Formula 1 is increasingly becoming a young man’s game with the record for the youngest drivers’ champion broken four times since the turn of the century.
Three of those to break their title duck at a tender age are still on the grid, while one only stepped away from the sport at the end of last season.
One thing all five drivers have in common is success early on in their careers set them up to win multiple world championships, with the racer at the top of the list winning four titles on the bounce off the back of his maiden triumph.
1 – Sebastian Vettel (23 years and 133 days)
Vettel’s talent was clear to see early in his F1 career with the German becoming the youngest driver to score points when driving for BMW Sauber in 2007. He would follow that up the following year by smashing the record for youngest pole sitter and race winner at Monza.
In 2010, he climbed to the top of the mountain, overhauling Fernando Alonso at the very end of the season to secure his first world title. The Red Bull racer hadn’t led the standings all year and trailed Alonso by 15 points, while he was also seven points behind team mate Mark Webber, heading into the season finale in Abu Dhabi.
But Vettel’s victory at Yas Marina vaulted him to the top of the standings to become one of only two drivers to be a world champion by the age of 23. That would prove the spark for a period of domination for Vettel and Red Bull as they won the next three titles.
2 – Lewis Hamilton (23 years and 300 days)
Lewis Hamilton very nearly became the first driver to win the world title in his maiden season in Formula 1 when just 22, missing out on the record-breaking achievement in the final race of the year.
Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen whisked the championship from under the nose of Hamilton in Brazil, but one year later the Briton would return to Sao Paulo to make amends for his near miss.
In arguably the most dramatic finish to a season in F1 history, Hamilton was able to pass Timo Glock at the penultimate corner on the very last lap of a wet race to move up to fifth. That was good enough to vault the McLaren driver one point ahead of Felipe Massa, who seconds before had won the race and was celebrating what he thought was his first world title.
Hamilton would have to wait another six years for his next championship but has since gone on to become a seven-time drivers’ champion and the most successful competitor in F1 history.
3 – Fernando Alonso (24 years and 58 days)
Breaking the stranglehold Ferrari and Michael Schumacher had on F1 at the start of the century was always going to take something or someone special; cue Fernando Alonso.
The Spaniard had been slowly making a name for himself after an impressive debut season in 2001 with Minardi and in 2005 it all came together. Alonso steered his Renault to four wins in the opening seven races and despite having the great Schumacher breathing down his neck as the year drew to a close, was able to maintain his advantage.
Alonso would repeat the trick the following year, matching Schumacher’s win total of seven but crucially scoring 13 more points thanks in part to Renault’s superior reliability. The two-time world champion says he’s determined to add to his haul, even now at 41, and may have found a team to match his ambition in Aston Martin.
4 – Max Verstappen (24 years and 73 days)
There was uproar when Verstappen was allowed to race in F1 aged just 17 in 2015 but it quickly became apparent why the teenager was allowed to compete before he had a road driving license.
A year after becoming the youngest driver to start a race, Verstappen smashed the record for the youngest grand prix winner with victory in Spain as an 18-year-old in 2016. A world title felt inevitable, but the Dutchman had to bide his time during a period of Mercedes dominance.
Verstappen finally got his moment in 2021, passing fierce rival Hamilton on the last lap in a highly contentious finish to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. The Red Bull driver followed that title victory up with the most dominant run to a drivers’ title in F1 history in 2022 and is now set up to fulfil his early promise.
5 – Emerson Fittipaldi (25 years and 273 days)
For 33 years, Emerson Fittipaldi held the distinction of being Formula 1’s youngest world champion, piloting the iconic black and gold of Lotus to glory in 1972.
Having never previously come close to winning the title in his two previous years in F1, the Brazilian raised his game in 1972, winning five of that year’s 12 races to finish top of the pile.
Fittipaldi finished ahead of Jackie Stewart, as well as a host of household names, and his victory sparked a run of competing for F1’s top prize as he went on to finish runner-up twice, either side of his second world title win in 1974.