Money before talent at the Young Drivers Test


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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74 comments on Money before talent at the Young Drivers Test

  1. SempreGilles (@sempregilles) said on 17th November 2011, 13:02

    I think there are too much possible new F1 drivers. Drivers are plucked from what, 3 or 4 feeder series every year. Then considering that your average F1 career last 3 or 4 years (just a guess), there are way to many drivers for way to little seats. And if you can choose a future champion like Vettel or Hamilton it’s a clear case, but those are rare. So a good second to choose on is money, especially for the poorer teams.

  2. How did the current bona fide talents come into the sport? It seems to me that generally, all of Hamilton, Button, Rosberg, Alonso, Vettel, Webber, Massa were either groomed by top teams as development drivers or came into the sport after unqualified success below. I don’t think that will ever change. The top three teams and Mercedes will never hire a pay-hack. The rest probably will continue to let a a check drive at least one of their cars.

    I can see how the arithmetic ensures this result. If you don’t have the car or the talent in-car to go up a rung or two in the standings and thereby claim and addtional $20-40m in WCC money, much better to just get $20m from Lada or PDVSA/Citgo and just hope that a team ahead stumbles. In theory, you can use the money to develop the car too—or to remove the lien put on you by the catering company.

    If you hire a junior league superstar and pay him $5m and he doesn’t pan out, you are much worse off financially, and your sponsorship pitch is now worse as well. It’s a bird-in-hand thing.

  3. RumFRESH (@rumfresh) said on 17th November 2011, 20:26

    It’s just so sad to think of all the talent that goes unnoticed, all of the potential to have the most skilled drivers in the world on one grid. F1 holds itself highly for having the best drivers in the world but that’s just not true is it?

  4. Thecollaroyboys (@thecollaroyboys) said on 17th November 2011, 20:29

    So exactly how much money are we talking about here? Can someone enlighten me as to how much the “pay” drivers are bringing to a team?

  5. James (@jamesf1) said on 17th November 2011, 20:33

    This problem is far more deep rooted than just the young drivers test for F1. Motorsport in general could be considered to be quite an elitist sport. Lewis Hamilton only got through karting and the lower formulas because of his dad working two jobs and all the hours on the Earth. I think I remember the same being said of Jenson’s parents.

    Michael Schumacher’s parents were not particularly wealthy either.

    Motorsport needs to be more accessible to people. I know many excellent karters who call it quits there because they simply cannot afford to get into the most cheapest forms of singleseater series such as Formula Renault or even Formula Ford. A friend at university drove in Formula Ford events and festivals quite often, but could never afford to do a full season, which is a shame because he’s a pretty good driver.

    It’s a problem that wont go away however, and not a problem unique to F1 as well for that matter. At the end of the day, money talks – louder than tallent unfortunately.

    • Klon (@klon) said on 18th November 2011, 1:54

      Motorsport needs to be more accessible to people.

      Decisive question: why?
      The way motorsport is and was has worked fine before and a certain elitism hasn’t hurt anything yet. If anything, high costs increase the chance at seeing good talent, because aside from those very few who have rich family and friends to finance their career, only those who are good and interesting enough to attract sponsorship actually make it.

  6. AndrewTanner (@andrewtanner) said on 17th November 2011, 21:30

    Money vs. talent, always a touchy subject.

    While I do appreciate the romance behind the best drivers getting the best seats, irrespective of economics, I also appreciate that yourself being part of a ‘package’ deal is perhaps more important.

    The Hulkenberg and Maldonado situation at the end of last year is a perfect example. I was as gutted as the next fan when I heard Hulkenberg was being dropped but such is the nature of the beast. F1 provides us all with lots of entertainment and some truly tremendous sportsmanship, competitiveness and talent and personally I think we should respect the pay-driver a little more. Clearly they bring vital sponsorship money and without that who knows where many teams would be. It takes a lot for the teams to wear their financial-hearts on their sleeve, knowing the onslaught of abuse they will face. It’s all about the long-term.

    Perhaps I sound naive, but i’m just trying to look at things a little differently.

  7. electrolite (@electrolite) said on 17th November 2011, 23:35

    Formula One wants to see more overtaking? Put the best drivers in the ‘best’ series and we might see it.

  8. I have been racing 10 years, started in go-karts at age 5. Now I’m 15 yrs old, and have 9 racing championships and have stayed focused on developing my skills in multiple forms of racing. I am super fortunate to be a Red Bull Motorsports athlete now and racing the Global Rallycross Series this year. My parents have devoted everything to me and I’m truly grateful to them. My family has been through some hardships over the last year with my mom’s diagnosis of cancer and lupus. Her dream is to see me succeed in my racing career and she’s devoted her last 15 years to helping me develop and move forward even when she’s feeling bad. I would be most grateful for the opportunity to be on the F1 development team but being from America, I’m not sure the same opportunities would be extended to me. All I am asking for is a chance to test and be considered! I realized early on that football or basketball wasn’t for me, but ever since I can remember, driving anything with a motor has always come natural, God given. I would be grateful to get in contact with Christian Horner, maybe he would give me a test drive. The most exciting racers to watch are those that drove their way to the top and I would really appreciate the chance. Thank you for letting me post.

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