February 27th, 2014 (F1plus/G. Polychronis).- ‘Pay drivers’ in Formula One have been a messy aspect of the sport for many years, and soon, it will get to the stage where teams will sign a driver just for the moneybag that they bring with them. An example of this can been seen through Lotus’ acquisition of Pastor Maldonado.
A ‘pay driver’ is a driver for a motorsport team that provides financial support from a personal sponsor, which is used to assist the team’s operations. In short, it is a driver who pays for a Formula One career. Now that ‘pay drivers’ are becoming more prominent in modern Formula One racing, the topic tends to spark much debate within the Formula One world.
It is an issue that seems to cast its ever-growing web of confusion over each season. It is a web of confusion that will take a whole book to break down.
Nevertheless, using ‘pay drivers’ is a popular method for the lesser teams on the F1 grid, which is fair enough if they want to have any chance of competing against the wealthier and more successful teams. What is concerning however, is when a potential title contender, such as Lotus F1, turns to a driver with one of the strongest financial backings on the grid: Pastor Maldonado.
‘Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A.’ (PDVSA) acts as Maldonado’s sponsor, and considering this oil and natural gas company is government-owned, you could say that Maldonado is essentially sponsored by the state of Venezuela.
Initially, PDVSA paid for Maldonado to drive at Williams, with a sponsorship deal allegedly worth approximately £29.4 million.
After that deal expired, PDVSA and Maldonado pushed for a seat at Lotus for the 2014 season. When talks with Quantum Motorsports Limited sponsoring Lotus broke down, the English-based team decided to take on Maldonado and his undoubtedly large bag of money, courtesy of the Venezuelan government.
Deals like this, understandably, have the ability to outrage many, true F1 fans.
The most obvious and most common argument against the idea of ‘pay drivers’ is that it encourages teams to favour money over driving skill, which is harmful to the sport, or ‘unhealthy’ as Mark Webber once put it. The PDVSA-Maldonado-Lotus deal is a perfect example of this argument.
It is undeniable that money plays a large role in Formula One, which is why I can accept the lesser teams using ‘pay drivers,’ as I declared earlier.
Money will obviously help you build a better car, but you also need a good driver. Maldonado is not a good driver. He was extremely reckless in his first two years of his Formula One career, and after multiple incidents, I was left wishing he was banned from the sport.
Valtteri Bottas, his former teammate, also finished with more points than him last season, albeit with an extremely lack lustre car. It should also be noted that Bottas did this in his debut season. I would feel embarrassed if I were Maldonado, knowing that I am driving at a top-5 team, just because I am carrying a large bag with a dollar sign on it.
Where is the honour in that? That being said, some ‘pay drivers’ have the opportunity to gain respect and earn honour, such as the Telmex-sponsored Sergio Perez.
Nevertheless, we are now left wondering, will the risk of signing Maldonado pay off for Lotus? I firmly believe it will not, especially with Romain Grosjean remaining at the team.
Despite Maldonado brining in a large slab of money for Lotus to play with, I feel that the team have taken a step backwards, as they definitely have the worst two drivers out of the top contending teams, which are obviously, Red Bull Racing, McLaren, Ferrari and Mercedes. For this reason, I can confidently say that they will not come close to winning a championship this year.
Lotus have been struggling financially for the last couple of years, which is no secret, so the decision to sign Maldonado is not completely ridiculous, albeit on the cusp. Regardless of their monetary issues, when the team passes up the opportunity to acquire drivers with out-and-out skill such as Felipe Massa, Adrian Sutil or Paul di Resta, it begs the question, how bad are Lotus’ financial troubles?