Formula 1 drivers must be holders of valid FIA ‘Super Licences’ in order to race in the top class of motorsport. What is a super licence, and how do drivers get their hands on one?
To ensure a certain quality of racing driver (and to ensure the safety of everyone involved in a race!), Formula 1 drivers must all hold valid FIA Super Licences that are issued by the governing body.
There are different levels of licences issued by the FIA, which entitle drivers to race in various FIA-sanctioned categories, but the stringent requirements for F1 are, unsurprisingly, the highest level – the ‘Super Licence’.
To even qualify for applying for such a licence, applicants must meet the strict requirements of the FIA – these requirements are laid out in the International Sporting Code (ISC), Appendix L, Article 13.1 (2022).
What are the criteria needed for an FIA Super Licence?
As the ISC states, drivers wishing to apply for a Super Licence must be the following criteria.
- Drivers must be a minimum of 18 years of age for the first day of their first F1 competition, ie. the first day of their debut GP weekend.
- They must be an existing holder of an International Grade A competition licence (this licence applies for single-seaters and prototypes with a weight/power ratio less than or equal to 1 kg/hp).
- They must be a holder of a valid driving licence (a normal, everyday driving licence!)
- They must pass an FIA theory test, demonstrating their knowledge of the various F1 codes and regulations
- They must have completed at least 80% of each of two full seasons of any of the single-seater championships outlined in the FIA table supplied below.
- They must have accumulated at least 40 points of super licence weighting – the weighting for each championship and finishing positions in the championship are outlined in the same table below.
How do drivers achieve the required 40 points for a Super Licence?
In order to rack up the required 40 points, the FIA will tot up the total the driver has scored over the three most recent years that come before the year of the application.
Alternatively, the FIA can also tot up the total of the two years before the year of application, as well as adding on the total of the year of application – it’s down to whichever total is higher that will determine whether the driver is eligible or not.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic which affected racing calendars throughout 2020 and ’21, the FIA introduced some allowances for this to ensure drivers still got their due points.
Should the three-year period before the application include 2020 and/or ’21, the FIA will consider the highest number of points scored in three of the four years before the application.
Similarly, for the two-year period, the FIA will consider the highest number of points racked up in two of the three calendar years as well as the year of the licence application. Confusing? Yes, but necessary to ensure fairness for upcoming drivers during what was a turbulent period for motorsport.
Who else is eligible?
Drivers who have previously had a Super Licence and are returning to the sport (Robert Kubica, for example, who went over five years without driving an F1 car after a rallying crash in 2011), can be considered for a Super Licence again once they’ve completed at least 100 kilometres during a free practice session at a Grand Prix in any of the three years prior to the application.
Also, drivers who were granted a super licence which hasn’t been used in the three most recent seasons can apply. However, there is no set process for these drivers – the FIA examine these applications on a case-by-case basis to determine whether the driver has ‘recently and consistently demonstrated outstanding ability in a single-seater formula car’.
For instance, Romain Grosjean would very likely get his super licence approved for 2023, if he wanted to return to the sport. Nico Rosberg, the 2016 F1 World Champion, would not be automatically approved – he’d have to go through the process of completing free practice sessions and prove that he is still capable.
Drivers who have scored 30 points of super licence weighting can also be eligible for a super licence, but this will be up to the discretion of the FIA.
The conditions are that the 40-point limit hasn’t been achievable due to “circumstances outside their control, or reasons of force majeure”. It’s under this caveat that Red Bull recently attempted to get the IndyCar driver Colton Herta a super licence – a quest that ultimately resulted in failure.
For any of the drivers who are applying for a super licence under circumstances that aren’t the straightforward 40-point rule, the team applying must show the driver has driven at 300 kilometres in a representative contemporary F1 car consistently at racing speeds over a period of two days – they must have done this in the 180 days prior to the application.
This demonstration must be certified by the relevant automobile sporting authority (an ASN) for the country where the test took place, or happen during an official test/Grand Prix weekend.
Free practice only super licences
Drivers also can apply for a ‘free practice only super licence’, which entitles junior drivers to take part in a free practice session for an F1 team (think Academy/Junior drivers affiliated to teams but perhaps haven’t got the full 40 points just yet).
The rules are essentially the same as for a full super licence application, but first-time applicants for these licences must have completed at least six events in the FIA Formula 2 championship, or have accumulated at least 25 points of weighting, during the three-year period prior to the application.
These super licences are handed out on a probationary basis and are subject to review at any time.
How much does a F1 super licence cost?
With super licences only handed out for a calendar year at a time, it may be somewhat surprising to learn that drivers have to pay significant amounts of money to keep their licences active for the following year. In fact, the more successful you are, the more it costs!
The FIA charge licence holders a set fee every year, as well as a fee for every point scored in F1.
These fees are kept very quiet and are not officially published. However, from figures known from 10 years ago, the initial cost of a super licence was €10,000, with drivers forced to also pay €2000 per point to renew.
Based on those figures, Max Verstappen‘s super licence renewal for 2022 after winning the ’21 title with 395.5 points would have been just over €800,000.