Formula 1 & its so-called “pay drivers”.

There has been a lot of drumming recently about pay drivers and how they’re degrading our beloved sport. But I have one question: Who exactly do you call a pay driver and what is this formula that equates a sponsored driver to an incompetent one?

Some are of the opinion that you can buy a F1 race seat these days. I find that statement to be inherently false. Every driver has to go through the lower series and prove themselves with more than decent results to even have a crack at F1 regardless of sizeable sponsorship. No cabbage can just show up with a wad of cash and land a F1 race seat. That’s just not possible. The level of talent though, is another story and its certainly not measurable in terms of sponsorship money. Each individual case is different and I don’t think that a generalisation is correct or fair.

No pay driver can survive in F1 if he can’t prove his worth. They could very well get into F1 with sponsorship money, but staying there is a whole different ballgame. Look at Senna as a good example. Yes, it makes life harder for the experienced drivers who often have to leave due to lack of sponsorship, but then, if a driver has proven himself to be good enough, no team would let go of him. We can argue that the likes of Kobayashi, Glock, Kovalainen or Sutil deserve a seat, but if you look at it from another perspective, none of these drivers could achieve the big results that would guarantee them a competitive race seat. Seems unfair, given most of these drivers hardly ever had a winning car (though some did and still couldn’t bring home the results) but that’s how sport is. You have a very limited time to make your presence felt and early impressions are very important. Make no mistake though, every driver who manages to break into F1 is immensely talented, but there are some that go another step ahead and that’s when they become an Alonso or Hamilton or Vettel. I could count more than those three when it comes to champion material (Hulkenberg comes to mind), but the point is, if you have enough in you, ideally, you wouldn’t need huge sums of sponsorship money to get a team to keep you or hire you (in most cases).

Nico Hulkenberg secures GP2 Title

The thing is, if you have made enough good noises in the lower/feeder categories, a team shouldn’t have to think too hard or look at the size of your sponsorship wallet before signing you up. Of course, every single driver needs some sort of sponsorship or it would just not be possible for them to get through the whole routine that starts at an early age with karting and the eventual progression leading to F1 but that’s not the sponsorship we’re talking about. In today’s motor racing world, it would seem like you either have to have some pretty solid, glowing results on your CV or some decent results and solid sponsorship. But, that’s not always the case & there are always exceptions and unusual situations. So, its not fair to tag someone as a pay driver and automatically infer that he would be no good. People were saying similar things about Checo when he got in with Telmex money, look at him now! People said Maldonado was a useless pay driver until he proved how fast he was and that race win was no fluke. Although he managed to turn it all into an overall negative with his over-aggressive driving and countless crashes, he’s certainly not useless.

On the other hand, I’ve seen arguments in for, that new/rookie drivers make too many mistakes or don’t perform as well due to the lack of testing in F1 and they’re thrown into an F1 car with almost no experience or practice. There is some substance to that thought and I would not entirely disagree with it. But, most of these drivers get numerous chances (its a long season) to learn and correct their mistakes. Some do and shine, while others remain error/crash-prone or just don’t improve in pace. So again, a generalisation is simply not possible. The testing ban is not going anywhere and I think its a good thing. It keeps the playing field much more level as opposed to unlimited testing where teams with deeper pockets can obviously gain massive advantages. But it affects everybody the same. Every driver has to live with it. The ones who got in before the ban certainly benefited from it but those benefits only stay in play for the initial period of a driver’s stint in F1. So, that’s not really an excuse for not delivering over an entire season, neither is it the reason why someone else is delivering. Besides, this has nothing to do with sponsorship money/pay driver.

Pastor Maldonado

F1 is a pretty ruthless sport and you get chewed and spat out pretty quick if you don’t move fast enough. Mere performance is no guarantee. You have to stand out. You have to surpass expectations. Yes, the machinery plays a very important role in all of this, but then, if you manage to out-deliver your machinery, it won’t go unnoticed. Irrespective of your sponsors’ dough, these are the things that ultimately count. By no means am I saying that the drivers who lost out were not worthy, its just that the ones who got in might be just as worthy and they bring in some much needed funds and are younger. Its all a game of balancing and signing a driver, old or new, is akin to dealing a hand in poker. You win some, you lose some. Disregarding a driver just for the fact that he got sponsorship money along is just as unfair as saying an experienced driver got kicked out because he was no good. In the same vein, every driver who lost a seat did not necessarily lose out because he had no sponsorship to back him up. None of it is black & white, and this whole generalisation needs to stop.

Maldonado wins 2012 Spanish GP.

Let the driver prove himself before you start making judgements. A pay driver is not equal to an incompetent one and an incompetent driver cannot stay in the sport regardless of how much he (or his sponsors) paid. There’s very little margin for mediocre in this sport and that margin certainly does not get any wider with money.

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Who deserves the 2nd seat at Force India? [Vote]

That second seat. Yes. Its become a mystical place and everybody wants to know WHO? The Silverstone squad is probably enjoying the anxiety and drumming among fans and the paddock as to who’s it going to be.

Here’s a poll to give us an idea who the fans think is the most deserving. Vote your choice by clicking on the driver’s name.

Any reasoning for your choice or if you have another driver that you think is more deserving, please leave a comment. I’ll add the most popular 6th driver (if any) to the final tally.

Update: 

Poll now closed. Thanks for voting!

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1

Kamui Kobayashi

As evident from the graphic, most votes went to Kamui Kobayashi

We hope he makes a strong return in 2014 as his 2013 hopes have, admittedly, been wrapped up.

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2

Heikki Kovalainen

Heikki Kovalainen was voted as the second most deserving.

Another driver whose 2013 hopes are almost none.

F1 can be really cruel!

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Poll: 2nd seat at Force India must go to

poll image

* Multiple votes will neither be registered nor counted.

The 2013 driver situation at Force India

Force India is the only remaining desirable team with one of the race seats still unfilled. That seat was being hotly pursued by a number of out-of-drive candidates as well as some looking to make a return into the sport. Sebastian Buemi, Jamie Alguersuari and Adrian Sutil are three drivers that were left out of the grid in 2012.

Of the three, Buemi was said to be a serious possibility, while team head Vijay Mallya mentioned in an earlier interview that he would keenly consider Sutil for the seat. But, according to a recent report by Switzerland’s Blick newspaper, the 24-year-old has been informed he is out of the running. He’s now looking to cement his deal with Red Bull Racing with an extension to his official reserve driver role. According to the veteran correspondent Roger Benoit, “Buemi will not comment at this time. First he needs to safeguard his future.. 

Buemi’s former team-mate, Jaime Alguersuari, who was dumped by Toro Rosso along with him at the end of 2011, was also in the running but is now being tipped to move to BMW’s DTM team. He spent 2012 as a Radio 5 Live F1 commentator & analyst. Its a bit odd as Alguersuari had been rather certain of a race seat for 2013 and suggested that a deal might already be in place. But this is Formula 1, after all, where seasons could go full cycle in a day!

That leaves only two drivers, Sutil and the team’s reserve driver (and Ferrari protégé) Jules Bianchi, in the running for the seat.

Sutil would look to make a comeback into the team he spent five years in and knows rather well. This could give him the upper hand in the current duel. The fact that he’s, more often than not, been blisteringly quick on the track and that he had a great 2011 season (only to be marred by a harsh conviction & subsequent boot from his job) could only help him further.

Bianchi’s chances are supposedly being bolstered by Ferrari who are thought to be in talks with Force India for an engine deal 2014 onwards when the new turbo formula kicks in. But there are people who believe he hasn’t impressed the team as much in the reserve role as his predecessor, Hulkenberg.

It might seem like a bit of a luxury problem for Force India, but, its a very key decision for their 2013 campaign as losing someone of the calibre of Hulkenberg to closest rivals Sauber has left almost everybody in the team rather disappointed.

I would expect a decision to be announced within the next week or two, hopefully well before the Silverstone outfit’s 2013 car launch on the 1st of February. Whoever it turns out to be, would need all the time available to gel with the team and prepare well for the winter testing in Jerez (unofficial dates are 5th-8th Feb) & then Barcelona which is barely 50 days away (19th-22nd Feb, 28th Feb-3rd Mar) .