There are frequently recurring topics in the comment sections about today’s drivers such as “if they had raced in Senna’s era” or “what they are doing now is just a farce” But it seems we never examine the question from a different perspective, namely, what would happen to the greatest racers of the Senna or the Schumacher era these days?
In short: they’d be in trouble and in a big one
Before we get to the point, it is important to make it clear that comparing ages is an unfortunate game and most of the time it is very unfair, too. Experience shows that those (commentators) who do this are mostly “working” from little information and on the top of that, they are extremely biased. For lack of a better one, they protect their all-time favorites and in the meantime they’re degrading the six-time world champion Lewis Hamilton or the up-and-coming Max Verstappen or even Charles Leclerc.
However, if we reverse the discourse and teleport someone – let’s say Aytron Senna – to a Formula 1 World Championship in our modern times, a lot of people would be surprised. And not in a positive way.
That damn technology
The world is constantly changing. Everything around us has accelerated, everything has been revalued. The state-of-the-art technology from Senna’s era is now, to say at least, a toy: the difference between technical solutions then and now systematized in F1 is at least the same as in the case of first-generation launchers and modern-day space exploration. Today’s drivers are the children of an extremely digitized era who fall asleep with mobile phones, tablets and smart devices and wake up with Playstation controllers and spend their time with these gadgets between these two phases as well.
They have decades of simulator experience at a very young age, they “get” the requirements of the present situation. Thus, even without any F1 routine, they can immediately pick up the pace against their older opponents. These reflexes cannot be learnt overnight. It is true that these skills can be developed over time, but a person who has been developing from a “digitally illiterate” status won’t be able to compete against the “digitally innate” peers.
This is why – strictly speaking on technical issues, such a time travel would be a very unpleasant experience for a driver from 1980-’90s, or perhaps even earlier.
Physical and mental preparation
The cornerstone of the subject. Take a look at pictures of old drivers: from Niki Lauda’s era, even from before, or even from the decades before the millennium. The most striking difference, with a few exceptions is that these guys were much “softer” compared to today’s drivers.
Of course, it’s not about the average person’s level, it’s about the top athletes. Anyone who has ever been in a close contact with any driver in the current F1/F2 track will immediately notice their gladiator-like figure bred with uttermost care and great precision under laboratory conditions.
There is no “some” excess weight, no booze (except for the urban legend Raikkönen), no smoking and no partying – instead of these there’s only hard work. As a result, if these guys were to compete with the techniques of the past, it would be impossible to imagine such series of pictures where someone collapses after getting out of the car or someone is barely able to stumble to the podium…
And we didn’t even say a word about their meal regime yet (that would be worth a different article), the number of races that would rise dramatically in the coming years, and the events that were inseparable from the competition. And the constant traveling, the complete lack of private life is just the cherry on the top!
PR and other goodies
The majority of racers from previous eras would have fallen without making a single circle under the weight of the awareness of the preparation mentioned above. And we didn’t even mention the fact that today, business-wise, Formula 1 doesn’t work the way it did in the Golden Age: A vast array of PR appearances, photo shoots, endless series of film shootings are part of the daily life and racing weekends of an F1 driver. Sponsors expect a relaxed, smiling and active attitude, from which it is easy to guess how much would (not) like this those athletes who have been trained in the earlier stages of this sport.
Aytron Senna’s divine talent (and the battles of his era, cars, voices, romances…) is beyond dispute, but he probably would not be able to overcome the series of obstacles generated by different timelines despite his sensational abilities. And if, as a conclusion, we’d have to guess where the Brazilian in today’s Formula 1 would finish with his top team’s car, then we believe that with the best of intentions, he would only be behind the front line.
He might win one or two races, but he’d never be a World Champion…