappen, Kevin Magnussen and Jolyon Palmer are all the sons of former F1 drivers, but none of their fathers won the World Championship.
Who will be next?
In the junior ranks of single seater racing, no name is currently attracting more attention than Mick Schumacher. The son of seven-time Formula 1 World Champion Michael Schumacher, Mick is 17 years old and looks likely to make his Formula 3 debut in 2017.
Mick Schumacher seems to be more than just a young driver with a famous name. In 2016, he competed in Italian Formula 4 and German Formula 4 and finished runner-up in both championships, with a combined total of 10 wins and 8 pole positions.
The young Schumacher is currently racing in the 2016–17 MRF Challenge Formula 2000 Championship, which takes place from November 2016 to February 2017. He is fourth in the championship, with 2 victories.
Rumours over the last couple of years have linked Mick Schumacher with the junior programs of the Ferrari and Mercedes Formula 1 teams. Given the close ties both F1 teams have to the Schumacher family, it seems possible that Mick could be under consideration for a Formula 1 drive in the future, assuming that he continues to impress as he makes his way through the junior ranks.
After three races in the 2012 Formula One season, there is almost no indication of who is likely to take the title. Even at this early stage in previous seasons, some sort of hierarchy would normally have emerged. But not this year.
In three races, there have been three different winners, and six different drivers on the podium. Seven different teams featured in the top 10 in Australia, nine in Malaysia, and seven again in China. Aside from the “new teams” – Caterham, Marussia and HRT – only Felipe Massa has yet to score points.
Qualifying has been astonishingly close. In Q2 for China, World Champion Sebastian Vettel was only 0.330s behind Mark Webber, who was quickest in the session. That tiny gap meant that Vettel was 11th, and did not progress into Q3. In the same Q2 session, the fastest and slowest times were only 1.231s apart.
In an environment as tough as this year’s Formula One grid, consistency is essential. Any poor result is heavily penalised, as is obvious in the case of Jenson Button. After winning in Australia, Button was out of the points in Malaysia, but performed well to finish second in China. Even so, he is only second in the championship. Fernando Alonso has had similarly mixed results. Fifth in Australia, a win in Malaysia and ninth in China puts him only third in the standings.
In the midst of all this inconsistency, one driver emerges at the top of the table. Lewis Hamilton has three third places. Not great results for a driver of his class and with a car as good as the McLaren. But his consistency puts him ahead of everyone else, leading the championship by two points from team-mate Button.
Consistency has won the title before. Keke Rosberg, father of Chinese Grand Prix winner Nico Rosberg, won the 1982 title despite only one race win that season. Pironi, Watson, Prost, Lauda and Arnoux each won two races, but it was Rosberg who triumphed due to six podiums and ten points finishes.
2012 promises to be one of the most open seasons in Formula One history. Each race weekend has been thrilling from start to finish. It’s anyone’s guess who will win the next race, and that is fantastic for the sport.