January 23rd, 2013 (F1plus / Paul Godley).- Couple of days has pased since Timo Glock joined what appears to be an ever increasing list of quality drivers that are being pushed out of Formula 1's revolving door because of seemingly one thing; money. Both Glock and Heikki Kovalainen, formally of Caterham, were paid drivers as opposed to paying drivers. With their respective teams, Marussia and Caterham, battling over 10th place in the Constructors championship, you'd think that talent may just edge money given the significant prize on offer for finishing inside the top 10.
Or is that just too naive a way of looking at it? Do we favour paid drivers over pay drivers because of the negative stigma attached to money and talent? Would drivers like Pastor Maldonado and Sergio Perez be as heavily criticised for making mistakes if they were paid and not paying? I don't know, maybe. But Formula 1 is as it is. Money talks because ultimately without the money, there would be no sport. Some people may not be happy with the elitist, money-oriented tag that the sport currently has, but isn't it the same with most things nowadays? Formula 1 is a global sport with global investment, without this we would have nowhere near the spectacle we all enjoy.
When Heikki Kovalainen and Timo Glock found themselves ousted from their respective seats at McLaren and Toyota at the back end of 2009, their options to stay in the sport were limited. The introduction of three new teams in 2010 gave opportunities to drivers like Kovalainen and Glock to remain in the sport, racing and potentially catch the eye of midfield teams to prove that that should be racing in the upper echelons of Formula 1. After 3 years, both have left. The simple reason as to why would be money. Whilst I suspect this is correct, it surely can't be the whole story, not in my eyes at least.
It's very rare for a new team to make a significant impact in its first year or two in Formula 1 due to the hugely competitive opposition, facilities and drivers that other teams possess. But heading into their third season, many had expected much more from these three new teams (Caterham, Marussia and the now defunct HRT), particularly Caterham. To cut to the chase, instead of just blaming a lack of money for drivers like Kovalainen and Glock being left without a drive, could the blame (or at least part of it) be placed on a lack of progression?
Don't get me wrong, I believe Marussia did a very impressive job in 2012, particularly post-summer break; and ultimately that 11th place by Vitaly Petrov in Brazil has cost the team one of most underrated and most liked drivers in the paddock. But what about Caterham? They promised much in 2012, but seemingly delivered relatively little. I think many had expected not necessarily points finishes, but for them to be at least battling the likes of Williams and Toro Rosso regularly. Was this the team? Was it the drivers? Or a combination of both? I don't think anyone could begrudge Heikki for becoming frustrated or downhearted with the lack of forward progression. After three years of ringing a car's neck to finish 17th-19th in qualifying is seriously going to test anyone's patience.
You have to believe that not only did Kovalainen and Glock join their respective teams to help them progress and develop into established, midfield Formula 1 outfits, but to also put themselves out there in the shop window for potentially more competitive drives. But ultimately has three years of running around at the back of the field, 2+ seconds off the pace cost both men their Formula 1 careers?
Heikki is a race winner, not something many people on this planet can say, but is his time at McLaren still holding him back? Personally I think it may still be. He appeared to struggle to cope with the pressure of driving for a team like McLaren with such relatively little Formula 1 experience; and although he's undoubtedly matured and grown as a Formula 1 driver since, those tough times (coupled with a lack of financial clout) means Heikki's career at this level could be over. This is a ruthless sport and unless you can prove your skills when under the utmost pressure and scrutiny, you are unlikely to have a long shelf life. It may seem harsh, but isn't that what top line sport is all about?
To see drivers like Kovalainen and Glock leave is of course disappointing; both were supremely talented and have shown us just what they are capable of with race wins and podiums. But I return to the title of the piece; what is the price drivers pay to remain competitive? Money? Talent? Or being in the right place at the right time? Whatever it may be, I wish not only Heikki and Timo, but all other drivers who are currently with a seat the very best in the future.