The drivers who take part in Formula 1 are obviously very skilled at what they do, but you might be wondering if it takes anything more than pure driving talent to make it into the sport. Do drivers need any kind of special certifications to take part, or can you be a Formula 1 driver as long as you have a team and sponsors to support you?
As it turns out, it takes more than just experience and money to take part in Formula 1. All drivers need to have an FIA Super Licence, which certifies that the driver has the ability to drive a Formula 1 car on a competitive level.
In this article, we'll be talking all about the FIA Super Licence, including how to get one and how to keep your licence once you have it.
The FIA Super Licence, often referred to as just the Super Licence, is a racing licence issued by the FIA to drivers who have qualified to compete in Formula 1. The Super Licence was first introduced in 1990 as a certification for drivers who proved themselves as contenders in single-seat auto racing.
If you're not too familiar with Formula 1, you might not know what the FIA is or what exactly they do. The FIA (Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile) is a French non-profit organization that acts as the governing body for a ton of auto racing events, with one of the biggest ones being, of course, Formula 1.
Over the years, the requirements for getting an FIA Super Licence have changed quite a bit, but in general, one acquires this licence by proving their skill in one or more lower-tier racing series.
We've mentioned briefly what it takes to acquire an FIA Super Licence, but let's go into more detail about this. Proving your ability in other single-seat racing series is important, but there are other qualifications you need to have as well.
For starters, any driver attempting to obtain a Super Licence needs to be at least 18 years old by the time of their first Formula 1 race weekend. This is a pretty recent rule, as it only came into effect in 2015 after Max Verstappen joined Scuderia Toro Rosso.
At the time, Verstappen was only 17 when he signed on with Toro Rosso, and it raised concerns that the FIA was fast-tracking young drivers into the sport without ensuring they had the experience to compete on the same level as the other drivers. This prompted the FIA to make this change to the rules.
With all that being said, Verstappen did prove pretty soon after joining Formula 1 that his skills were enough to make him a competitive force in the sport, so it worked out in this instance.
In order for a driver to obtain a Super Licence, they need to have acquired some other licences first. The first, as you might be able to guess, is just an ordinary driver's licence; after all, if you can't even drive a regular old commuter car, how can you be expected to drive a top-of-the-line, multi-million dollar racing machine?
In addition, your driver's licence needs to be clean; if at any point your licence was suspended or revoked, you won't be eligible to receive a Super Licence.
The other licence you need to drive in Formula 1 is an International Grade A Competition Licence, which you can get from taking part in other racing series. Getting an International Grade A Competition Licence requires a different set of qualifications entirely, and can take many years of racing.
Just like getting a learner's permit, getting an FIA Super Licence requires drivers to pass a theory test. This test usually contains questions about the regulations and code of conduct in Formula 1, which is necessary to know as Formula 1 regulations tend to differ greatly from regulations in other racing series.
In 2015, the FIA established a points system for drivers trying to obtain a Super Licence. Drivers earn points by competing in other racing series, and a driver needs to score at least 40 points over the course of the previous three seasons to be eligible for a Super Licence.
Points are awarded based on what racing series the driver took part in, and what position they finished in at the end of the championship. Below, we've put together a chart to illustrate how this works.
This isn't a complete chart as it doesn't cover every single racing series that drivers can take part in to earn points towards a Super Licence, but it does cover all of the big ones:
|Formula 2 Championship||40 points||40 points||40 points||30 points||20 points||10 points||8 points||6 points||4 points||3 points|
|Formula 3 Championship||40 points||30 points||20 points||10 points||8 points||6 points||4 points||3 points||2 points||1 point|
|Formula E Championship||40 points||30 points||20 points||10 points||8 points||6 points||4 points||3 points||2 points||1 point|
|IndyCar Series||40 points||30 points||20 points||10 points||8 points||6 points||4 points||3 points||2 points||1 point|
|GP3 Series||30 points||20 points||15 points||10 points||7 points||5 points||3 points||2 points||1 point||No points|
|Japanese Super Formula||25 points||20 points||15 points||10 points||7 points||5 points||3 points||2 points||1 point||No points|
|FIA World Endurance Championship||40 points||30 points||20 points||10 points||8 points||6 points||4 points||3 points||2 points||1 point|
|DTM||15 points||12 points||10 points||7 points||5 points||3 points||2 points||1 point||No points||No points|
|International V8 Superstars||13 points||11 points||9 points||6 points||4 points||3 points||2 points||1 point||No points||No points|
Unfortunately, it's not enough just to prove that you're a good driver if you want to get a Super Licence; you still need to actually pay for the license to receive it. Not only that, but drivers need to renew their licences each year for an additional cost.
The cost of an FIA Super Licence goes up often, and while the exact cost of a Super Licence isn't known, it's estimated that the cost of this licence is between $10,000-20,000. Renewing a Super Licence is the same base cost.
However, an existing Formula 1 driver will usually have to pay extra on top of the base fee based on how well they did in the previous Formula 1 season. Specifically, the more points a driver scores in the previous season, the more they have to pay; as of 2012, drivers had to pay an extra $1,280 for every point they scored.
If a driver is particularly successful during a season, they may end up having to pay significantly more to renew their licence. One noteworthy example of this is Jenson Button, who was the Formula 1 World Champion in 2009. For the 2010 Formula 1 season, the cost of his Super Licence renewal was estimated to be somewhere between $300,000 and $1.28 million.
It's pretty rare for a Super Licence to be revoked once it's been issued, but it can happen in some circumstances. When a driver first gets their Super Licence, it comes with a 12-month probationary period; if during this period, the FIA determines the driver doesn't actually meet the requirements to receive a Super Licence, that licence will be revoked.
The FIA can also place sanctions on a driver's Super Licence in the form of penalty points. These points are given if drivers break one of the established rules or regulations, and if a driver receives 12 of these points within a year, they are banned from participating in the next event they were scheduled to take part in.