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.

FanVision (formerly Kangaroo TV) quits F1.

Reports suggest that FanVision have ended their ties with Formula 1 following problems in (you guessed it..) contract negotiations with the Formula One group (read Bernie).

As with everything Bernie, it was a money issue. The rather useful handheld device that many fans & team personnel used and loved during a grand prix weekend will no longer be available for Formula 1 services.

Jenson Button with the new FanVision handheld.

The device, while considered by some to be too expensive to buy or hire, was a very reliable and convenient way to keep up with all the action and data during a GP weekend. Although FanVision dropped prices recently, and was also trying to work out deals with promoters to include the units in the ticket price, the consumption among fans was low, albeit improving. But, its now no more. While leagues like NFL and series like NASCAR will continue to enjoy FanVision services, F1 will have to do without it.

FanVision spokeswoman: “As you know we have, for some months, been trying to find the basis of an agreement between FanVision and FOM in order to continue providing the service in F1 in 2013. Unfortunately it is now clear that we are not going to be able to agree terms with FOM and very reluctantly we have to confirm that we won’t be in F1 in 2013. It’s a big blow for us.”

This is the latest addition to a long queue of anti-fan decisions by the F1 group. The 2011 move to paid (dearly) Sky Sports for the British F1 coverage was met with severe criticism and furore from fans and teams alike. Similar moves happened with telecasts in other countries too. That was followed by removal of the free Live Timing app and giving fans only one, paid (dearly again), app. That, unsurprisingly, left even more fans disgruntled. Disappearing European races have already been a major cause for concern.

Where will this end? Well..

What changes in the F1 regulations this season?

Changes for 2013

Some key changes in the FIA regulations for the 2013 F1™ season.

Formula 1 is a constantly changing, constantly evolving sport. Things are never idle here. Even when an F1 car is parked, its almost breathing. Development is virtually non-stop all round the year and most of it happens while the action is off air and it seems uneventfully holiday-ish in the world of F1. New parts for F1 cars are almost produced every 7 minutes, 7 days a week, all through the year. To keep pace with the competition, there’s no other way this could be done. Its relentless and that’s one of the biggest challenges of the sport.

With all this development, that comes from a bunch of some the most talented & clever engineers in the world, there has to be someone overlooking and administering the whole exercise. That someone is the FIA. They also lay down the ground rules for the competition and a new set of regulations (the formula) are put forth before the start of every new season.

Recently, the FIA announced some detail changes to the rules for the next two seasons:

  • From a technical perspective, the 2013 rule changes address some safety precautions as well as allowing for the extra weight of the new generation of Pirelli tyres. The car’s roll structures must meet new standards and new, more stringent crash tests will also be applied. The minimum weight of the car has increased by 2kg.
  • To combat the use of aero-elastic components the static load test will now be applied to all of each team’s survival cells, and the front wing test will permit no more than 10mm deflection rather than 20mm.
  • There has also been a change to the procedure when cars cannot return to the pits under their own power at the end of a track session. The existing rules state that each car must be able to provide a sample of at least one litre of fuel; from now on, if one stops on track, it must provide that quantity plus the amount of fuel that would have been consumed while driving back to the pits.
  • On the operational front, during practice sessions the Drag Reduction System (DRS) can now only be used in the same areas on track as it would during the race. Working hours have also been tightened up, with the personnel curfew now extending from six to eight hours on Thursday night, and the number of permitted exceptions dropping from four to two for the entire season.

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) .

Countdown begins..

2013

2013 FIA Formula One World Championship™ Race Calendar

# Date Race Venue Time (IST)*
1 Mar 15-17 Australian Grand Prix Albert Park, Melbourne TBA
2 Mar 22-24 Malaysia Grand Prix Sepang International Circuit, Kuala Lumpur TBA
3 Apr 12-14 Chinese Grand Prix Shanghai International Circuit, Shanghai TBA
4 Apr 19-21 Bahrain Grand Prix Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir TBA
5 May 10-12 Spanish Grand Prix Circuit de Catalunya, Barcelona TBA
6 May 23-26 Monaco Grand Prix Circuit de Monaco, Monte Carlo TBA
7 Jun 07-09 Canadian Grand Prix Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve, Montreal TBA
8 Jun 28-30 British Grand Prix Silverstone Circuit, Silverstone TBA
9 Jul 05-07 German Grand Prix Nurburgring, Nurburgring TBA
10# Jul 19-21 TBA TBA TBA
11 Jul 26-28 Hungarian Grand Prix Hungaroring, Budapest TBA
12 Aug 23-25 Belgian Grand Prix Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps, Spa-Francorchamps TBA
13 Sep 06-08 Italian Grand Prix Autodromo di Monza, Monza TBA
14 Sep 20-22 Singapore Grand Prix Marina Bay Street Circuit, Singapore TBA
15 Oct 04-06 Korean Grand Prix Korea International Circuit, Yeongam TBA
16 Oct 11-13 Japanese Grand Prix Suzuka Circuit, Suzuka TBA
17 Oct 25-27 Indian Grand Prix Buddh International Circuit, Greater Noida (Delhi NCR) TBA
18 Nov 01-03 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix Yas Marina Circuit, Yas Island TBA
19 Nov 15-17 United States Grand Prix Circuit of The Americas, Austin TBA
20 Nov 22-24 Brazilian Grand Prix Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace (Interlagos), Sao Paulo TBA

The Random Pallette                                                                                                                               ©2012-13

* TV times will be updated once schedules are officially put out by the regional broadcasters.

# Provisional. (It was supposed to be either the French or the returning Turkish GP, but neither seem likely for 2013 at the moment.)

 
 
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