Mick Doohan believes Formula 1 is losing two big personalities for 2023 in Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo – but says the show will go on.
Vettel has announced his retirement from a career that began in 2007, while Ricciardo, who joined the F1 grid four years later, was dropped by McLaren and unable to find a suitable race seat next season.
Doohan knows what it is like to leave a sport he had once dominated, for he was the 500c motorcycling World Champion in five consecutive years from 1994-98.
The 57-year-old Australian raced only twice more after his final title triumph, retiring after a crash in qualifying on a wet Jerez circuit in May 1999 that left him with a leg broken in several places.
However, while his exit from the sport left a huge gulf, it was only a couple of years until the next superstar came along – that being Valentino Rossi, who eclipsed Doohan’s five titles with seven between 2001 and 2009.
The father of Alpine junior driver and F2 racer Jack Doohan thinks enough personalities remain in F1 for the sport to continue thriving, even though two highly popular competitors in Vettel and Ricciardo are saying goodbye – at least for now.
“When I stopped, or whoever stopped, there were also cries of ‘how should the sport go on?’,” said Doohan during an interview with Formule1.nl.
“That always happens, but the sport always goes on. That’s unfortunate for the talent, for the drivers, but good for the sport. After all, otherwise the sport would die with the personalities leaving.
“The sport is always bigger than one or two drivers anyway. We’ve seen that in the past. The sport will always produce personalities – everyone is a personality in the paddock.”
Who will step up after the departures of Ricciardo and Vettel?
Let’s not forget the engaging personalities of the current crop of young drivers, who embrace their marketability and promotional appeal nearly as much as their desire to succeed on the track.
It is remarkable, for example, just how savvy Lando Norris and George Russell are at playing to the audience – in a positive way – to put themselves across in a way that will inevitably attract new fans.
At the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, the duo were interviewed simultaneously on the Sky F1 rostrum and came across as an amusing double act who could potentially give a few well-known comedy duos a run for their money.
And it is not something to be frowned upon by their teams. It only helps their commerciality and will please sponsors, while there is zero indication that it detracts from any professionalism when it comes to what matters – performing on track. Their results bear testimony to that.
We feasibly may not see Vettel and Ricciardo race in F1 again, and that undoubtedly would be a loss.
But as Doohan says, the sport remains in good hands.