Rodolfo Gonzalez, Lotus, Abu Dhabi, 2011

Money before talent at the Young Drivers Test

CommentPosted on | Author Keith Collantine

Has everyone at the young drivers' test earned their place?
Has everyone at the young drivers' test earned their place?

The driver selection at the young drivers test, which finishes today, reveals much about the haves- and have-nots in Formula 1.

At one end of the grid are the teams with extensive young driver programmes running champions and race-winners from junior categories.

Or consider the likes of McLaren, who’ve had Gary Paffett on their reserve team for six years without ever starting a race, and has a wealth of experience of past MP4s to draw on as he pounds around Abu Dhabi.

At the other end of the grid we find several drivers who may be overflowing with enthusiasm but lacking somewhat in talent.

A review of the racing CVs of those participating reveals more than one of the drivers have won just a single race in the last five years. In one case this was a race featuring just seven other cars.

Now, I would never presume to say that such drivers may not improve and become better racers in the future. But it’s undeniable that while many earned their place at the test, others have merely paid.

The F3 Euroseries, previously won by the likes of Lewis Hamilton and Paul di Resta, was dominated this year by Roberto Merhi.

But Merhi, who took provisional pole position for the Macau Grand Prix by over one-and-a-half second earlier today, was disappointed not to get a chance to appear at the young drivers’ test.

He told Autosport: “When you see now with the rookie test, who are the drivers that are doing it, I think it is not really fair for all the good drivers that are around here in motorsport. It looks like you only need a lot of money to drive.”

GP2 series runner-up Luca Filippi echoed his comments. It’s striking that only four of the top ten drivers in the GP2 standings this year have appeared at the test, while more than one driver who started every race without scoring is.

This may not be entirely down to teams trying to turn a quick profit. Consider the cases of Renault and Force India. Their two drivers who are considered next in line for an F1 seat – Romain Grosjean and Nico Hulkenberg respectively – are ineligible to participate in the test due to prior F1 experience.

Nor is it the case that finance and ability are mutually exclusive. Pastor Maldonado won the GP2 championship last year and brought considerable backing from Venezuelan state petroleum company PDVSA, making him pretty much irresistible to cash-strapped Williams.

And it would be easy to over-state the extent of the problem. The test line-up features champions and race-winners from the likes of GP2, Formula Renault 3.5, Formula Three and GP3 – many of them who deserve serious consideration for a future in F1.

But there are worrying signs that the ladder leading to F1 is become less of a meritocracy and more a case of pay-as-you-go.

It is futile to blame the teams for this predicament. This is an inevitable consequence of the current testing format and the vast gulf between the haves- and have-nots in Formula 1.

The hard reality is that under tough economic pressure F1’s cash-poor teams increasingly have to pick money over talent when they can.

Do you think too few talented young drivers are getting to drive in F1? Who do you think was missing from, or shouldn’t have appeared at, the young drivers test? Have your say in the comments.

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