“If you want to win, hire a Finn.” It’s a long-time moniker in motorsports that has a remarkable amount of truth in it: despite being a small nation with a large amount of territory north of the Arctic Circle, Finland produces many exceptional racecar drivers. Despite having a population of just under 5.5 million, they currently have two drivers on this year’s Formula One circuit (Valtteri Bottas and Kimi Raikkonen). Only Germany has more drivers (3), but has a population of more than 81 million people, making Finland by far the highest ratio of F1 drivers-to-population of any country on earth.
What makes the Finns so good at auto racing? After all, Finland doesn’t have a globally-renowned automotive or motorsports manufacturer like Germany does, so why the immense interest and talent for driving? Many people have their theories but one of the most popular has to do with the requirements for obtaining a Finnish driver’s license.
Finland’s roads are frequently covered with snow and ice, and certain portions of the country see little to no sunlight during the winter months each year. As a result, drivers must be prepared for a number of challenges they might not face here in the United States. To compensate, the Finnish driver’s license test is supposedly one of the most difficult in the world to pass.
In total, the entire licensing process in Finland takes two years, starting when you reach the minimum age of 18. After a rigorous and thorough training course, which might include using a night driving simulator in a classroom, which emulates conditions that a driver could encounter, including icy roads, limited visibility, and a moose crossing the road, all at the same time.
Once you do get behind the wheel of a car, you must do so with an instructor or with a relative, but it must be done in a vehicle that has a passenger-side brake pedal. You must spend at least 18 hours behind the wheel of this vehicle, including a spell on a slippery surface, such as a frozen road, icy lake bed, or other surface. You are also required to complete a total of 19 driving theory lessons which cover everything from decision making to road laws to car maintenance. Once this is all completed, the driving candidate must pass a theory test and a 30-minute city driving test.
If you pass this test, congratulations! You’re halfway done! It’s true. This is just the test that gets you a two-year provisional driver’s license, during which point you are required to complete a range of advanced driving classes, which includes more night driving and possibly more simulator work. Once all of this has been completed and the two-year provisional license program is finished, a Finnish citizen may obtain a full driving license.
And the reasons for all of these requirements are clear: Finland also has some of the strictest driving and road laws in the world as well. Speed checkpoints and cameras are a regular occurrence in Finland, and officers can stop motorists for a number of reasons, even just to inspect your tires or make sure your signal lights are working properly. Random safety checks occur frequently, which often include a breathalyzer test to detect anyone driving while under the influence of alcohol.
However, the good news for Finnish people is that their driver’s license, once they obtain it, lasts until they are 70 years old. You won’t have to worry about renewing it or re-taking the exam every few years like you would here in America. It may seem crazy to not have to check in and have your license renewed for such a long time, but when you consider how incredibly thorough the licensing process is in the first place, you realize how skilled of a driver you must be in order to be licensed in the first place.
Perhaps, indeed, this is why so many skilled racecar drivers are Finnish: driving a night in the Arctic Circle makes for good training for the track ahead.
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