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Pay Drivers the future of F1? February 19, 2012

Posted by nicf1fan in Formula One.


With the recent events of Senna getting the seat at Williams rather than Barrichello and Petrov getting Trulli’s seat at Caterham a number of F1 people have spoken out about ‘Pay Drivers’ and whether this is the way F1 should be run.

“Today there are only four teams who can afford to operate without drivers that bring money. It’s an absurd situation and I don’t think it’s good for F1 and especially young drivers. Even if you get good results in the formulas below, you either have to be lucky or have money in order to get a seat.” – Felipe Massa

“If you’ve got a big sponsor behind you then you are an F1 driver and that’s not the way it should be from my point of view. There may be some people who think different, but Formula One is the top of the sport and should be full of talent that have got the results during their career and have been kicking arse since they were kids, not people that just have the money. I’m sick of it being like this at the moment, but I have to just accept it and hopefully I will get another chance.” – Tonio Liuzzi

“There is no rule, but it is true that those who pay are less accustomed to suffering. They are less committed. Hiring them is a business decision but in my opinion it’s not worth it” – Jarno Trulli

I always thought, growing up, that a Pay Driver was someone whose family had a lot of money and they would pay at each race for their son to drive the car, almost like a fairground attraction and while in some cases this is pretty close to being true in other cases there is a lot more to it. These days it is more to do with sponsorships that the drivers bring with them to the team.

We are all aware of Petrov, Senna and Maldonado as Pay Drivers but when you look at it further it is surprising to see which other drivers bring large sponsorship with them to their respective teams. Names like Di Resta who has financial backing from Mercedes and Perez who has sponsorship money from Carlos Slim along with less surprising names like Karthikeyan and Pic who are at the two extremes of age but still bring in large sponsorships.

I am in no way downgrading any of these drivers (although an argument could be made for Karthikeyan’s drive) as these drivers are very talented but with the sponsorship behind them does this make them Pay Drivers as well? If so where does it end? Could we say that Alonso is a Pay Driver since Santander now favour Ferrari in sponsorship due to the Spaniard? It is very difficult to draw a line to say which drivers are Pay Drivers and which are picked due to talent as every driver wins sponsorship for the team in some way or another (and no I would not pick Alonso as a Pay Driver, he has obviously been picked on talent but it illustrates a point).

The argument could also be made that some of the best drivers in the world started out as Pay Drivers so being in this category does not necessarily mean that a driver will not go on to greatness. Both Schumacher and Alonso paid for their first drive in F1 and no one could doubt their talent or commitment!


In this financial climate though I feel it was inevitable that F1 would end up this way! F1 is an expensive sport and has to be funded somehow and while the larger teams have sponsorships due to the prestige of the team and prize funds to use smaller teams need to find money in order to compete and improve. This is not easy to do in this kind of climate and for a team that is not regularly winning is even harder, if a large sponsor is given the choice between giving money to a team which is winning or a team which is further down the track then they are more likely to pick the winning team (well I would). Teams are therefore having to use another asset to bring in sponsorship, their drivers. If they can use that driver to gain sponsors from the country they represent then why not and if that driver can come to their door with a list of sponsors already recruited then even better, from their point of view.

I would hope that amongst the selection process for a driver, even a Pay Driver, their driving history and previous achievements would be considered along with the money they can bring to the team. It would be pointless for a team to have the money to improve the car to the point of being a potential race winner but not have the driver there to finish the task so a balance must be struck. This is where we have to trust the teams to do the right thing. A great car without a great driver is nothing and likewise a great driver without a great car is nothing, there has to be balance!

So what do I think about Pay Drivers? I think they are a necessity in this climate and I think they can have great potential but in an ideal world I would still prefer my F1 drivers to be picked on talent alone!


Follow me on twitter @NicF1Fan



1. formulaonemum - February 19, 2012

Great post. Niki Lauda was another notable”pay” driver (having taken out a personal bank loan to get into F1).

The real distress is to see good and potentially exceptional drivers in the lower formulae not make it up into F1, which must be really frustrating.

nicf1fan - February 20, 2012

I agree, I really wish that drivers could be solely selected on talent but I fear we have come to a point now where this will become the normal! It’s a shame it has to be like this!

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