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The other side of the ‘pay driver’ argument

Questions remain over the current incumbent of racers in Formula 1 however some ‘pay drivers’ do create a legitimate legacy. It may not all be as bad as you think.
Friday, July 26, 2013

July 26th, 2013 (F1plus/K. Grimmett).- Formula 1 is riddled with tales of the past, classic races, legendary drivers and traditional circuits. As a driver enters the sport they are inevitably gifted with a title which compares them to a bygone racing figure. Many referenced the tyre saving ability of Jenson Button when he was dubbed the next Alain Prost upon his arrival in 2000.

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This may seem to be a surprising approach from a sport that is constantly pushing technology to its maximum, but it is still a very real notion.

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Drivers are remembered, their legacy stored in the minds and hearts of the world over as fans and journalists alike wait for the announcement of another budding youngster ready to step up to the pinnacle. In 2012, the average driver age was 28. This statistic has reduced to 25 in just a matter of months as a new generation of drivers are thrust into the limelight for their moment of sporting glory.

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Rookies bringing a pot of gold and an occasional sense of arrogance with them, appear to not just dominate the future of Formula 1 but indeed its economic structure. They are an unfortunate inevitability.

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We affectionately name them ‘pay drivers’, but their presence is casting a formidable shadow over a sport known for its elitist nature.

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The fact is this fate is somewhat unavoidable. Formula 1 is ever expanding and its driver line up is no exception. In recent years, its influence has spread outside Europe to new areas including India and Abu Dhabi, two countries with emerging market places and promising economies.

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When Kamui Kobayashi announced that his chances of a 2013 seat were over, it felt like the world had gone into mourning. A podium in the Sauber was not enough for a team who have moulded the likes of Sergio Perez, Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen. Despite raising a, frankly impressive, one million pounds in fan donations to his cause, Kamui’s luck was up. His replacement Esteban Gutiérrez out funds him and brings millions from his native Mexico.

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Sergey Sirotkin is the new driver facing the headlines, criticism and grunts of disapproval. I have personally been following his career for a couple of years now. For someone yet to be legally recognised as an adult, he is quick, there is no denying that. His weekend in the Spanish leg of the Formula Renault 3.5 tour was impressive; his fourth place was later followed up by a podium finish. This year, the series has a competitive field so that is an achievement.

Whilst 2013 and the upcoming 2014 season may look like the era of the wealthy villains, let us not forget that this system has been in place since its inception – modern day Formula 1 hasn’t existed in any other form. Indeed, a man himself considered a legend, Argentine, Juan Manuel Fangio, may not have won five world championships without extensive government backing.

Interestingly, not even Bruno Senna’s famous surname, and its standing in Motorsport history, could save him. Williams, as a team were unable to keep him, an increased emphasis on budget control forced him kicking and screaming out of Formula 1 and into endurance racing.

The mere fact that Williams are still hanging onto the coat tails of their past is commendable; Frank Williams himself is a figure in the sports history. Even he has to brush talent aside for the greater good of the mechanics and their own futures.

The problem is not necessarily Formula 1 but the feeder series surrounding it which command high financial costs with no guarantee of attainment. John Surtees once explained to me that the demands are ever increasing as money in Motorsport offers one thing only – a few years of security.

Anyone familiar with my previous ramblings on this matter will know all about Sauber F1 reserve driver, Robin Frijns, and the economic woes he faces daily. With his GP2 season over and his future in Formula 1 looking increasingly uncertain, the ‘pay driver’ villains once again make an appearance.

I rate Robin Frijns in high esteem and wish his future well. However, whilst it may be a difficult to accept, sometimes the main competition emerges off the track as drivers hand in their manifestos ready to compete for the top spot in Formula 1’s political system.

Realistically, exploring an alternate angle to this issue is occasionally acceptable. If it is between a risky driver who is yet to fully prove himself or the demise of one of Formula 1’s most popular teams, sometimes the inevitable truth must be faced.

Brush the ‘pay drivers’ aside, as difficult as I admit this is, and instead reserve the judgement of a driver’s historical position until the end of their own career – not the beginning.

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