Has the FIA superlicence price hike caused a split within the GPDA?

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

Lewis Hamilton, Jarno Trulli, Fernando Alonso, 2008, 470150

Something odd is going on with the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association at the moment. There have been stories going around since last year about some of its members being unhappy that certain drivers haven’t joined what is effectively the drivers’ union.

The driver mentioned most often has been Lewis Hamilton, who over the weekend denied rumours he had decided to join the group and donate ??15,000. Kimi Raikkonen and Adrian Sutil are also not members, and nor was Anthony Davidson (who is now no longer an active F1 driver).

Their ranks were swelled over the weekend by Felipe Massa, who quit the GPDA saying, “I didn’t always like the way it was run.” But I wonder if money also has something to do with it.

Division in the ranks

Jarno Trulli and Fernando Alonso have led the criticism of the non-GPDA drivers. Trulli said:

There are some drivers who couldn’t care less but they take advantage of the work done by others. What these sensationally uninterested drivers don’t understand is that the GPDA has a price. We fund it with a fee on the points scored.

If the top six drivers are the uninterested ones, then there’s a lack of money to survive and it’s always the unlucky ones, the ones who get paid less, that have to sustain the costs. The figures are little. The entry fee was one thousand dollars, now it’s probably ??1000, then you pay something like $200 per point scored.

But what I don’t understand is that you might not want to be part of the GPDA, then you can do what you want, but at least pay the money since you go on track too.

The most outrageous thing is that a top driver doesn’t give a damn about his safety. For me, that’s unacceptable. Even drivers that were part of the association and left pretend not to understand, and don’t read what we do.

Alonso added:

It is true there are drivers not in the GPDA, which is their own decision, but in my opinion it is not good.

As I have said another time, everyone can choose what they want – but it is difficult to understand how drivers don’t want to be involved in an association of drivers that want to save our lives when we are racing.

The accident that Kovalainen had last week, we will work on it with the FIA very closely, we will make some proposals and at the end we will find a solution. And these type of accidents will not be repeated.

So drivers who don’t want to be involved with that, it makes no sense.

Money problems

As Trulli explains, the absence of three of F1’s top four drivers from last season is a serious problem for the organisation.

According to Trulli’s estimate of the entry fee per driver being around ??1000 plus $200 (??128.71) per point scored last year then from a potential pot of ??107,334.73 they have already lost ??31,316.20. If Massa has withdrawn the money he owed from last year the total lost grows to ??44,414.94 or 41.38% of their potential revenue – a serious problem for the group.

Back in January the FIA revealed it was substantially increasing the cost of the drivers’ superlicences and linking the cost to the number of points they scored per season. Drivers such as Alonso suddenly found his superlicence bill increase more than four-fold to ??228,000.

At the time I wondered if it was Max Mosley’s way of making the drivers pay for safety changes they were demanding that he didn’t necessarily agree with.

I now wonder if some drivers have seen their whopping superlicence bill and decided that they needn’t pay for two organisations that promote safety in F1, and it’s not as if they can be without their superlicences.

See what the drivers pay for their superlicences here: How much does an F1 driver cost?

Christian Klien, Christijan Albers, Vitantonio Liuzzi, Indianapolis 2006, 470313

29 comments on “Has the FIA superlicence price hike caused a split within the GPDA?”

  1. Very interesting article, Keith. This could trigger a VERY good discussion.

    What I think of this is: well, the GPDA was not and is not a required organization for the drivers. So if the drivers don’t want to join, then so be it. But does Trulli have a point in asking non-members to pay what would amount to a “safety donation fee”? Is F1 becoming so safe that the GPDA (which was formed by Senna and Berger with the help of Schumacher on the grounds of safety) is now starting to become obsolete?

    As for Max increating the superlicense cost, I think there’s a much simpler reason than political complexity. It’s just a matter of adjusting the fee based on interest (cost of currency before vs. cost now) and the salary of the current drivers. Remember, even the increased superlicense fees are peanuts compared to the drivers’ salaries.

    Last point I’ll make for now: When Michael Schumacher was leading the GPDA, there were accusations that Michael was using the politics of the GPDA to his advantage. Whether this is true or not, we don’t know. What we DO know is that when he left, there was a lot of relief among the drivers because they thought that the GPDA would be a much more cohesive and much less politically-oriented group. Not very long after that, Max started hitting the GPDA more often and now these internal spats within the GPDA are coming to light (which rarely happened in the Schumi days – other than Indygate and Rascassegate). So instead of the situation getting better post-Michael, why is it getting worse?

  2. I concur Journeyer. Once again excellent article Keith, I’m always stunned by the quality of work a supposed amateur can do. major w00t

    Shame that the drivers don’t unite, if they all agreed on ONE thing, they would have more power to make change.

    But since they are raised to be egotistical block heads its too difficult for them to bow down an courtesy once in a while.

  3. Robert McKay
    13th May 2008, 8:44

    If the superlicence fee really was increased for the drivers to pay for their own safety precautions, then I don’t see why they ought to pay the GPDA again for the same privilege. And again, I fail to understand why drivers who score more points should pay more money to the GPDA. Of course the group has to raise money, but that says to me “we rate Kimi Raikkonen’s safety above Adrian Sutil’s safety”. The GPDA should treat all its drivers equally in all respects.

    But the GPDA is the one group that has the interests of the driver as it’s raison d’etre. The GPDA can be a force for good and a force for change. Drivers should be signing up to it. It’s their own choice, but if you have a situation where drivers are moaning about any aspect of F1 its harder to take them seriously if they are not joined up to the group specifically set up to communicate with, represent and pressurise the FIA.

  4. Keith is an amateur? Honest?

  5. I’m getting a lot of compliments today! Thanks everyone 8)

    Journeyer makes a good point about Michael Schumacher and the GPDA. Here’s what Mark Webber had to say about it in an excerpt from James Allen’s book on Schumacher.

  6. What I’m interested in is where all that money goes. Do they really need to spend all that money to type a few letters and make a few phone calls? I agree drivers should speak with one voice especially on safety issues, but I frown at this tendency to become a big body and having policies and taxing drivers salaries and all that stuff.
    F1 drivers on the average are not in the sport for a long time its when drivers get to sit in there for ages you begin to have this mentality.

  7. the money goes towards Mark Webber’s fancy scooter.

  8. I’m sure I read somwhere that Kimi does actually pay his dues, but just doesn’t take part in the discussions. I shall try to find the source, but can’t remember where it was.

  9. I can remember reading somewhere earlier this year that Max had not only increased the cost of the Superlicence, but had made it mandatory for the F1 Teams to pay it, and not rely on the individual driver finding the cash. Can anyone tell me if this is true?
    Why is the GPDA fee based on points scored? It seems a strange way to fund such a group of drivers anyway, especially when they don’t all join – I can see that this would cause a rift by itself, before any other issues came into play. Perhaps the GPDA need to get together and rewrite their own rules!
    Also, maybe the quiet times under Schuey were just because the other drivers at the time were keeping him in check? Or was he using other tactics to keep them all quiet?
    I think there is a need for other organisations to be present in F1 and motorsport in general to keep a close eye on the FIA policies, price increases and decisions, as the FIA has attracted some very strange characters into its ranks, who only appear to be there for gain, and not in the interests of motorsport. In the UK the RAC (one of the oldest motoring organisations) keeps an eye on the safety aspects at the circuits, it would be good if they had an international division which could keep an eye on the safety aspects of international events where British Teams or Drivers were involved – and shouldn’t the BDRC be doing something similar too?

  10. I don’t know if the pay-per-point system is fair.

    I mean, this season the best paid driver is Alonso, who with difficulty will score more than 20-25 points. There is veterans working in develop slow cars, who are well paid, but can’t score often. Good and well paid drivers who are seated in not so good cars.

    In the other hand, last season rookie Hamilton scored 109 points, and his salary was really small (i mean, without personal sponsors).

    But i don’t think we are talking about money. I don’t know why some drivers doesn’t want be in GPDA, but i don’t think money is the reason.

  11. sChUmAcHeRtHeGrEaTeStEvEr
    13th May 2008, 13:01

    i agree with frecon, last year hamilton would have to pay exactly the same amount as alonso even though alonsos salary was about 15 times bigger

  12. Well, i remember this joke(not) i was sent in one sms…

    baby fish to mama fish: “why don’t we live on the land mama?”

    mama fish: “because it is for selfishes”

    Well it is not very funny, but very telling. Drivers are not doing it simply cos…(well you make up your own mind cos i have), they are too damned concerned for their own pockets.

    I think Trulli is right when he criticizes top drivers(championsip leading ones), cos it gives them the bargaining chip for FIA to take them more seriously. It is not a union per se’. However, these blokes do have to look out for themselves and it helps, if they are all united. In a sticky situation their voice will have more credence if they spoke in one voice than singing all different tunes.

  13. It is strange reading that F1 is going towards points-tested fee structures when the other professional organisations I know about are heading towards flat fee structures for everyone after complaints that basing it on pay is over-complex.

    At the time the superlicence was increased, Max said that he didn’t know prior to increasing the price that some drivers paid for their own licence, so I don’t think it’s mandatory for teams to pay for superlicences. That said, it does seem to be the high-paid ones near the front who are hesitating and withdrawing, so I agree with frecon in suggesting money isn’t the reason for the GPDA’s current problem.

    Whatever Michael Schumacher’s other flaws, he was a leader figure. When he was the chairman of the GPDA, it had a sense of direction because of that leadership. Other drivers may have complained at times (sometimes with good cause), but he was someone with the FIA’s ear who could also bind the drivers together and was interested in the cause.

    Ralf Schumacher became chairman after he retired, but didn’t seem to do much (he was a bit preoccupied in the attempt to salvage is F1 career). Now the GPDA is chaired by Pedro de la Rosa, who as far as I know never asked to be chairman and wasn’t even at the meeting which elected him so! While he is certainly at no risk of abusing his power as Michael Schumacher was sometimes accused of doing, the chances of him giving the GPDA the direction it needs are pretty low.

    What the GPDA needs is a leader and a fee structure based on fairness and equality – in that order.

  14. I believe that the GPDA and the issues you see here are indicative of a larger problem in the way that F1 is manged and run. Drivers shouldn’t have to form a union in order for the FIA to take their interests into consideration. The necessity of an GPDA in the first place is a symptom of an FIA and F1 management that is more interested in sponsors, audience, revenue, global expansion and corporate image.

    F1 is becoming a lot less like Led Zeppelin and more like the Spice Girls, in that it is a manufactured spectacle where true motor racing has taken a back seat to business interests.

    If F1 was managed like a true motorsport, representing the interests of the drivers and enthusiasts wouldn’t be a problem, as the FIA and management would share the same interests. In almost every other sport these same problems are non-existent. You don’t have FIFA slowing down games of football or making the goals wider to make the game more interesting, and nor does every football player need to involve themselves in backroom politics in an effort to see their safety adressed.

    These drivers who want no part in the GPDA probably share the same sentiments, in that they shouldn’t have to dedicate a few hours each week to make sure that the sports management are taking safety into consideration. If an issue as simple and as obvious as safety can not be managed properly without drivers resorting to a fee-paying union then F1 has bigger problems than this.

    There is currently a fantastic opportunity to bring F1 back to its roots of being the worlds best motor racing competition. First, Mosley needs to be given one last push out so that we can put him and his heavy baggage of controversies behind us in the past. Second, because of the current state of flux with the Concorde Agreement there is an opportunity to address not only driver concerns, but concerns of teams, spectators and enthusiasts. Read any F1 blog and every second comment thread talks about which regulations and rules need to be changed (often in vain). Everybody with an interest in the sport outside of the current management longs for faster and more nimble cars, more teams, more competition, a true qualifying format, cars resembling cars, new technology, drivers who don’t speak in PR massaged soundbytes, and definitely a lot less of those boring tracks in boring parts of the world.

    So I am not surprised that some of these drivers are just bored of all the politics and crap within Formula 1 and just want to drive fast cars very quickly against the world best other drivers.

    I am back to watching F1 this year after a 7 year hiatus and I must admit that while this season so far has been interesting (3 fast teams, a good midfield scrap) I am still frustrated by a sport that has been dumbed down with crazy regulation and far too much politics.

  15. As Pedro de la Rosa does not race in F1, he can’t score points and he does not have to pay any fees… :-)

    now, seriosly, what they need that kind of money for, the GPDA ? what they do with the money ? anybody has any idea ?

  16. I am with Trulli on this one. All drivers should play some part in it, even if it is just donations…none of them are on the breadline.

  17. Bah, that is silly. And we all know that Trulli is silly. Along with DC wich is also silly and both are crybabies.

    That organization has no reason to exist, isn’t the FIA the one that sees for safety issues?

    If I were a driver I could not be ***** to join that silly band camp.

  18. Keith, this thing is just begging for a poll. People are pretty evenly divided on this, from what I see. And both sides have good valid points too! :)

  19. michael counsell
    13th May 2008, 19:01

    The situation is very similar in MotoGP I think with older, louder riders criticising younger, quieter ones for not caring. I think its probably more that de la Rosa, Alonso, Webber, Trulli etc have their way of thinking and influencing others and perhaps other drivers don’t feel they can contribute to it.

    Its unfortunate for the GPDA that the most successful drivers at the moment seem to be those who are unwilling to contribute in terms of work or money.

  20. Is it michael?

    I see that because the most successful drivers on the grid do not want anything to do with GPDA, the GPDA is not needed at all.

    They can whine all they want, it seems nobody is listening.

  21. I think the problem is that we don’t really know everything that goes on behind close doors in the GPDA.

    These guys have huge salaries, I’am sure money is not the question. (Only perhaps for Sutil?)

    About the reasons, I recall earlier in Raikkonen’s career (around 2003) he said he didn’t want to join because he is not interested in politics, and he thinks F1 is safe enough. He received lots of stick for that, and has most recently only kept the part that he is not interested in politics. Hamilton said he is to busy, and Massa left because he doesn’t like the way in which the GPDA is governed.

    I think it show a patron and it means that there is perhaps much more politics involved in the GPDA, then we realize. This is not just simply about safety at the end of the day, in fact safety might actually not even be such a big part of it.

    Then on top of that you get the alpha-male syndrome, it is really difficult to envision that Hamilton or Raikkonen will happily follow Alonso’s guidance and leadership.

  22. Yeah, leadership… And of course the fact that DC, Trulli and Alphonso are all silly girls.

    I can imagine a meeting:
    -Did you see that? He didn’t gave me rooom…
    -Okay now we all agree, no overtaking in turn 1 next race…
    -He came from nowhere! There was no room!

    Obviously neither Kimi or Hamilton have time for that nonsense.

  23. BTW Your Nige would fit perfectly in GPDA.

  24. I’ve been pondering this question for some time and I think it’s to do with personalities, Lewis-bashing and misinformation.

    Let me explain. First we get the hoo-ha about Lewis being a tax-exile, being derided and abused from all sides for not paying tax in Britain. This argument went by the wayside when it was revealed what people should already have known, that most if not all F1 drivers are tax exiles, and even much loved “golden girls” of athletics like Paula Radcliffe are Monaco residents. Then the argument switched to Hamilton lying about his reasons, despite me having seen an article in The Times in March 2007 saying that Hamilton said he thought he would have to become a tax exile at some stage soon. You see the pattern here – everything Lewis says or does is scrutinised and criticised over and above anything any of the other drivers do or say even if it is exactly the same.

    So then the next Lewis bashing opportunity came with the GPDA. The first stories I think were Pedro de la Rosa saying Hamilton should join, then Jackie Stewart, and then the party started and they all laid into him in the media: what a rotten man he was for not joining the drivers’ union. Then the lies and misinformation were corrected as it came out that the 2007 WDC Kimi Raikkonen no less, was also not a member. Aaah, so Lewis wasn’t the only devil in F1 as was previously intimated. Then we learnt that Adrian Sutil and the poor but much beloved cousin of Lewis Hamilton, Anthony Davidson, also weren’t members. Also, Pedro de la Rosa, kind of slow off the start, said Lewis wasn’t at all under pressure to join. All of a sudden, the GPDA nonsense temporarily ceased only to be revived recently by Trulli’s outburst, Alonso’s statement, and Massa leaving because “he didn’t like the way it was run”.

    I don’t think it has anything to do with money at all. These people earn so much and I’m sure the GPDA is well funded. Look at who runs the GPDA: de la Rosa, his old buddy Alonso, their buddy Trulli who spends hols on Briatore’s yacht. There appears to me to be a sort of rats’ rat-pack of unpleasant F1 characters running this show, and some drivers just don’t want to be a part of it. I remember Massa’s run in with Alonso (can’t remember the GP last year) so I don’t think they’re particularly fond of each other, and neither would Hamilton be, or his friend Sutil. Don’t know the reasons for Raikkonen or Davidson, but Raikkonen has always been one to steer his own path.

    If the GPDA is a useful important F1 organisation, maybe there ought to be a purge at the top and less public haranguing of drivers because the whole thing is turning into a farce. I do think that there are various “camps” that the drivers fit into and I’m sure that is part of the reason for non-joining and leaving.

  25. Hmmm… S Hughes brings up a very valid point. Look at it: who’s active in the GPDA now?

    – Alonso
    – de la Rosa – a fellow Spaniard like Alonso
    – Trulli – a best buddy of Alonso
    – Webber – a fellow Briatore signee like Alonso
    – Coulthard – a teammate of Webber

    In school terms, some people would call that a clique, right? Now, I’m sure some drivers (like Hamilton and Sutil, Massa and Raikkonen) would see it that way, and others would not. But the fact that there is just that impression of a clique is already damaging to the GPDA leadership.

    Just one thing, S: GPDA directors are voted for by all the members themselves, so surely they have to accept whoever was voted by the majority?

  26. What we can not do is hint that the GPDA has more going behind the scenes than what it is suposed to, because we really dont know. So why make any assumptions on this.

    Obviously, drivers need to have their opinion heard on FIA F1 decissions regarding safety and this is only viable as a group. Just imagine what would happen with different opinions from different drivers and FIA not listening, or what is worse, appearing to listen more to some drivers than others.

    The point of paying a bigger superlicence bill for the safety measures does not invalidate the need of the GPDA. That increased bill does not give the right to voice opinion or the ability to orginize the drivers opinions.

    The fact that the GPDA fee denpends on points I cannot explain. Maybe if drivers get money for each point in a grand prix, there could be some relation with fee based on that. any other case, for me it sounds better to all pay the same fee, this is no poor mans land to make such a small fee depend on driver income.

  27. Jaime, I guess the reason why the fee is tied to points is because we must remember that not all drivers have salaries in F1, especially in the past. Many a driver have had to pay for his seat through sponsors, so instead of getting paid to race, he pays to race instead. The only guaranteed way a driver makes money in F1 is when he scores points at races, because it’s tied to prize money.

  28. Michael Counsell
    14th May 2008, 2:16

    To those criticising members of the GPDA for being “girls”. For one thing thats sexist and a bit petty. Calling it whining is pretty derogatory and ill-informed. I’d imagine that for many drivers who control cars at 200mph control is very important and not being part of a union is like taking the hands off of the wheel half way round a lap

    To haplo, if you read my comment I said it was unfortunate FOR the GPDA not to receive money, how could it be fortunate?

    The directors were voted in by the drivers and if they don’t like it they should have voted for someone else or ran themselves…

    I don’t see why joining a union or not has to be a scandal and I don’t see why people are criticised for commenting on it. The journalists ask the questions and the drivers answer in the most opinionated way they see fit. Its hardly a scandal, just a chance to have a go at Raikkonen, Hamilton, Massa etc for being reckless and Alonso, Trulli, Webber etc for being ‘whiners.’

    Once again this is an anti argument against people arguing about things they know little about with the urgent need to blame someone.

  29. Mmm… Michael, this is hardly a serious discussion, we’re talking here about the sport we love, thus passion and “mentalness” HAS to be involved. We could argue science, politics and really “important” subjects and then we would be very wrong to call anyone girly. Only then would be derogatory in all the meaning of the word.

    You can’t really think that just because calls Trulli a sassy girl, he really thinks so, right? After all, that “sassy girl” drives a F1 car, earns more than I will see in my entire life and lives the life I only dream about. It’s just the usual comment about the “other team”.

    So, please don’t believe that (I, at least) we mean all we say in a strict sense.

    And about the GPDA, I really think it’s fortunate that they don’t receive any money or participation from the top dogs because I don’t see any need for that silly (see? again!) organization for Alphonso (oops!) and his girly friends (man, you can’t avoid it!).

    Just cheer and enjoy our babbling ;)

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