Complaints about “pay drivers” are “incredibly naive” – Williams

2018 F1 season

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Williams has defended its choice of driver line-up for the 2018 F1 season following claims they were selected due to the backing they bring.

Speaking at the team’s season launch Claire Williams hit back at the accusations, insisting the team “will only put talented drivers in our car.”

“This is a dangerous business and we’re not going to put someone in our car just because they come with money. Our decision-making process is much more complex than just deciding to put a driver into a racing car because they’ve got some cash.”

“Yes, we’re an independent team, yes money is hard to come by these days – not just for our team but any team, I don’t think many teams have signed new sponsors over the last few seasons in Formula One.”

“If a driver has financial backing that’s an added bonus but it’s not the foundation for a decision-making process at Williams, when we come to making our driver decisions it’s not a factor.”

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Lance Stroll brings backing from his father’s fashion empire while new signing Sergey Sirotkin is supported by Russian bank SMP. But Williams insisted “it’s nothing new in Formula One that drivers come with money.”

“Thank goodness, frankly that they do,” she said, “I think it’s incredibly naive for anyone to make that statement to say ‘he’s just a pay driver’. It’s great if a driver has financial interest from partners. It’s great for a team, great for the driver.”

“It’s an expensive sport, not just in Formula One. We’d miss out on so much talent coming into Formula One if drivers didn’t have financial backing supporting them through the junior formulae and bringing them into Formula One. Financial backing for racing drivers is not uncommon.”

“Partners want to partner with drivers because of their nationality or because of their personality, because of their characters or gravitas in a certain market.”

Williams drew comparison with the support Fernando Alonso had from a Spanish bank while he was at McLaren and Ferrari.

“Fernando Alonso, prime example: Santander followed him around every team that he’s been to. You could suggest he’s a pay driver – I wouldn’t do such a thing.”

“I think the terminology is very confused around pay drivers. It’s wrong, it’s unnecessary, it puts negativity around a driver, we just shouldn’t be doing it in this sport any more.”

2018 F1 season

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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  • 50 comments on “Complaints about “pay drivers” are “incredibly naive” – Williams”

    1. I couldn’t agree more with her on this topic.

      1. To the contrary. The more you try to deny something, the truer is seems.

        1. Absolutely. As i life long motorsport supporter and competitor i simply wont tolerate being called naive.

          I have no interest in watching what is supposed to be the pinnacle of motorsport rent their cars out to the richest kid who has a super license. Williams are quite rightly being panned for it and long may it continue.

          If formula 1 think the future is about rich kids halos and acres of tarmac run off then good luck with that.

          I grew up with magnificent tracks over subscribed grids and most of the teams employing worthy drivers based on talent.

          Pathetic situation without justification.

          1. I’m sorry, but you *are* naive if you believe that. There are less pay drivers on the grid now than probably at any time in history, and paying drivers have become less common – not more – over time.

            And she’s right about Alonso. When is a paying driver not a paying driver? When the fans decide he’s there on merit, apparently, a judgment call for which is appears there are no criteria and merely a knee-jerk reaction to whatever the popular perception of a driver at the time of his signing may be.

      2. Fully disagree with her. At least be honest. You are diminishing the overall game of F1 with these choices. F1 should feature the world’s best drivers. So if you deviate at least have the courtesy to admit you can’t do without the money. Then it is up to Liberty to solve the situation by cutting cost for all teams and being more strict on which drivers qualify for a seat.

        1. I think that what is naive is to have expected Claire to have said anything other than what she did…at their new car reveal…in front of her drivers…in front of the world. Please let’s have a list of all the team principals who have instead taken the same opportunity, and stood there and said ‘our drivers are obviously only here for their money and nothing else.’

          Claire didn’t stand there and run F1 down for being in such a state as to still be needing drivers with money from various sources. It’s not news. She did though explain that all teams are having a more difficult time finding money. I’m sure she’s not referring to Mercedes and Ferrari and RBR and Mac in the same way as for the lesser teams, but there is no denying all racing series took a hit back when the global recession of 08 hit, and there hasn’t been a big freeing up of marketing dollars going to sponsor racing series and teams since then. It’s been a struggle on average, including with declining audiences on average.

          Let’s also not forget that Williams’ original plan was to have Bottas there. That all changed when Wolff did a deal with them for VB in exchange for a favourable engine deal, but Claire still had to find drivers. And fast. But Stroll was already in the works anyway. Had Nico not retired we would not likely know from Sirotkin nor Kubica at Williams.

          I think much of the venom toward Claire is borne of a combination of Stroll coming from money and all the assumptions that come with that, as well as Lance dnf’ing his first three races which were not his fault. That set the tone for the rhetoric that was to remain for the rest of the season including this off-season and up until today.

          Like it or not LS has another season to show his worth. He claims he is a completely different driver now. It will be up to him to show us, as is the case with all drivers. I hope for his sake and all of our sakes that the Williams et al can make the ridiculously tricky tires work this year. Even last year’s Mercedes couldn’t always and the Williams rarely could. I’m willing to give some leeway to Stroll that all rookies should be given, and for the fact that drivers are coloured by their cars and last year’s Williams was not a good one. Stroll, no longer a rookie, has a chance to shut a lot of people up, and I hope he has the car to show us his worth, or that indeed he’s not that good even in a car that is…either one. I just hope he isn’t handcuffed such that it appears to be him, as people so easily like to forget out of convenience for their argument, that it’s 80% the car. And we all know money is no guarantee. Just ask Toyota, et al.

      3. To be fair to them, if drivers were not paid such ridiculously high salaries then perhaps that money could be used instead of needing additional sponsorship money (aka pay driver).

        Much like football, participant salaries have got to such a ludicrously high level that it is diverting huge sums of money from other areas where it appears to be needed more.

        If you have to pay a driver 10 million to drive, that cash has to come from somewhere and it aint going to come from the FIA, FOM or Liberty.

        Nobody said capitalism was a 100% pure system that was fair for all and does not ever cause any negative consequences but this is the system in which we live, a system whose success is determined by continued growth and expansion. It stands to reason that costs grow along with everything else.

        Hence the requirement that drivers are now sponsored as separate entities as are the teams, the components used, the TV coverage, the tarmac, the people, the cameras, the cables, the radio transmissions, the clocks, the drinks, the food, everything that can be already has been sponsored to within an inch of it´s life.

        If you don´t like pay drivers then take a look at the advertising industry as a whole and see how insignificant this issue really is.

        Perhaps the real issue is that some team have employed terrible drivers, not that they are sponsored in the first place.

    2. Talk Stroll’s money..er…backing and then pull the Nando banking card. Smooth, Claire, very smooth. The slippery slope your credibility has slipped so far down.

      1. I’ve worked in sports for most of my career, and I think the second most detrimental thing to losing is nepotism.

        1. @bamboo Rosberg, Villeneuve, Hill, Verstappen…nepotism can also make for winners.

          1. @robbie those all had to display skill to get to where they got to. That isn’t nepotism.

            Claire on the other hand…..

      2. political science major, obviously…

    3. One can take the point about the difference between “pay drivers” and drivers who bring some connection or backer to the team, yet at the same time still believe Williams clearly have on paper the least inspiring driver pairing on the grid. Thankfully they’re not mutually exclusive.

    4. Williams as a team is trying very hard to throw away all the good will they built on the last few years, aren’t, they?

      yeah, we get it: Stroll and Sirotkin are not Pedro Paulo Diniz bad. no fan would seriously claim they are. but it takes a lot guts (and a spoonful of corporate PR talk) to even suggest that the money they come with is just “an added bonus”, not a defining factor in why those drivers were hired, or that Stroll Sr. is not pulling strings in the behind the scenes to favour his son (case in point, private tests)…

      1. Strange to use the example of Diniz when he’s widely regarded as a pay driver who was actually quite good – maybe Alex Yoong would have been a better example.

        1. @tflb the weird thing is my recollection of Diniz is not that he was no that bad of a driver, but people here in Brazil don’t seem to think very highly of him, so I always assumed I my impression was down to being very young and also a bit of a bias (being brazilian myself)… which is why I also chose him as an example (to avoid picking on a driver with a different nationality)!

        2. You are forgetting Maldonando who was probably the worst of paydrivers.

        3. Maybe Ricardo Rosset would be a better example than Diniz, he was decent by the latter years. For me Stroll it’s like Nelson Piquet Jr, who also had teams built for him on junior formulas and lucked in a podium as well. He was talented as Stroll, but they share the same trend of being inconsistent and also weak on car setup

    5. What is really naive is if she trully believe i will swallow that… Fine they have enough talent to drive the car around safely, but that is not what people means when they complains about paid driver.

      1. @pyon

        I don’t think there’s a single F1 fan across the globe that believes Williams is prioritising talent over money in their driver line up. When you arrive at a car unveiling and try and justify your driver lineup, that is proof in itself that they’re not confident of their pay drivers. Trying to justify Alonso as a pay driver is just ridiculous. He’s a double WDC that’s earned sponsorship with his on-track performances, not the no-talent son of a billionaire.

        Williams has the worse driver line up on the grid. I’m pretty sure Williams knows it as well. It’s just a waste of time for them to try and justify it to the world. I’d rather see them come clean by admitting that money spent on the car lands better results than money spent on drivers.

        1. Agreed, and after admitting it, they will find out that it was the wrong choice.. the cars improvements will be insufficiently translated into results because of their driver line-up. Which will lead to continued absence of sponsors and so on.

    6. Most drivers come with money for good reason. Hamilton is a valuable marketing asset to a team primarily because of his talent, and then his profile. But his profile is thanks to his talent.

      Then you have a step down from sheer outright merit, to when a driver maybe has backing behind them because of something like their nationality like Perez and even Sirotkin. But that backing is because they are talented and represents their backer’s interests well. These drivers provide a return on investment for their financial backers by positive exposure as well as the money that goes into the team that hire them. And it’s their talent that earns that backing.

      But then you have Stroll. Yeah, he has to be able to drive a car to even be safe on the grid. But no independent financial backers saw his promise and wanted to get him into F1 because they thought the exposure would profit them. It’s a family vanity project pouring money into securing him a race seat. Despite a couple of respectable showings, I don’t see how anyone can keep a straight face saying he deserves his race seat on merit. It’s pure, privileged indulgence.

      1. While i do agree with your comment for the most part, i do not agree that you can compare perez with sirotkin, Perez won in the junior categories, while sirotkin hasn’t won that much in the junior series, i think the teams need to chose more people like stoffel vandoorne or esteban ocon, who got up the ladder without that much financial support. Even people like hamilton or vettel don’t have that backing but they have 8 WDC between them

        1. @armandf1v

          Yeah that’s fair and partly why I qualified it by saying “even Sirotkin”, I’ve not seen anything yet to suggest he’s on a par with Perez, but I’d not rank him down with Stroll.

          1. @philipgb I hope sirotkin beats stroll this year to just show how bad heis, and i also think sirtokin will make alot of mistakes/crashes because he is a rookie

      2. But then you have Stroll. Yeah, he has to be able to drive a car to even be safe on the grid. But no independent financial backers saw his promise and wanted to get him into F1 because they thought the exposure would profit them.

        Ferrari saw his promise and enrolled him into the FDA. Where he left on his own accord. Of course people saw his potential, and his junior career suggests he has plenty of it.

        He was promoted to F1 too soon, that I’ll agree with though.

        1. @mattds, I was about to point that out myself – and it is worth noting that Ferrari scouted him at a very young age (he was just 11 when he joined them in 2010), before then backing him for five years until he chose to leave their academy. However, I’m not surprised that people tend to want to forget things like that given it makes it harder for them to bash them in the way that they want to.

        2. @mattds

          Is this the same academy that took on Esteban Gutierrez?

          Yeah they’re definitely a hotbed of talent and nothing at all to do with a driver having backing from someone powerful, wealthy and influential.

          1. @philipgb you can keep the sarcasm for yourself. Now I don’t know exactly when Gutierrez was affiliated to the FDA, but I’d like to point out that he actually had a very good early career. First four seasons of racing he won 2 respectable series as a rookie and came second in another one.

            You can’t use hindsight to say that since he was not very good in F1, he was taken up in the FDA because of his money. That’s nonsense.

            Likewise for Stroll. He was taken up in the FDA very early in his career, at a time he was still in karts and was winning a whole lot. If you’re going to deny that he showed a lot of promise in your early career, then you haven’t really done your homework and are, again, just speaking with hindsight that a hit-and-miss year after a promotion to F1 that came too soon.

            1. @mattds calling someone else out on their sarcasm over Stroll’s involvement in the FDA is hilarious, and frankly moot, as Stroll ‘s father is major shareholder in FCA and one of the biggest private collectors of Ferrari’s in North America. Not to mention that FDA regularly have awful drivers (say, Chinese) in their ranks on the off chance it gains publicity. Using his stint at the FDA to tell us Stroll is rated is about as valid as me using my three months playing for Chelsea at age 8 as an argument that I’m a good footballer. I’m not.

          2. Errr Sergio Perez? He was an FDA driver, If I recall correctly, didn’t he only leave the FDA to join McLaren? Wasn’t it the FDA that placed him at Sauber in the first place? I think so from memory.

            1. @asanator

              I’m don’t mean to suggest the academy doesn’t have talent. I’m simply suggesting being a member doesn’t imply talent. Gutierrez adoption into it and subsequent placement at Haas seemed to be a pretty clear strategic assignment for business reasons rather than any actual trust in his ability.

    7. Most teams pay their drivers. Williams sells their seats to the highest bidder. The one who pays the most gets the seat.

      1. Williams needs to extend this ‘competitive’ approach.

        Sell the engineering seats to the highest bidder. A Pay-to-Play team principal would allow the children of billionaires to live the fantasy too.

    8. OK, it’s naive for anyone to say that.

      But at the same time, she just won the absurd ‘F1-Speak’ statement of the year with “When we come to making our driver decisions it’s not a factor.” And she’s probably going to get the runners-up prize too, by comparing the sponsorship status of Stroll and Sirotkin to that of Alonso.

      I’d rather be naive than (sorry, but it’s finally reached this stage) full of poop.

      1. I also singled out this statement and fully agree. How can it not be a factor when Williams needed the money and also found the need to defend this whole topic of pay drivers? Even the humble Lotus/Caterham, who were horribly stretched financially, never reached this level of vanity.

    9. *coughNikkiLaudacough*

      1. @zapski, there are a great number of drivers indeed, and sometimes I wonder how people draw the distinction between a “pay driver” and a non pay driver, save that sometimes it seems to be simply whether a driver is popular or not. We know how people here liked to praise Jules Bianchi as getting a seat on merit, but if you believe what Joe Saward claimed, then it seems that Bianchi brought quite a bit of financial support with him too (I believe he previously mentioned a figure of €15 million) – yet he was not given the “pay driver” tag.

        1. Because the difference is exactly how you described, it’s the merit of the drive. Did they get it PURELY because they have the cash or because they are quick AND have cash. One can be a pay driver and be good, it is not a mutually exclusive position. But then in the black and white, left vs right world of today you can only be one or the other.

          I think most people are smart enough to parse through when a driver got his drive purely cause the team is being paid Stroll, Sirotkin, Maldonado, Galael (FP drives) or Alonso bringing Santander as a personal sponsor or last year Honda paying to have him on the team. Yes, the team is getting money from an outside source tied to the driver but the reason for that money is not personal ties but rather previous success. Even if Bianchi brought 15 mill with him, his merit got him the seat and the 15 mill wasn’t family cash, see above for family, family ties to bank, family ties to govt funds, family cash. None of those 4 were highly sought after by outside sponsors to bring recognition to their business.

          1. Except Sirotkin isn’t getting his drive purely based on money. Why is everyone ignoring the fact that he was faster than Kubica in the test?

    10. I’d say the amount of naivity involved might easily be overestimated if it’s looked at just referring to the one-liner “driver x is a pay driver”. We know no team in F3 or F4 can run (or has ever been able to throughout the history of various) junior-series a car for a season that has not got the driver contributing to covering the cost. But for sponsors to choose to support a driver, that driver needs a certain amount of marketability, which stems from various sources, be it likability, charisma, looks, place of birth or indeed skills. It is whenever that skills-factor is perceived as to low that fans reach a tipping point and begin to “revolt” and call that driver a “pay driver”. It is sort of a reminder for sponsors that them sponsoring a driver will only pay off when that driver is good enough. If your company supports a driver that just isn’t good enough, you will be associated with poor judgement. Driver skill is an absolute key requirement of what makes fans identify with that driver, fans want to see the best drivers, most fans value this factor above all other marketabilty-factors, and we will keep reminding teams and sponsors about that.

    11. Clare Williams, Deputy Team Principle comparing Stroll with Alonso. That is just bizzare. Even Alonso, in the dud cars earlier in his career, showed more potential than Stroll. Her comments are more annoying, because she assumes we don’t realised going racing costs money, & lots of it. We get that most mid field teams need to get drivers who come with funding to survive. Its when, as now, she pretends that the choice her team has made, had everything to do with the talent of the driver, rather than the money they bring to the team thats irritating. Calling it funding, is playing her game with words. In fact , I would go one stage further, and say Williams, like the old Virgin team did, auctioned both their seats to the highest bidder and got Stroll & Sirotkin.

    12. Ayrton Senna came with financial backing when he first started, therefore Lance Stroll is the next Ayrton Senna…..

      Try again Claire.

    13. Everything wrong with Formula One is in this story. Claire Williams — the problem is you.

      1. Yes, Nikki Lauda was a terrible blight on F1. How dare anyone pay far a seat.

        Geebus, as usual the ignorance Internet comments is manifest.

        1. Niki Lauda finished 7th in his third race, and that was with a full grid of 26 cars in a far more dangerous/demanding era. Poor comparison.

          Claire needs to start delivering the goods, and thats not just in regard to race results. She looks way out of her depth, for what is a team that is dying a slow death.

          First Maldonado, then Stroll, now Sirotkin. They are just very very lucky that Toto Wolff, a previous minority shareholder arranged the engine deal with Mercedes as that performance advantage with such an engine has bought them time. Any other engine and I fear they would have gone under already. Once the Rexona deal ends the difference between the team survivals and not is Lawrence Strolls cash……at which point I don’t think it could be called Williams anymore.

    14. “We think customer cars go completely against DNA of F1”.
      -Claire Williams.

    15. At least now money drivers are about “find the best driver who can bring 10M$” and not just randomly picking someone.

    16. Danny Olmstead
      17th February 2018, 7:23

      Really? Lance Stroll and Fernando Alonso similar in terms of being pay drivers because Santander has sponsored 2 teams he drove for? Wow, that’s a rediculous and diluted statement. I would respect Williams if they just simply stated something along the lines of “we need the money otherwise we couldn’t exist in our current capacity..” I can live with that. Like others were vying for Stroll in the offseason or something.

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