Formula 1 News

Pay-as-you-go drivers reflect tough times

Once again, the "deserving" drivers discussion is on top of the table.
Monday, February 11, 2013

PARIS, Feb 11, 2013 (Dave James) - In the harsh financial realities which now dictate Formula One, it really does pay to know the right people. Pay drivers are not a new phenomenon but the current economic climate, biting into this glamorous but financially-draining sport, has forced cash-strapped team owners to exploit as many revenue streams as possible.

It was the exits of respected drivers Timo Glock and Heikki Kovalainen over the winter which brought the issue of pay drivers, boasting either personal or corporate riches, to a head.

Glock was dropped by Marussia after three years with Britain's Max Chilton, whose father is believed to have banked around £70 million when he sold his stake in an insurance company, a well-financed driver in one of the seats for 2013.

"The ongoing challenges facing the industry mean that we have had to take steps to secure our long-term future," said Marussia team principal John Booth.

"Tough economic conditions prevail and the commercial landscape is difficult for everyone, Formula 1 teams included."

Former McLaren driver Kovalainen, the winner of the 2008 Hungarian Grand Prix, has lost out at Caterham, who have gone with France's Charles Pic and Dutchman Giedo van der Garde.

Pic, whose mother built up a wealthy portfolio through a French trucking operation, appeared for Marussia in 2012 but finished 21st in the championship.

The number of pay drivers in Formula One also reflects the growing financial muscle of south and central America.

Williams driver Pastor Maldonado was reported to have brought around £45 million to his team courtesy of his backing from Venezuela's national oil company, PDVSA.

But the 27-year-old can drive as well as earn -- last season, he won the Spanish Grand Prix from pole position.

Mexico's Sergio Perez, who will race at McLaren this season, joined Sauber with the backing of Telmex, the company owned by billionaire Carlos Slim.

Esteban Gutierrez will move into his compatriot's Sauber seat this season, also partly bank-rolled by Telmex.

Brazil's Bruno Senna, the nephew of former world champion Ayrton, was buoyed by the largesse of oil company Eike Batista during his time at Williams.

Away from south America, former Lotus and Caterham driver Vitaly Petrov was aided by Russian oil giants Sibur.

Ferrari star Felipe Massa has criticised the pressure on young drivers to bring pots of cash to help secure a drive.

"We know that many drivers now to arrive in Formula One they need to have sponsors, they need to have money, especially in the small team," said Massa.

"And honestly this is not a great thing for Formula One and maybe it is part of the commercial side."

But not all leading figures in the sport are so damning.

"I have difficulty with the terminology of pay drivers," Force India deputy team principal Bob Fernley told autosport.com.

"The drivers that are in Formula 1 are very good quality. The fact that they've got the skills to put a budget together as well would be
complementary, not a negative." 

AFP / Dave James

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