October 9th, 2012 (F1plus / James Parker).- Let’s not beat around the bush here, Formula 1 is a cut throat business. Yes many fans will look to F1 as a sport that is the cutting edge of everything Motorsport, the place where nearly every conceivable piece of driver equipment you have on your modern day car came from, and a place to marvel the best minds to come together with the best drivers to produce the most “spectacular” show in all of Motorsport.
But while on the outside Formula 1 looks to be a relatively serine environment, behind closed doors there runs a deeply darker no nonsense aspect to a sport that depicts perhaps the most ruthless business in the world.
Money, it is the simplest commodity in the world today and is something that without, a Formula 1 driver no matter how talented would never be able to breakthrough and succeed with. That is the fact today however, in a world which is driven by money, Formula 1 is has only taken the natural route to follow the lead, and as such the path to F1 in that respect has changed considerably.
Whereas 30 years ago, many drivers like Prost, Senna and Mansell all had the ability to prove themselves on a level playing field coming up through the ranks of British F3, the path today is substantially different. The phrase “money makes the world go round” has been common practice for many over the years, this being no different for Formula 1 where Bernie has looked to maximise the profits of every Grand Prix on the calendar.
However the teams also consider Formula 1 as a business opportunity, after all, the more successful you are, the greater sponsorship opportunities present themselves and therefore bigger budgets. The World Constructor’s championship is a rather forgotten aspect in the chase for the WDC, the focus primarily being on the drivers all chasing for their personal glory. However, a team’s development schedule and budget for each year has an effect on directly where they finish in the WCC and that explains the fixation on it by many of the lower teams in the paddock.
RedBull are perhaps the juggernauts in this respect, they have invested more money than any other team on the grid to provide a framework for not only development, but for young drivers coming through the ranks of lower Formula and this is where the RedBull young drivers program comes in.
Jaime Alguersuari became a member of this young driver’s program from the age of 15 after he started to impress numerous people as he climbed the Formula 1 ladder in his younger years. Much like the McLaren equivalent, the RedBull program endorses drivers with main sponsorship and therefore funds any racing activities a driver will participate in to reach the goal of a Formula 1 drive. It is an opportunity that Jaime duly repaid at the age of 18 as after finishing runner up in the Formula 1 Renault series he then went on to become British Formula 3 Champion in 2008 and therefore become the youngest winner of the series in it’s very prestigious history.
Now it was clear to RedBull at this point in time that this boy had talent, and with Sebastian Vettel (now double world champion) moving up to the senior team alongside Mark Webber, there of course was a vacancy for the 2009 F1 season at the feeder team Torro Rosso. After having just over a year to get to grips with Formula 1 life, being the youngest driver ever to compete in a GP weekend at the age of 19. Many saw the 2011 season as the cornerstone of his career in the Torro Rosso car, one where he could truely show what he was capable of.
Jaime Alguersuari druing the 2008 British F1 championship (CC - Nick Bramhall)
He did not disappoint, scoring points on 7 occasions, including two 7th and 8th places, only coming 1 point behind Force India driver, Paul Di Resta and 3 points behind Sauber favourite Kamui Kobayashi. He narrowly missed out on points in Singapore due to crashing on the penultimate lap and was unfortunate to be collected at the start of the Belgian Grand Prix by Bruno Senna after qualifying a career best 6th.
Of course by now everyone knows however, this was considered not enough by RedBull’s standards, and the decision was made by Dr Helmut Marko that both Jaime and Sebastian Buemi would be replaced for 2012 by Daniel Ricciardo and Jean Eric Vergne. Many thought (including myself) that this was an incredibly harsh decision and one that basically left Alguersuari without a drive come 2012, even though he outscored his teammate and Sauber driver Sergio Perez.
However news has surfaced recently in regards to Jaime, suggesting that he will be returning into Formula 1 for 2013, with the Sauber seat considered the most certain with Sergio Perez’s recent departure to McLaren. So why exactly does Alguersuari deserve a return to Formula 1 then?
Well being a proven champion in nearly every single series he competed in as a youngster, and then to become the youngest man to win the prestigious British F3 championship, shows Jamie has talent behind the wheel, even at the tender age of 19 in 2009 he adapted himself brilliantly halfway through the season and by 2011 was a regular in the points when the car was good. To then be told he would then be out of a drive for two new rookie drivers who were unproven, is in my mind incredibly harsh on the Spaniard.
However that decision has not impeded Jaime’s progress, in what has been considered a very successful year for the young driver. Not only has been an expert analyst for BBC’s F1 coverage, he went on to become Pirelli’s sole test driver to develop next season’s Pirelli tyres, and this is where it all starts to make sense for his return – perhaps becoming a masterstroke for Sauber. Throughout this entire year, not only has Jaime remained in the cockpit of a Formula 1 car (albeit not this season’s spec) he has acquired an incredibly understanding of next year’s tyre compounds through the development work he has put in with the Italian tyre manufacturer. Even at his tender age of 22, he has shown a cool calm mature head when in Formula 1 and has proved to be consistent.
Sauber have been known as “dark horses” of the paddock who on their day can challenge anyone on the grid; 4 podium finishes this season proves that, the last of those being the most praised in Suzuka after Kamui’s inspired drive. If indeed big sponsors are attracted over the winter to add to the ever growing list they have acquired; including Chelsea Football Club, there is no reason why with the technical team they possess can produce a great little car next season. When we couple this with Jaime’s technical understanding of the Pirelli rubber, it on face value could provide us with a formidable option in the paddock.
I think this whole situation however is proof how floored the road to Formula 1 is, especially through RedBull’s young driver programme. A junior champion who establishes himself as a top 10 runner in a midfield car, should not be dropped after a strong season for two rookies, who so far this season, have failed to live up to any expectations, and is a decision that perhaps Franz Tost may go on to regret. The Toro Rosso in 2012 is not a bad car that is something that many analysts and pundits seem to be in agreement of, however both Vergne and Ricciardo have not capitalised to the full potential. Although Ricciardo did indeed score his 3rd consecutive points finish in 2012 at Suzuka, he still sits 19 points behind Alguersuari’s total from 2011.
Jaime Alguersuari at the last race of the 2011 season in Brazil. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
Toro Rosso bought out Minardi in 2005 under the authority of RedBull, and intended to run the team to allow young and talented drivers the opportunity they needed. It was something that provided instrumental for Sebastian Vettel’s leap into the premier RedBull team and since then the team has lost the direction it had. I fear that the Vettel’s results have set the bar for the Toro Rosso team extremely high, in which a driver who does not exceed to the same standards is not deemed worthy to stay in Formula 1 in the team’s opinion that of course was the impression many felt after Jaime’s dismissal last season.
The trouble is, Vettel is an incredibly special driver, he is one that will be scouted once in a generation alongside the likes of Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso before him. Not all Formula 1 drivers have the talent to become World Drivers Champions, collectively they are perhaps the most talented drivers in the world, however it takes something special to become a WDC, and that is why it has become such a selective list. Vettel had that something special – 9 points finishes including 1 win proved that. But to totally disregard the services of a driver that still managed 7 points finishes in a season, is in my mind totally wrong, a season in which Jaime proved he deserved to be in Formula 1, where he was set to grow and mature even further the following season.
I fear the worst for the Toro Rosso team, the way they handle exceptionally talented drivers with no disregard to their careers once given the Formula 1 opportunity is incredibly wrong and can only be detrimental for the sport as a whole. The program has invested a lot of money into nurturing drivers to the pinnacle of Motorsport, it is only right that the drivers that earn that opportunity are given more time to prove their worth, something Jaime really started to do in 2011. I only hope that the Sauber rumours are true and that the young Spaniard is given a second chance in Formula 1 for 2013. He is clearly extremely talented and deserved more from the sport first time around, the sport in which he showed so much promise, only to have the door firmly shut in his face after such a strong season.