Start, Circuit of the Americas, 2012

The pay driver debate needs to move on

CommentPosted on | Author Keith Collantine

Start, Circuit of the Americas, 2012In professional sport the viewing public expect the competitors to be the best in their discipline.

If I were to turn up at Old Trafford with 20 million quid I would not be able to buy myself a place in Manchester United’s starting eleven. Nor would my wad serve as a ticket to the middle of an England rugby scrum or get me in the starting blocks alongside Usain Bolt.

My imaginary budget pales in comparison to the enormous revenues Formula One generates every year. And that is precisely why a lot of people have a hard time accepting the place of pay drivers in Formula One.

A cause for concern

The subject of pay drivers has been a theme of the off-season. Experienced drivers like Heikki Kovalainen and Timo Glock have been shown the door while the sport has welcomed drivers whose passage through the lower ranks owes much to their funding as well as their ability.

It’s a debate which provokes some unsatisfactory knee-jerk responses. The first is that it is nothing to worry about because there have been pay drivers in F1 before.

Of course it is true that drivers have bought places in F1 before. And many of them were more egregiously unqualified for the job than those who are paying their way in today.

But as long as there are objectively better qualified and less well financed drivers being left on the sidelines, the disquiet over pay drivers will not go away. The sport has greater media exposure today that it has ever enjoyed, and unpalatable facts like these one are less likely to be glossed over.

Others respond to the pay driver debate by pointing out that there are still many fine drivers in F1. This is certainly true as this recent article makes clear.

But if F1 is not going to be about the 22 best drivers in the world then how few are we prepared to settle for? Eleven? Five? Two?

Fernando Alonso may not be in imminent danger of losing his seat to Channoch Nissany. And Ma Qing Hua is not about to be announced as an 11th-hour replacement for Sebastian Vettel.

But at the other end of the grid drivers who were being paid are being replaced by drivers who are paying their way. And I do not believe any argument which says that is a good thing for Formula One.

Survival, not greed

The most unhelpful debates are those where opposing sides don’t engage with each other. That’s what I feel is happening when I read comments from fans complaining about the rise of pay drivers and responses from journalists saying ‘it’s OK, F1 has had pay drivers before’.

I agree that paid drivers being replaced by paying drivers can only be bad for the sport. And I agree that there have been paid drivers in F1 before. Can we accept that both these points of view are reasonable, not mutually exclusive and move on to the next point?

F1’s smaller teams are not getting rid of their experienced drivers and bringing in well-heeled rookies out of greed. They’re doing it to survive.

The sport has already lost one team over the winter. The rise in pay drivers is not just bad for F1’s reputation as a professional sport, it’s a sign that its financial model has become unsustainable even with a less than full field.

It’s time for the pay driver debate to move on and become a discussion about why F1’s huge income is apparently inadequate to sustain what should be the 11 best teams and 22 best racing drivers in the world.


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167 comments on “The pay driver debate needs to move on”

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  1. Your analogy with football is wrong, you would struggle to buy a seat at Mclaren or Ferrari, just like you would struggle to buy a place at Man U, but if you were a Championship player and offered a lower end Premier League team some money you could almost certinally buy your way in; these pay drivers aren’t incompetent.

    A team with more backing can buy better engineers and facilities; a driver with better backing can buy a better seat, I really see no difference.

    The driver is just part of the whole package, and the lower end teams are just putting together a package that will produce the best results; a pay driver may be a bit slower, but the extra cash will build a faster car.

    While F1 teams have different budgets, we can hardly complain about pay drivers

  2. I for one was actually quite happy when FOTA announced plans to form breakaway series in 2009.

    And do you know why that didn’t happen?
    Because for as much as they complain, The teams know that forming there own breakaway series would have never worked.

    The teams have had opportunities more than once to breakaway from F1 & they have got serious at least twice, In the end they always back down because they know breaking away would do more harm than good, Something the CART/IRL split in the US helped demonstrate.

    Perhaps just as importantly however, Setting up a new series & sorting out all the contracts/deals you need for a world championship requires a lot of money, The sort of money none of the teams are really willing to spend (Or really have).

    1. I too hoped that the teams would break away, the problem they faced is that Bernie did a sweetheart deal with his pal Max to secretly transfer the rights to F1 from the FIA to Bernie not FOTA who should have had the opportunity to acquire the name or block the deal.
      Once Bernie controlled the name he also controlled the income and contracts already in place, to break away the teams would have to set up contracts with the same people Bernie already had contracts with, it would have been very messy and if Bernie fought a scorched earth fight many of the smaller teams would not have survived a year without races, which is I believe the reason Bernie likes to have half the teams near bankruptcy.

      1. Further thought, I wonder if there may have been parallels in the transfer from the FIA to the transfer to CVC, but of course Max would not threaten Bernie with the taxman like Gribowsky is alleged to have done, so we can rest assured it was above board.

  3. A few years ago we didn’t have Caterham, Marussia or HRT. To me it was a better world. Eliminate those teams from the grid and you won’t have many paydrivers. These are just subpar teams which the sport dont really need. To me HRT was like a GP2 car in F1 (it almost was). That is not good for the sport either. F1 is about having the elite. Why should this be restricted to drivers? You also need the elite teams. Not the ones like Marussia, Caterham or HRT… They should get their game together or just quit F1. Can’t make it? Too bad, you knew it was F1, it is not go-carts.

    1. So you think it was entirely their fault that they sucked and not at all related to how little money they have/had to get things going?

      Sorry your argument is a bad one, you also don’t consider that it is not just the last 3 teams that use/need pay drivers. Teams like Williams use them too. Is Williams now a subpar team we should just get rid off?

      If you think the solution is a progressively smaller grid, then well, that is just not a solution. We could just as well rename F1 to Ferrari vs McLaren vs Redbull championship and only have 6 cars on the grid, but that would just be a disaster.

      1. You know F1 cost money right? If you don’t have the money, why try to compete? You know it is useless and you will be at the back of the grid. That was my point. Not that everyone should just go away. F1 should be the elite, for constructors and drivers, not only for drivers.
        Please tell me the added value teams like HRT, Marussai and Caterham have produced over the years?

    2. Mate, those teams are trying to improve and trying to catch the others up.
      It is very simple, they have to start somewhere. It has only been what, 4 years since they joined the grid.
      RedBull, Mclaren, Lotus, Williams, Mercedes, Honda, Toyota, BMW, Brabham, Beneton and the list goes on. They all had to start somewhere and not many of them saw any success in their first 3 years of racing. Some, like Toyota, never saw success at all and I guess you wouldn’t want to get rid of Toyota when they were still racing.

      Don’t think shallow Just look at RedBull. How long did it take them to catch everyone up? Or do you think RedBull started in 2009?
      Remember that everything takes time. (and money in this case)

      1. But was RBR a lot of years at the complete back of the F1? Like HRT, Marussia and Caterham?
        Don’t think so. There was improvement with the RBR.

      2. Please have a look:


        Virgin – Marussia:


        And keep in mind that this year was a fairly easy one to bridge the gap. No blow diffuser, no flex wings, no exhaust blowing, etc. Still they all didn’t improve. We have had a 2 tier F1 championship for the last years. Caterham – Marussia – HRT vs. decent teams. That is something really bad for F1. What is the added value of these teams? Please tell me.
        If you want to compete in F1 you know you need a lot of money. So either provide funds and try it, or don’t begin in F1. Simple.

    3. Get rid of Caterham and Marussia and we’d have an 18-car grid. A 22-car grid is poor but 18 would be absolutely pathetic.

      1. Agreed. But I do think it’s sad that F1 should have to fill out the grid with sub-par teams.

        MotoGP introduced CRT teams – a true two-tier championship – and for me it has almost destroyed the sport. Now when I watch it it is like watching four or so good bikes, a few more decent bikes and then loads of pointless bikes from another category to make the race look less pathetic.

        I really hope F1 doesn’t end up like this by filling the grids with so-so teams! F1 needs to find a way to appeal to the Audis, Hondas and BMWs of the world.

      2. Please elaborate? I would prefer a 18 car grid. The last 3 (now 2) just have no added value.
        I would prefer a 22 or even 24 car grid if the back end teams would have any future. Right now, they don’t even have KERS… That will be fun for 2014. Just put them out of their misery.

        1. The last 3 (now 2) just have no added value.

          I don’t agree – Caterham and Marussia were closely matched last year, the contest between them swung back and forth and was decided at the last race. It was definitely worth following.

          Even HRT had their role to play in the championship – if it hadn’t been for Narain Karthikeyan the drivers’ championship would have been decided one race earlier. They may not have been a match for the other teams most of the time but they competed and their presence added to the sport, if only in a small way.

          Right now, they don’t even have KERS

          Yes they do. Both of them.

          1. Keith , I agree, I think a large part of the problem of costs is down to Bernie and the FIA, they talk cost containment but introduce hugely expensive rules like re-fuelling, multiple tyres etc that require a huge pit-crew to pay, transport and accommodate. Would Minardi have survived its start-up years under the current regime?

          2. Just like I said, a 2 tier F1 championship. It was a battle outside the normal league of competion. And honestly, did anybody really care? It was fun to watch, but it was not F1.
            They only have KERS this upcoming season. The season hasn’t started yet.
            Like you confirmed they were only good for ruining others people race and driving in the way of people in the tier 1 championship battle.
            I respect your opinion, but I don’t know why you so desperately defend them. The just have no added value, and they will never ever get a podium, let alone a win. Even when there were 2 other teams instead of 9 other, this would be the case. The are just too bad, too low on funds and talent. They do not belong in F1 where you need to have the elite and the best.

          3. having the best, high funds and talent does not necessarily mean success. Just look at Toyota’s stint.
            When you say @Veteran “It was fun to watch, but it was not F1.
            They only have KERS this upcoming season”
            So what is the definition of Formula 1?
            And yes, they finally got KERS. And that is what this debate is all about. They are slowly making a step forward.

        2. These rows have no added value? I remember the monaco 2010 race where the first 3rd of the race was interesting for Alonso fighting through the backmarkers.

          And as Keith mentions, there have been several times where on track battles as well as a season long battle between these teams have made for a very interesting part of the racing and backstory.

        3. @Veteran If I’m not mistaken back in 2010 the three new teams were promised big budget cuts by the big teams. That hasn’t happened, infact Red Bull spent more then double their budget in 2012 then they did in 2010 on car development.

          And Caterham had KERS starting from 2012 so that is no argument. The reason why Marussia hasn’t had the chance yet to use KERS is because when they still designed their cars fully with CFD their technical director didn’t believe KERS was worth it.

          Actually what KERS is Marussia using? Did they manufacture one themselves or did they buy it of Williams who still used Cosworth engines in 2011 when KERS was reintroduced?

  4. Chris (@tophercheese21)
    15th February 2013, 11:18

    In professional sport the viewing public expect the competitors to be the best in their discipline.

    That is a terrific point!
    And is partly why I disagree with pay drivers. The other reason I disagree with the notion of paying for a position on a team is that it’s just not sporting. The fact that a less experienced and (most probably) less talented driver has a higher chance of getting a seat, rather than a more experience driver, just because they want more money is not right.

    Drivers like Kovalainen, Glock, and Alguersuari deserve to be on the grid based in merit and talent.

    But at the same time, younger drivers also need the chance to prove themselves.

    I agree that young drivers deserve a chance, but they need to get there on talent, not money.

  5. It’s about what is the best car + driver package. The driver is just one component of the package, value for money may mean that you’ll be quicker with a pay driver than with one or both of your drivers drawing large salaries.

  6. KOV, GLO, KOB, PET. All have had podiums in F1 and don’t have drives, but then KOB, PIC had unspectacular junior careers and seem to have proved themselves in F1. Then you have PER who was a pay driver but with talent. Then there is GRO and MAL who have had success in junior careers but it took them years, rather then HAM and HUL who won in GP2 in their rookie years. Its very difficult to decide who is “worthy” for F1.

  7. Paying participants are just a fact of life for a so-called “sport” that’s actually a show.

    Don’t get me wrong, I like F1, I find it entertaining, and have been watching it for all my life.

    But it’s such an obviously elitist non-sport that to expect the “22 best drivers in the world” to compete in F1 is like expecting the world’s best marathon runners to turn up in a Moon Marathon for Space Tourists.

      1. A real sport is accessible.

        On a basic level: I can go running whenever I want to, or play football with friends.

        On an advanced level: if I can run a certain distance faster than anybody, there is no way I will be left on the sidelines of the sport; and even if I’m José Nobody Gumirez, 16-year-old village boy, but I can do magic with a football, I have a realistic chance of actually one day playing for a big team.

        Even with sports like golf, polo, sailing, or lower categories of motorsport, I have a plausible chance of competing if I am reasonably well-off or a fanatic spending all his money on his hobby.

        Formula 1, this so-called sport, is inaccessible for 99,9999999% of the world’s population from the word go, regardless of talent or fanaticism.

        That’s why I made a comparison with a fictional moon marathon that’s available only for billionaire space tourists.

        Sure enough, some of those billionaires may actually be great marathon runners. But will you ever have a situation when all the best marathon runners are also billionaires, so they are able to take part in it?

        A real sport takes itself seriously.

        You’ll find no sport where rules are so egregiously inconsistent, their application is as murky, as in F1. And where even the will or interest to change this fact is so sorely lacking.

        In no real sport are rules modified mid-season simply to prevent some participant from running away with the title.

        I can’t think of any sport where the referee has access to certain footage of a situation but an average viewer does not; or where a decision is sometimes explained, sometimes not, depending on … er, depending on what, exactly?

        Outstanding physical/mental performances do not necessarily indicate a sport

        A Formula 1 driver is a great athlete. But then, a world-class circus performer is also a great athlete. A special commando is probably also a great athlete.

        Still, a circus show is not a sport. A mission in Afghanistan is not a sport.

        F1 is not a sport, either, but it can be marketed and sold better in the disguise of one.

        Ultimately, few people will care much about a “show” (marketed as such) in the long run; while a “sport” produces armies of long-term fanatics who gather statistics, debate arcane details etc. and in the process, perpetuate the interest in that “sport”.

        1. On a basic level: I can go running whenever I want to, or play football with friends.

          Formula 1, this so-called sport, is inaccessible for 99,9999999% of the world’s population from the word go, regardless of talent or fanaticism.

          Your analogies just don’t work. F1 is only one division of MOTORSPORT.

          F1 is inaccessible, but MOTORSPORT is not. You can go karting for fun, for example. Similar to how you can play football easily, but you’re not exactly going to be in one of Sir Alex Ferguson’s starting lineups are you?

          1. F1 is only one division of MOTORSPORT.

            Just like a moon marathon would be only one “division” of running, yet it would not feel like an actual sport at all.

            There is a point where something that does have its roots in a sport becomes so rarefied it does not qualify as a sport itself.

            Karting is a sport in that it is accessible for almost everyone, and therefore the cream probably comes to the top. Not so with F1.

          2. @mj4

            So the cream doesn’t rise to the top in F1 through their results? Very few sports are accessible at their top level. Karting and F1 are under the umbrella of motorsports, with karting near the bottom rung (and naturally more accessible), and F1 at the top rung (which will of course be far less accessible).

            As for your moon example, if there was an actual demand for it, then someone may choose to organise this competition, and it would qualify under a sport under the word’s official definition.

        2. @mj4 I really think this comparison does not work:

          A Formula 1 driver is a great athlete. But then, a world-class circus performer is also a great athlete. A special commando is probably also a great athlete.

          Still, a circus show is not a sport. A mission in Afghanistan is not a sport.

          F1 is not a sport, either, but it can be marketed and sold better in the disguise of one.

          That is because you have to look at the background and reasons for being there. If said expedition in Afghanistan would not be about fighting out a war of power over an area (or to find something buried in the wilderness) it might become a sport as well (to some survival would be that sport – something that already exists). The difference IS the fact that it has a different goal.
          The same goes for the circus artist. His act is not about competing with other artists for the best performance, but doing a great performance to entertain a public. But its not far away from gymnastics disciplines practiced at the olympics if you would put several of them and rate their performance and give rewards for the best one.

          1. You are perfectly right. I made a too big leap here by anticipating the “F1 is a sport because look how fit they must be” argument.

      2. You and I can’t go and play in the Premier League tomorrow. But we can kick a ball around in the park.

        You and I can’t go drive F1 cars in Australia next month either. But we can go kart racing.

        I don’t agree with your second point and I’m not sure about the third one but I don’t think either are relevant to the subject of pay drivers.

        1. It’s the same ball, not the same vehicle…

          1. but is it the same sailing boat, polo horse or even bob sleigh? They are equally not comparable because the absolute top level is just so narrow and costly.

          2. The difference between a good horse and a very good horse is not the same as the difference between a GP2/Formula3 car and a F1 car…. It is a total difference. A horse is still a horse. A bobsleigh is still a bob sleigh, a sailing boat is still a sailing boat. You cannot compare those to F1…. It is just impossible.

          3. Veteran, you can go racing horeses with a horse costing about 5-8000 EUR. To win at world level you will have to put down more something close to a million or up to 5 Million.
            If you look at a sailing boat you can get them for 500 EUR for a basic one where you can sail if you want (or rent something for 30-40 a day), but if you want to do something like the Americas Cup, you will be spending F1 nearing budgets.
            An Olympic rower has about half a million investment for his equipment (just paddles come at about 400 EUR per piece). I am pretty sure that if you would seriously look at money spent by the top bobsleigh nations lately you would see budgets for windtunnels, CFD, studies of movement, etc. also skyrocket just like F1 did years back.

        2. I don’t agree with your second point

          …which is, F1 as a sport does not take itself seriously.

          Well, if you really are of the opinion that F1 rules are applied and enforced, decisions are communicated in a way a proper sport applies and enforces its rules, and communicates its decisions, then something just died inside me…

          I don’t think either are relevant to the subject of pay drivers

          Obviously, not directly relevant, only through the assertion that it not being a proper sport, one should not expect proper talent-based selection to work.

    1. Formula 1 is a bt of an elitist sport, but no more (or even less) than for instance tennis or golf. Even back in the 1950s there was this humble, school drop-out car mechanic who was winning races in Formula 1 on raw talent, not on daddy’s money.

      1. elitist sport, but no more (or even less) than for instance tennis or golf

        Are you serious?

        1. YES! If you look at F1’s history, you will find countless examples of drivers with unsufficient or no funds that turned out to be a race winner or a world champion.

          1. …while you surely wouldn’t find anyone with a humble background making his mark in tennis or golf.

          2. I didn’t say that it doesn’t happen in tennis or golf.

  8. I remember a comment made by a F1 insider a few years back that the simplest way to save money would be to limit the wingspan of the corporate jests. Would save money to pay drivers.

  9. The argument that F1 is not a show, but a sport needs to stop. Sports have been a shows for a long time.
    Look at The Colosseum.
    If F1 is a sport, then it is a show and it needs to attract people.

    1. @brunes I have been using the argument “F1 is not a show” frequently. You say the sport has become a show because it ‘needs’ to attract people, but does a sport ‘need’ to attract people per se? Myself and with me many fans love to simply watch the cars go through corners as fast as possible, combined with the most decibels as possible – Formula 1 doesn’t need to be a show to be interesting. That’s partially why I think F1 is fundamentally flawed: the focus lies on how to make the sport appealing to as many people as possible, instead of looking at how to improve the quality of racing and appeal to people that love the racing aspect, not the show aspect.

      1. I would say a sport needs to generate money (by getting attention) the moment you start needing to put in money to be more competitive.
        Taking your own car out for a spin on a track is not much more expensive as renting a court and go tennis playing, renting the pool to have a competitive swim with friends, or go on the golf course (or rent a couple of sailing boats for a day to race them). Therefore it does not need paying viewers/fans or whatever.
        But when you want to invest in better methods of swimming, better equipment, go to more interesting places to play golf or race etc., then you quickly will learn that you need to make a show of it if you don’t want to end up paying for all of that yourself.

        1. But when you want to invest in better methods of swimming, better equipment, go to more interesting places to play golf or race etc.

          @bascb But do we need that? Does F1 need to race in the Middle East or Asia, do teams need ridiculously large motorhomes? Well, at the moment the answer is ‘yes’, but when the costs would go down, then the answer would be ‘no’. That’s why I’d say that F1 needs to change its way of thinking.

          1. The prime question, I guess @andae23

            But do we need that?

            The answer should probably be no (ultimately we don’t need competitive sports).
            But in any place where we have competitive sports, doesn’t every participant look for ways to go faster, further, higher? The moment you want that, you start looking for means to do that, and then you start needing more and more money to make it happen too.
            Its impossible to stop that until all participants would agree on some kind of limit either on the amount they are allowed to spend really (or, to a lesser degree, what they are allowed to spend it on).

          2. @bascb
            When you say “do teams need ridiculously large motorhomes?” . The culture of showing off, and having huuuge parties and media events began when F1 wasn’t a “show” (according to you).

            Since Lotus got sponsorship in their car back in the days, team have been trying to put on a show to attract more money.
            And if you look at F1’s history. It was never an amateur championship that grew up. It has always had an enormous amount of investment from manufacturers, drivers and etc. How many garagist teams were there in the first 5 years of F1? The manufacturers at the time created a big show by competing with each other.
            It is a simple equation. The more people you attract, the more money you get.
            With no public money, F1 would never have left the UK. It only did because people were willing to pay to watch the show in other countries.

          3. I think your comment is rather pointed as a reaction to what @andae23 wrote @brunes

  10. Great article. Have to agree with many of the points made and the overall conclusion: F1 is supposed to be about the best teams and best drivers in motor sport.

    I think the underlying problem is that there can be much more performance gains in spending a few million on car development than using a slightly ‘better’, non-pay driver who won’t provide that extra money.

    Most of the pay-drivers entering F1 are coming from GP2 or similar. By this standard, all the pay-drivers will be of a good enough standard to at least lap an F1 at good pace. Teams face the choice that this driver may be 0.2 sec off Alonso’s pace (in the same machinery), but bring in money to develop the car’s pace by 0.3 sec. And let’s not forget that performance gain affects two cars – a total 0.6 sec gain for example.

    As F1 is heavily sponsor driven, I can’t imagine a plausible way to limit these drivers from making their way to the grid at the moment. You cannot simply ban driver sponsorship for example as sponsors will join teams based on their drivers anyway (Telmex/Sauber/Mexican drivers e.g.).

    I believe that if a budget cap came into place that this could lessen the need to bring in less quality and more money and performance gains may sway back towards drivers’ pace. But this enters a whole new discussion…

  11. Not to play the devil’s advocate, but to me, Kovalainen and Glock being ousted for paydrivers isn’t ‘just’ a sign on the feeble economics of the smaller teams. Let’s not forget Hulkenberg was ousted from Williams for Maldonado, while Williams is generally considered to be a team with a long term commitment to F1 and financially stable. I’m not sure why that case, or Senna for Barrichello is overlooked in the current debates around the web. Heck, Hulkenberg scored more points than Maldonado in a car generally considered to be less competitive than the Williams.

    F1 is simply massively expensive, and I think Whitmarsh had a good point in stating it’s a leftover from the ‘endless economic growth’ hype in the 80s and 90s. Up until Mosley started about it, if an F1 team fell over, it simply didn’t have enough money. When Sauber replaced Herbert with Diniz, nobody cried out about experienced drivers losing their seats to paydrivers. (Herbert might be a bad example since he had a fall out with Sauber, but then again, Kovalainen also didn’t do himself any favors.) The global economic situation has changed and F1 teams are playing catch up, with the top teams having to do much less so than the midfield and especially the newcomers.

    Governing budgets isn’t going to reduce the number of paydrivers, I think. We’ve often seen teams like Tyrell hire drivers for the sake of an engine deal and a lot more teams hiring a driver because he has a large sponsor. If teams can get a driver for free, who can score points AND bring in a couple of millions in sponsorship or other deals, it’s a good economic deal. Imagine you’re Sauber. You’re 15 million short on your max 100 million budget. Sure, you can decide to ‘stick to your guns’ and hire a driver who will increase that gap to 15.5 million, or hire a driver with promise and a few million in sponsorship. As I said, sometimes hiring a paydriver is a great economic deal regardless of budget cap, the top teams spending less, etc. Look at the Caterham or Marussia, I think we all agree they could use some more sponsors, and if a driver brings that to them, it doesn’t just mean money, it also means money for development, hospitality for new sponsors, performance, etc.

    I’m not going to just repeat ‘we’ve had pay drivers before’, because in many, many cases, the paydrivers of the past simply cannot be compared to a paydriver like Perez, Maldonado, Gutiérrez, Pic, van der Garde or Razia. They have all done reasonably well in feeder series, have shown not to be 5 seconds off the pace to their team mates. If anything, they should remind us of other drivers in their pay driver days, guys like Alonso. Let’s not forget, if pay drivers were banned from F1 from the start, I don’t think guys like Damon Hill, Schumacher or Hakkinen would have entered F1 when they did, how they did. Heck, even Niki Lauda took out a loan to keep BRM afloat.

    If we look at the 1995 season for instance, how many non-paying drivers were there on the grid during a GP? 10? 12? 1995 is considered a decent to good season, with pay drivers all over the place, replacing each other and small teams fading due to financial difficulties, despite the pay drivers. The teams were of another caliber, and I think you’re insulting any modern pay driver (even Karthikeyan) by comparing them to Deletraz, Inoue and the likes. Drivers like Katayama, Suzuki, Gachot and Diniz are in my opinion also doing much less for ‘the best 22 drivers in the world’ than Pic, Razia, van der Garde and Chilton are.

    Money is a big part of F1 and pay drivers help pay the bills. It cannot be compared to another sport, because physical performances matter much, much more than in F1. Usain Bolt is not concerned with the costs of the development of his shirt getting in the way with getting in the way with the costs of getting a haircut, while an F1 driver can help his team afford more development time by having a personal sponsor. Besides, every feeder series, from Formula Ford to GP2 has pay drivers too. For F1 to be different, especially in this economical age, would be very weird, unless Bernie and the teams manage to turn it into a self-sufficient community somehow. Imagine that; Formula One no longer needing sponsors because they can do everything by themselves, that’s the only situation where I can imagine pay drivers would be less likely.

    Again I say that pay drivers of today need talent to get in F1 as much as they need the money. If a driver who finished 20th in GP2 in 2010, 15th in WSR in 2011 and had no drive in 2012 were to knock on any team’s door saying ‘hey, I have 35 million per season going for me, but I haven’t won a race since karting with friends at age 8’, they’re not getting in F1. Meanwhile we have Sauber doing the best they can for Robin Frijns, Sauber hiring Hulkenberg instead of another paydriver, Williams replacing Senna with Bottas, Force India maintaining Di Resta while its sponsors are in trouble and with HRT gone, probably 0 drivers not making the 107% rule in Melbourne. I’m ok with that, having seen the likes of Rosset, Takagi, Tuero, Nakano, Diniz, Marques, Mazzacane, Burti, Yoong, Ide and Yamamoto struggling to stay on the track, get out of the way of leaders and to not wreck more cars than their sponsors can afford.

    1. @npf1 It’s a long comment, but I’m glad I read the whole thing. Well said. :)

      1. Indeed, good comment!

    2. I seem to have forgotten to elaborate on the Kovalainen/Glock point in the beginning: in my opinion, they simply didn’t perform well enough to keep their seats. Let’s be real here for a second, where are the mid field teams trying to lift them from their contracts with the backmarkers? If it wasn’t for Lotus/Caterham, Heikki’s career was over after 2009. Everyone praised him in 2010/11 for beating Trulli, but once Petrov started closing in on him, I think everyone dropped Heikki as a favorite backmarker. Timo was under threat by d’Ambrosio and Pic sometimes during 2011/12 and simply should have signed to Renault in 2010. That would have saved his F1 career, now, all he could do was sit out his Marussia contract and hope a midfield team would pick him up at the end of it.

      Dozens of drivers with promise, but a lack of F1 results to back it up have lost their seats to paydrivers with minimal performance gaps. Sadly, I don’t think Raiza and van der Garde are going to do worse than Glock and Kovalainen did.

  12. The huge costs of F1 are no longer sustainable in the current global economic situation. Top teams should agree a significantly cut on costs but they only think to win whatever the costs. So most of the teams have to rely on the money drivers can bring to compensate. That is why some rookies are getting seats they wouldn’t get on merit. They can be good enough for F1 (way better than the real pay drivers of the past) but should never replace good and solid F1 drivers if it wasn’t for the money they bring.

    Even so many fans and commentators are wrong when they frequently talk of “pay drivers” and how they only get seats because they bring money to the teams. Because almost all young talents coming to F1 now have to bring money and most of them would have deserved to get good F1 seats on merit, thanks to the results they got in junior series.

  13. “In professional sport the viewing public expect the competitors to be the best in their discipline”.

    This is by far the best comment I have ever read on this site!! Well played! Unfortunately not happening in F1 for now, and a long time to come. We have Pastor as a ‘ pay driver’ and now an F1 winner- and FAST- and has deserved his seat. So after winning in F1 is he still a pay driver??

    I am an accountant, so by definition a tight **** :) But I think F1 is the ULTIMATE we have in racing and really dislike ‘costing models’ and ‘budgets’ etc. It is the only form of motor sport where it should be do at all costs. All sports are now run as a business- this is not good!. BE is perhaps the smartest business man since Buffet- how how he controlled and made multi-billions for so long is a credit to him- but now Timo has no seat and rookies like Dan Riccardio work for about $250K in their first year!! Not right IMO!

    That sounds harsh when we have teams like Ferrari, McLaren and now Red Bull with huge budgets. I know we have had the GFC but surely there is enough cash floating around that 12 teams can go racing at the top level??
    And to keep Timo & Heike on the grid……??

  14. The difficulty to compare this with other sports is that in motor racing, unlike sports like football, rugby or you name it, there are only a few seats at a certain time. The scarcity of available spots makes a big difference. Let’s take football as an example. An average football team has more player in it’s squad than formula 1 has as a whole. So, players can easily be substituted by others, as there are many many good player around and many teams that are more or less equal or have a decent chance to beat another team.

    Also, in Formula 1 a big budget is needed to compete. In football, when a team has an exceptional day, any Premier League team could beat another. Not so in formula 1, as has been shown by Caterham, HRT and Marussia the past few years. More revenue is not generated by attracting more fans, but by attracting bigger sponsors. So, the role of the driver as a source of money is far greater than in football.

    And even so, the pay drivers who act in formula 1 nowadays are by no means terrible drivers. All of them have performed well in junior classes. I think it is fair to say that all players are at least in the top 100. Just take a look at the top 100 in other sports. Sure, many of them are in the top leagues but there are players who aren’t. Is this any different from the current situation in formula 1? Not that much.

    I’d say the existance of pay drivers is indeed unfortunate, but also something that can’t be ruled out. There are simply far too few spots available for all good drivers and there is no competition that can be compared to formula 1. The only solution I could think of it either the budget cap or the return of big manufacturers like Honda and BMW, but that’s pretty obvious.

  15. One word: Bernie. Don’t look further for the cause of your problems. That’s the one who needs to step back from the table a bit.

  16. What about the overall package. Maldonado is very fast and brings 40m a year. Alonso Vettel et al need to be paid 20m so 60m more for Williams to spend on development. Would this extra development fund potentially allow a Maldonado Williams package be faster than a Alonso Williams package. The gap in driver pace more than being overcome by the additional development fund. Of course with a near unlimited budget team like the very top laws of diminishing returns mean the difference in budget may not change overall performance much but for Williams etc it may make a faster package.

  17. Excellent articles from yourself, Keith, and the BBC. Thanks.

  18. Thank you very much, Keith for this article. I could not agree more with you and underline all your words 100 percent.
    A small note in addition to what you told…
    Yes, it is true that there have been pay drivers throughout the history of F1 and the World Championship. But this was mainly during the times where we did not have 22 cars participating in a Grand Prix weekend, but 30 or up to 39 cars! (1988/1989).
    And as you said, in those times we could be sure that the best drivers in the world were definitely on the grid, unless they did not decide to stay out of F1 on their own.
    So, we can definitely not compare all that with the situation in F1 right now.
    The more and more dangerous and respectless driving with its countless crashes also speaks for itself. Lacking skills and not F1 worth attitudes like that would have taken many lives in the past.

    Again thanks, Keith, for holding on to this really important topic for every real F1 enthusiast and expert.

  19. I have to say, this is well worked artice and makes me think, instead of arguing if pay drivers should be on the grid over paid drivers, should we be arguing why teams need pay drivers. Now we know why these teams need pay drivers, so ultimately, should we be arguing the overall finances of F1 in this modern era?

  20. Great article Keith! You hit the nail squarely on the head and explained it better than any I’ve seen. Be sure to forward it to Bernie and Jean Todt.

    1. Bernie is the cause of the problem. You think he will want it any other way?

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