By Alan Baldwin
SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS Belgium (Reuters) - Red Bull technical head Adrian Newey raised concern for motorsport's budding young racers on Friday, accusing some parents of risking a bleak future for their children by neglecting their studies.
With a youth debate raging in Formula One after Red Bull-owned Toro Rosso announced the signing of 16-year-old Dutch driver Max Verstappen for 2015, Newey was more concerned about educational issues.
In a sport that holds that if you are good enough, you are old enough, Formula One's leading designer said he was less worried about age per se and more about what happened to those who failed to make the grade.
"A lot of the drivers in karting and in junior formulas frankly just aren’t going to school," the Briton told reporters at the Belgian Grand Prix.
"They don’t go to school at all. The parents then hide behind that by saying that they have private tutors but I think in many cases – not all, I’m sure, but in many cases - that’s actually a complete sham."
Newey, the design genius who was asked to leave private school at 16 for misbehaving but went on to study aeronautics at university, said the exam results of many racing teenagers would probably tell a "fairly depressing story'.
A few might have potentially glittering futures, such as Red Bull's own four-times world champion Sebastian Vettel who made his F1 debut at 19, but the majority who did not progress faced problems ahead.
"I think for many of those children that don’t quite make the grade, they have spent all that time not going to school, not having a proper tuition and then what happens to them afterwards is altogether another question," Newey said.
"It’s something which motor racing as an industry urgently needs to look at, because personally I think we’re being irresponsible allowing that."
Verstappen, who turns 17 next month, still has a year to finish at school but is clearly one of those outstanding talents.
The son of former F1 racer Jos told reporters on Friday that his grades were good so far and he hoped to complete his studies while competing next season.
Some of the current crop of Formula One drivers started racing go-karts as young as five years old and progressed to single seaters while still of school age and before they can legally drive on public roads.
If few of them excelled academically, there have been notable exceptions in a sport whose engineering and design teams are filled with graduates from the world's leading universities.
Mercedes' current Formula One championship leader Nico Rosberg, son of 1982 champion Keke, turned down a university place to study aeronautical engineering at London's Imperial College to race in GP2 instead.
McLaren test driver and Le Mans racer Oliver Turvey is a Cambridge University engineering graduate.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Ed Osmond)