In motorsport every racer needs to find an edge to make them stand out so as to ensure a drive. Through the years being a “son of a legend” in motorsport has seemingly paved the way for many drivers, so how does this affect their subsequent careers?
Nico Rosberg, son of 1982 Formula One World Champion Keke, has enjoyed several successful seasons with Mercedes for the past six years, but has been unable to clinch the championship, having to settle for runner-up on two occasions. Sometimes, however, these second-generation drivers can arguably become even more well known than their predecessors by making a name for themselves. Damon Hill enjoyed a successful career in Formula One, with one world title to his name, and is now a pundit for Sky Sports. Jacques Villeneuve, son of Gilles, managed to win the drivers championship in 1997, something that his father was never able to do before his untimely death at the 1982 Belgian Grand Prix. However, Jacques’s career as a racing driver went downhill from there, quietly retiring from Formula One in 2006. He now drives in the newly formed Formula E championship.
It is undeniable, however, that a famous name is very easy to use in publicity stunts, or as a way to get funding. In a competition reminiscent of the late 1980s and early 1990s, when fans enjoyed a thrilling rivalry between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost, Senna’s nephew Bruno and Prost’s son Nicolas have taken part in a “race-off” as part of their participation in Formula E granted, it was in a video game. Nevertheless, neither of them have been very successful in Formula One. While Nicolas has not got beyond a test role for Renault, Bruno, whose uncle once said those who thought he was good should “wait until you see my nephew”, raced during four seasons for different teams with some encouraging but overall rather poor results.
Former DTM (German Touring Car Masters) and endurance driver Mathias Lauda and endurance driver Freddie Hunt are filming a documentary called “Sons of Speed” about what, in Hunt Jr’s words, it is like to be “sons of motorsport royalty”. While their fathers took part in many an epic battle during the 1976 F1 season, both drivers will form part of the same team, DF1 Nascar Racing, to drive in the Euro Nascar’s 2016 season.
However, despite most of these drivers having had to settle for “secondary” championships like Formula E, a new generation of youngsters is now already reaching or fighting to get to the pinnacle of motorsport, mostly those whose fathers were successful in the 1990s or early 2000s. Max Verstappen, son of Jos Verstappen, only turned 18 when the 2015 Formula One season was reaching its conclusion. Given that he started the season as a teenager, legally unable to drive in most European countries, could he be racing in Formula One thanks to his father? Either way, Max has proved himself this season, receiving awards for Rookie of the Year, Personality of the Year and Action of the Year at the FIA Prize Giving ceremony last December. His team-mate, Carlos Sainz Jr is fairly young too. Son of two-time World Rally Championship world champion Carlos Sainz, 21-year-old Carlos Jr had a worse season than his team-mate Verstappen but was able to score points on a number of occasions.
And surely not to be missed, Mick Schumacher has his sights set in Formula One. Michael Schumacher’s eldest son has scored a win and some podiums in ADAC Formula Four last season, yet Ferrari and Mercedes have reportedly been in touch with him already. Very aware of the pressures his surname might bring him, he began his motorsport career under pseudonyms like Mick Betsch or Mick Junior.
Whether or not these relatives of great motorsport figures have got as far as they have solely based on personal merit is questionable; the fact that love for speed is a genetic trait, is not.