The pay driver is dead. Long live the pay driver!
10th September 2011, 7:12 at 7:12 am #130049
As I’ve often said on the main site, the traditional notion of a pay driver is dead. In the bad old days of the 1980s and 1990s, anyone who fancied himself a racing driver and had money and/or a few connections could get a drive and get in the way of the actual racing drivers, Jean-Denis Deletraz perhaps being the most infamous example.
But these days, the tiered structure of feeder series, the demand for a Superlicence and the highly competitive grids we see in GP2 and GP3 mean that drivers must at least show some talent before Formula 1 teams consider them as a potential driver. And sponsors tend to attach themselves to the most talented drivers because they represent the best chance of getting into the sport (and thereby taking the sponsor with them). In fact, there are only half a dozen drivers who do not actually bring sponsors to their teams – even Fernando Alonso does it; his presence at Ferrari brought Santander on-board. The old stereotype of a pay driver is dead.
Well, mostly. There’s a few pockets of resistance out there, the traditionalists who are still under the impression that they are (or can be) professional racing drivers.
At the end of 2009, a Bulgarian businessman named Plamen Kralev joined the GP2 Asia Series, competing for Trident Racing. In a feeder series where most of the drivers are barely old enough to shave, Kralev was an elderly thirty-six years old. He was not particularly quick, either; his best result was a 16th place, and he finished the season 33rd overall – the lowest-ranked driver to compete in all races (Giedo van der Garde was 34th, but he only took part in one round). His GP2 career pretty much ended after that, and he is now competing in Formula 2, where he is currently 23rd overall, with a single point to his name after he finished 10th at the Red Bull Ring. He even has his own title, ‘Ambassador of Bulgaria in the World of Motorsport’:
Naturally, Kralev developed a cult following (at F1 Rejects, where else?), largely because his name roughly translates as ‘Fire King’.
Kralev isn’t the only traditionalist in motorsport. As of yesterday, he was joined by Christophe Hurni, a Swiss driver competing at Monza in the GP3 Series for Jenzer Motorsport. Hurni is perhaps more Kralev than Kralev. Remember how I said Kralev was elderly at thirty-six? Hurni is forty-nine. His best result to date is perhaps a tenth place overall in the Swiss Formula 3 championship – in 1987 (I’m surprised they could find ten Swiss drivers in the first place).
Hurni is perhaps remniscent of the infamous Chanoch Nissany, Israel’s first Formula 1 driver, who served as test driver for European Minardi (of course he did) at the 2005 Hungarian Grand Prix, his one and only appearance. Nissany was seven seconds slower than Robert Doornbos and Christjian Albers – who went on to qualify five seconds behind Michael Schumacher.
So: Kralev, Nissany and Hurni. Who else threatens to bring back the stigma of pay drivers in motorsport?10th September 2011, 8:59 at 8:59 am #177969
I totally agree with you, but I can bring two exceptions to the talented pay-driver in F1 in recent years : Narain Khartykheyan and Sakon Yamamoto.10th September 2011, 9:31 at 9:31 am #177970
These days, I think that pay drivers definitely still exist, but more refer to those who can buy their way into the best seats in the junior formulae.10th September 2011, 20:49 at 8:49 pm #177971
Remember Kazuki Nakajima? He was parachuted into the Williams #2 seat as part of their Toyota engine deal. Oh dear oh dear. He really was useless, he just didnt bring home the bacon.
To name but a few hopeless drivers, not all pay drivers, in the last few years:
Franck Montangy (2006)
Yuji Ide (2006)
Narain Karthikeyan (2005,2010,2011)
Sakon Yamamoto (2006, 2007)
Marcus Whinklehock (2007 i think)
Sebastien Bourdais (2008,2009)
Tiago Monteiro (2005,2006 i think)
Karun Chandhok (2010,2011)
Vitaly Petrov (2010-11)
There are many more, just can’t think of thenm.
Of all of those i think Ide, who got his superlisence withdrawn, Whinklehock, Chandhok, Petrov and Karthikeyan are pay drivers.
Correct me if im wrong.10th September 2011, 21:38 at 9:38 pm #177972
The irony of it Nakajima being at Williams was for them to have Toyota engines, they lost there Honda power plants in the 80’s for not having his father Satoru10th September 2011, 22:05 at 10:05 pm #177973
Is Schumi the most successful pay driver ever.
He was’nt a pay driver for long, but Mercedes had to grease Eddie’s palm to get him in.
Schumi only found this out when he retired when Peter Sauber told him.11th September 2011, 0:14 at 12:14 am #177974
To name but a few hopeless drivers, not all pay drivers, in the last few years
Petrov’s podium in Australia suggests otherwise.
You have to remember that a lot of drivers on the grid have sponsors who help them get into the sport. They attach themselves to the most promising talent. This thread, however, is for drivers who don’t stand a chance of graduating from the feeder series because they lack talent and wouldn’t be there in the first place if it weren’t for their money.11th September 2011, 2:38 at 2:38 am #177975
Frankie Muniz and Ajith Kumar fit your description of a modern pay driver. What about younger racers who solely progress through the ranks due to nationality (like Ricardo Teixeira and Sunghak ‘Tom’ Mun)?11th September 2011, 6:32 at 6:32 am #177976
to themagicofspeed : Winkelhock raced only once in F1 and led that race in a Spyker that couldn’t get into the points that year. He may not have been a great driver, but he deserved in my opinion another shot at F1. He shouldn’t be criticised so harshly.11th September 2011, 9:05 at 9:05 am #177977
Did you know James Hunt started as a “Pay Driver”, became champion don’t you know…12th September 2011, 19:44 at 7:44 pm #177978
Thanks PM for the interesting post. I can’t think of any other pay drivers currently racing.
Maybe Schumacher started in F1 by finiding sponsorship and paying for his seat, but I think pay drivers are those that get a seat only for the money they bring to the team, Schumacher would’ve reached F1 by pure talent anyway. Alonso brings Santander sponsorship with him, because Santander wants to sponsor a good driver, but Ferrari didn’t choose him based only (if at all) on the sponsorship he brought.13th September 2011, 4:35 at 4:35 am #177979
I can’t remember who it was who said it; but someone said that nowadays, you don’t get that sponsorship unless you’re talented. It’s not just a case of “I like this driver, I’ll sponsor him” Most of the time anyways.13th September 2011, 8:40 at 8:40 am #177980
you mentioned Sebastien Bourdais, I disagree alot.
Bourdais was and is a very talented driver, he’s won an awful lot of other stuff before his Formula 1 attempt.
The quality of the “pay drivers” these days has got much better, it’s not so obvious any more who is and who isn’t a Pay Driver. Karthekeyan is a recent driver that I would consider to be actually outclassed by the rest of the drivers, not Vitaly Petrov.13th September 2011, 18:11 at 6:11 pm #177981
Wasn’t Bourdais the “Schumacher” of ChampCar before F1? I remember he was dominating with something like 4 ChampCar titles on the trot.17th September 2011, 18:59 at 6:59 pm #177982
Just found out that Luca Orlandi (who has competed in Spanish F3 and the British F3 National Class this year) is a forty-something fashion designer who once dated Naomi Campbell. Damn.
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