Start, Sepang, 2017

Why Formula One cannot get rid of ‘pay drivers’

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Several of Formula One’s smaller teams have been criticised for employing ‘pay drivers’. But, as @DieterRencken explains, not all pay drivers are alike, and without them it’s doubtful some teams could continue.

There are two overriding truisms is motor racing: The sport is (increasingly less) dangerous, and it is (increasingly more) expensive.

To these could be added a third: The faster you go, the more expensive it gets. Therefore, the costs of competing in the fastest (and most glamorous) category of all, namely, Formula 1, are truly astronomical. For numbers, refer to last week’s feature on F1’s costs.

Complaints about “pay drivers” are “incredibly naive” – Williams
It has always been thus: regardless of numerous attempts by the governing body, the FIA, to reduce the costs and barriers to entry, the fact is that all four recent entries into F1 folded within four years, while various domestic F1 series that once prevailed are no more. Indeed, the only events run for contemporary cars are rounds of the F1 world championship.

Since that first recorded motor race in 1895, run between Paris and Bordeaux and back, the rich (and famous) have always held an advantage in the sport. Simply put, without money it would be impossible to enter motor racing, unlike tennis where the only requirements are racquet and ball, or soccer, where the only cost is for a leather bladder.

Indeed, so acute are the cost versus performance challenges at the pinnacle that over 130 F1 entrants have attempted the sport during the FIA world championship’s 68-year existence. Of these, just ten survive. True, some were subject to takeovers – think Tyrrell/BAR/Honda/Brawn/Mercedes, all of which share the same company number, or Stewart/Jaguar/Red Bull (ditto) – but the purified figure is estimated at 80 start-ups.

Therefore F1’s mortality rate is roughly equal to that of cheetah in the wild, and thus current teams require preservation of sorts, particularly as they employ an average of 500 heads each. Consider their families and something like 2,000 lives would potentially be affected if one folds. Go back just 30 years, and the average team F1 strength was closer to 80.

Imagine, then, the commercial pressures on current team principals, who carry such responsibilities over and above the duties of running cutting-edge businesses that are publicly audited by rabid fans every fortnight; with fortunes that change dramatically – as they did for Manor – in split-seconds.

F1’s plummeting TV ratings plus a commercial rights holder who siphons off around a third of the sport’s £1.2bn annual underlying revenues (turnover of around £1.6bn – operating costs of ±£400) ratchet the pressures to a point greater than at any point during this millennium, yet overall global interest in fossil-fuelled sports is tailing off. How best to square this vicious circle?

Increasingly teams are resorting to budget-linked drivers. Some of these have unfairly been tarred by the ‘pay driver’ brush.

There have been past examples of true ‘pay drivers’, whose only qualifications were fat wallets able to cover the costs of reasonable results in lower categories. Italian nobleman Giovanni Lavaggi (memorably nicknamed Johnny Carwash) is a celebrated example thanks to his three non-qualifications from six attempts with Minardi in 1996.

Alonso is attractive to sponsors
But some have applied the same all-embracing term to the likes of Fernando Alonso, who attracts support from sponsors because of his high-profile status within the sport. To denigrate a world champion as a ‘pay driver’ is clearly absurd, but those familiar with the sport’s history will know he isn’t the only one who arguably fits the model.

Paying drivers have been around for as long as F1 has existed. The 1950 British Grand Prix, the very first world championship round, had 26 starters, of which just nine drivers were entered by “works” teams. The balance were wealthy privateers or individuals bankrolled by benefactors.

This trend continued into the late sixties, with many a team running third cars for paying individuals, or even selling cars outright to privateers, who covered their own costs. What is the difference between privateers covering their own costs, those supported by benefactors (think Lord Hesketh / James Hunt) or commercial support? Essentially none.

Then, in 1968 F1’s rules were changed to permit commercial sponsorship. The first driver to exploit the new regulations was John Love, a privateer who sweet-talked the Gunston tobacco brand into covering the costs of competing in his nearest round of the world championship, the South African Grand Prix. Lotus followed suit with Gold Leaf sponsorship at the Spanish Grand Prix, five months later.

In one swoop F1 was democratised: Anybody who bagged a sponsor – by hook or by crook or via driver – could enter, provided they fulfilled basic entry requirements. Get your licence, chassis, tyres and – typically – a Cosworth DFV engine at £7500, a Hewland DG300 transmission, and you were good to go. The 1970 South African Grand Prix entry list featured six Lotuses, five Marches and three Brabhams in addition to various other makes, yet “works” teams entered two cars each.

Tellingly, of the “extra” cars, one (Lotus) was entered for double world champion Graham Hill; STP covered the costs of Mario Andretti’s March. Thus Hill and future champion Andretti were ‘pay drivers’! Others who later paid for March drives included Ronnie Peterson (1970) and Niki Lauda (1971/2). Indeed, the well-off Austrian ‘upgraded’ to BRM for 1973 by taking out further bank loans, secured by life insurance policies.

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As the decade wore on, so tobacco companies increased their funding, with Marlboro leading the way via its “World Championship Team”, which covered paid drives for such as (1982 champion) Keke Rosberg. In 1991 Mercedes-Benz facilitated Michael Schumacher’s F1 debut with Jordan by cheque for £100k, niftily disguised as Tic-Tac sponsorship (a DTM partner) to avoid a clash with Ford power.

Ayrton Senna, Gerhard Berger, McLaren
Senna brought his own backer
The great Ayrton Senna was unique amongst McLaren drivers of his era for displaying non-team branding on his overalls, namely that of Banco Nacional. Thus he reduced his fiscal demands on the team, and therefore the deal was arguably a case of driver-linked sponsorship. Who would dare call Senna a pay-driver? Yet, by the broadest definition, he ticked that box.

Five, possibly six, “pay-driver” world champions, and counting…

However, such incidences tailed off as governments increasingly outlawed traditional tobacco advertising, forcing the brands to embrace motorsport sponsorship with a vengeance. Suddenly there was no longer a need for pay-drivers as the teams were flush, with McLaren test drivers (note plural) earning well over £100k in a single season, and race drivers routinely pulling in mega-millions off the back of nicotine.

As tobacco sponsorship was systematically outlawed, so car companies took over the big spending. A paddock story has it that shortly after assuming the chairmanship of Ford Motor Co in 2001, William Clay Ford perused the company’s payroll, then questioned “Who the hell is this Edmund Irvine, who earns more than I do?’. The answer was, of course: Eddie Irvine, then racing for Ford’s Jaguar subsidiary.

Apocryphal the tale may be, but it was credible at the time, pointing to the astronomical driver wages paid back then. With large amounts of dosh sloshing about, teams had no need to question whether drivers had funding; if anything, it likely counted against them, for teams would be forced to accommodate the demands of external sponsors. In this day and age a driver of Irvine’s calibre would likely need to provide funding.

What changed in the interim? First, since the bulk of manufacturers exited in 2009 no single product group has stepped into the void; second, as F1 increasingly embraced pay-TV, so audience ratings went into free-fall, making F1 less attractive. Third, F1 has lost its gloss: This week English Premier League football team Arsenal struck a five-year shirt deal with Emirates worth £200m – few, if any, current F1 deals run to those levels.

Finally, from 2013 the commercial rights holder, then headed by Bernie Ecclestone on behalf of venture fund CVC Capital Partners, introduced an inequitable revenue structure that favours the Big Four (Mercedes, Ferrari, Red Bull and McLaren) through to end-2020. To put the scale of their bonuses into perspective, consider: Ferrari would earn more per season even if both its cars crashed out in the first corner of every event through to 2020 than would Force India, even if the latter serially won both world titles.

With that sort of imbalance, is it any wonder that a) only the Big Four can afford the best drivers going, b) no team other than a Big Four outfit has won a grand prix since 2013, leaving the rest to fight over morsels, c) on the basis of such processions, sponsors have fled, and d) TV cameras invariably linger on front-runners, mainly Big Four entries.

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Renault RS18, 2018
Sainz’s backer Estrella appears on the new Renault
Thus the likes of Force India, Williams, Haas and Sauber are forced to look at alternatives, with driver-linked budgets being the most attractive. Outside the Big Four, Renault and Toro Rosso have parent companies able and willing to underwrite their budgets, although it cannot be coincidental that Spanish sponsors proliferated on first the latter’s cars, then the former’s, in tandem with Carlos Sainz Jnr’s career moves.

Indeed, after switching teams last October the Spaniard unusually appeared cap-less at three events. Asked why, he mentioned a “sponsor issue” – his backer Estrella was in negotiations with Renault about how best to accommodate the beer brand logo on his caps. Which shows that even STR and Renault embrace driver-linked deals.

The current pay-driver outcry was driven by Williams’ signing of the inexperienced pairing of Lance Stroll (heading for his sophomore F1 season) and Sergey Sirotkin (rookie), with some folk who should know (a lot) better vehemently criticising a team with an illustrious history for selecting a brace of drivers whose wallets allegedly overshadow their talent.

In the process, these critics overlook that Robert Kubica, the other candidate for the seat, is equally unproven due to injuries sustained in a 2012 rally accident, and had also been linked to substantial funding.

Here, though, was a team that at one stage delivered a roll-call of champions: Alan Jones, Keke Rosberg, Nelson Piquet, Nigel Mansell, Alain Prost, Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve, in all but two cases providing their only titles. How dare Williams sully its reputation by signing pay-drivers, went the refrain.

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The bottom line is that few drivers on the current grid do not somehow contribute to their upkeep, whether through direct or indirect links to partners, engine suppliers or management. In fact, were it not for driver-linked partners it is doubtful whether half the 2018 field could afford to compete. Thus the critics should thank pay-drivers, not vilify them.

There are, though, various categories of funded drivers, i.e. those who contribute commercially:

1) Drivers able to pick and choose teams, with a group of partners anxious to be associated with them. Alonso springs to mind. Sergio Perez, too, deserves drives on merit, but has Mexican backers who make him commercially attractive to teams.

Sergey Sirotkin, Lance Stroll, Williams, 2018
Stroll brings substantial backing to Williams
2) Drivers placed by major teams as part of their development, usually with some quid pro quo in the form of engines or payments. Force India’s Esteban Ocon (Mercedes) and Sauber’s Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) fit this category, with Pascal Wehrlein having done so last season.

3) Junior team graduates. Toro Rosso’s drivers generally fit this profile, having come up through Red Bull ranks. Their progress has been paid every step of the way; making them “pay-drivers” of sorts. Eventually they repay the faith through lower wages, with Dan Ricciardo being a prime example of this category.

4) Drivers who, literally, bought their way into F1, whether through family or external commercial support. Would Stroll or Sirotkin have moved into F1 as fast without such support? Arguably not, but nor would Lauda or Schumacher. It is telling that all world champions since 1992 – and many before then – came from modest backgrounds: Someone, somewhere backed their formative years, and subsequent entries into F1.

Had Stroll wished to pursue law, there is no doubt his billionaire father Lawrence would have funded the best in legal education; ditto medical school. Lance would, though, still need to deliver at the bar or in theatre; ditto on-track. He drives the car, not daddy. The same applies to Sirotkin’s backers: he drives, not they, but their funding keeps Williams afloat at a time when independents are marginalised and, crucially, pushes the team forward.

5) Personal pay-drivers: Drivers who have no hope of entering F1 save for paying heavily for the privilege. Lavaggi, Ricky von Opel (scion of the car company, who funded Ensign’s entry into F1) and Pedro Diniz (Forti, which moved into F1 off the back of the family grocery fortune) are classic examples of this profile.

By no stretch of the imagination should Stroll, Sirotkin, Ocon, Leclerc, Perez or any current F1 driver be lumped with such ineptitude.

The bottom line is that as long as Liberty chases pay-TV deals and / or pays inequitable bonuses to Big Four teams, the longer pay-drivers provide hope for independent teams. Rather than castigate such teams and drivers, fans should consider why a team such as Williams has not signed Alonso, then thank driver-linked sponsors for sustaining teams that would otherwise join the list of those who went out of business.

Think Lotus, think Cooper, think Brabham, think Tyrrell: all gone despite once being hallowed names. That the current crop of independents survives at all is nothing short of a miracle, and bears testimony to the contributions made by budget-linked drivers.

Budget-linked drivers in 2018

The ‘big four’
Mercedes Parent company-backed, plus raft of commercial and trade backers
Lewis Hamilton Nil, save for personal sponsors
Valtteri Bottas Nil, save for minor Finnish sponsors
Ferrari Various commercial partners, including Philip Morris corporate
Sebastian Vettel Nil
Kimi Raikkonen Nil
Red Bull Parent company-backed, Aston Martin title partner; various brands, incl TAG-Heuer
Daniel Ricciardo Nil, save for personal (cap) sponsors
Max Verstappen Nil, save for personal (cap) sponsors
McLaren
Fernando Alonso Had a brace of Spanish driver-linked sponsors, TBA 2018
Stoffel Vandoorne Nil
The rest
Force India BWT title partner, deal brokered by Mercedes; various brands incl Diageo
Sergio Perez Various Mexican backers
Esteban Ocon Mercedes support
Williams Martini title partner, Unilever support
Lance Stroll Family-backed, space off-set to various companies such as Bombardier and JCB
Sergey Sirotkin SMP Racing-backed, space to be off-set, Acronis supports Russian drivers
Renault Parent company-backed, various corporate deals, incl BP and Mapfre
Nico Hülkenberg Nil
Carlos Sainz Linked to team sponsor Estrella
Toro Rosso Parent company-backed, various corporate deals TBA
Brendon Hartley Previously Red Bull-backed
Pierre Gasly Red Bull-backed
Haas Parent company-backed, various trade deals
Romain Grosjean Various personal deals
Kevin Magnussen Various personal deals
Sauber Alfa Romeo-backed
Marcus Ericsson Linked to team owner Longbow, Silanna
Charles Leclerc Ferrari support, Richard Mille

Follow Dieter on Twitter: @RacingLines

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80 comments on “Why Formula One cannot get rid of ‘pay drivers’”

  1. This is a fascinating article, Dieter. Personally I don’t necessarily agree with you. For instance, I do not understand what the difference is between points four and five. Both sound roughly the same: the only questions seems to be of ineptitude. Stroll hasn’t shown that he belongs to the category four, in that regard, as of yet.
    Also, I feel this article (but this could be me) wrongly equates the addition of (personal) sponsors to a team, to the commercial benefit of a driver being the determing factor for hiring him. Sainz jr. bringing lots of Spanish sponsors to Toro Rosso or Renault was not in the slightest a factor in their signing of him. This should forever be differentiated from what an actual pay driver is. The debate needs to stop at that point: which is exactly what Claire Williams, in her willfully obtuse and naive manner showed, by conflating Alonso with Stroll and Sirotkin. Drivers adding commercial benefit to teams, but being brought in on merit, are not pay drivers and should never be mentioned in the same way. Now I am sorry if I miss the point of this article, but to me it feels like you are missing that point.
    Making comparisons to the cowboy days of F1 is also wrong in my mind. Lauda, even Schumacher, reached F1 in different times, with a less clearly defined ladder and with more teams dependent on money. Likewise the examples you mention in category five are from a different era. This modern, professional F1 has no place for drivers reaching F1 on anything other than pure merit. And whilst you astutely argue the inequities of F1 in its current state, that hasn’t stopped Haas from having two drivers solely on merit – the same goes for Force India (although both teams do occasionally test the undeserving). There are three pay drivers in F1 right now, by the definition I would give (which is your number 4/5): Stroll, Sirotkin, Ericcson. I also feel like, nuance aside, these are the only drivers who are in F1 right now on commercial over competitive reasons. And I don’t think that is in any way controversial.

    1. Excellent summary of the proper way to categorize a pay driver, leading us to the obvious answer; Stroll, Sirotkin, Ericcson.
      Mario, Fernando, Ayrton, Michael, Nikki; give me a break.

    2. This site should implement a “like” button
      well written, and agree 100%

      1. please, please, please don’t implement a like button. keith, i believe you know why.

    3. i particularly have a problem with the lauda and schumi description in the article.
      Lauda was a 4), but in an era where F1 didn´t make billions
      and Schumi was clearly a Mercedes protege right? so like Ocon today

    4. @hahostolze I disagree with you. The difference between 4 and 5 is that, taking Stroll for example, for him to be a 5 we’d have to wind the clock backwards when there were fewer requirements to get one’s superlicence. Stroll certainly had the most current requirements to get his licence. I also think he is being castigated not just for his Dad having money, but for not impressing in his rookie year in a Williams that was obviously struggling. When you are already predisposed to have something against a driver, you can easily overlook that drivers are coloured by their cars, and certainly rookies are even more subject to that as they learn how to be a driver in F1 along with learning the team and them learning about him. Stroll doesn’t seem to get that level of patience and understanding, no doubt because of the perception that his way has been paid for all along, whereas as Dieter points out, he still had to drive the car. Also you say you can’t distinguish between 4 and 5 and yet admit 5 is really from a different era, as I have also opined at the start of this paragraph.

      Next, I don’t see how Dieter misses the point when he puts Alonso in category 1. You can argue Claire Williams may be taking licence by bringing up FA in the same category, but Dieter clearly only points out that some have done that, whereas to Dieter he is a category 1.

      I don’t see how the ‘cowboy days’ had teams that were more dependent on money. Sponsors were aplenty back then and the sport was on a sharp uprise. Surely these days they are far more dependent on money than ever before, by a long shot.

      You claim that today’s modern F1 has no place for drivers other than ones there on merit, and I would add ‘in a perfect world’ and yet that is the opposite of today’s actual reality that Liberty now has control to try to affect. Haas, the billionaire, may have drivers on merit, but he doesn’t have FA et al. Your defined three pay drivers are there both for commercial and competitive reasons, for obviously their money is needed, and it’s not going toward better lunches…it’s going toward the car to help make it more competitive.

    5. @hahostolze, in the case of Sainz Jr, whilst you adamantly claim that the backing he brought from Spanish companies “was not in the slightest a factor” in his career progression, I am not so sure that is entirely the case.

      Payments from Cepsa, which backed Sainz Jr and Alguersuari, were enough for Toro Rosso to buy a new 10,000 square metre factory and increase their headcount by about 200 people – the amount of funding they were bringing was pretty sizeable. Cepsa were prepared to pump in quite a bit of cash at a time when Toro Rosso was seeking additional funding to upgrade their facilities, so I would be surprised if his financial backing wasn’t a consideration.

      Equally, I believe that, in the case of his move to Renault, there were suggestions that Renault did insist on him bringing a certain amount of sponsorship to the team, with Mapfre supposedly offering that additional funding for him (and maybe it is coincidental, but Mapfre have started taking a more prominent role in sponsoring the team now that Sainz Jr is there).

      As an aside, whilst you say that the two Haas drivers are there purely on merit, I do recall that, a number of years ago, some did question whether Grosjean should be classed as a pay driver amid claims that Total paid for his seat at Renault/Lotus.

      1. @hahostolze Interesting that Renault F1 Team has today announced a deal with premier Spanish football league LaLiga, which supports Javier Fernandez, the Spanish Olympic bronze medallist figure skater, and badminton champion Carolina Marin. LaLiga has also supported the Davis Cup tennis tournament and tennis star Rafael Nadal. Coincidence that Renault now has a Spanish driver?

    6. The thing about F1 is that they were or are all pay drivers. Its the only way they can race karts, lower formulas etc. They have to find backing to progress. If they were terrible they would lose the backing. The only one who’s backing was ever secure was Stroll (and previously Chilton, Diniz) because the money came from family but even then they could go bankrupt. Verstappen, Rosberg, Magnussen & Palmer were similarly blessed with wealthy well connected parents allowing them to breeze through the junior formulas into F1 drives (not all sons of drivers are as successful). Ericssons backers could leave him if they were not satisfied, Sirotkin’s could easily focus on another Russian like Kvyat, Markelov or any new young driver. Red Bull are well known for ditching drivers they have supported and promoted to F1 early. F1 teams who sign up young drivers are the same. They fund a driver through junior formulas but they may sell the team / choose to cut costs or just find someone better.

      1. Well, with a father who had 2 bil before the season started, unless EVEN HE stops trusting in his son’s capabilities, there’s no realistic way to go bankrupt, he gave 80 mil to williams for a year, let’s say double cause of testing? Even then he can afford to spend 160 mil a year for the next 11 years and have a bit of money left, there’s no way a potentially good driver wouldn’t emerge in that time.

        1. Richer men have gone bankrupt but its unlikely thats why as I said his funding is the most secure. I’ve reading up on Diniz who had a similarly rich father to Stroll and found this article reviewing all the drivers of 1995 in blunt fashion… http://www.grandprix.com/ns/ns00420.html

  2. Formula 1 has huge revenues and has failed to provide a decent ladder system that promotes talent over money. Terrible oversight.
    Heritage teams such as Williams have been complicit in the financial structure for decades by way of numerous concorde agreements. Williams are not a victim of Formula 1’s pathetic financial structuring, they are a part of the cause. Pay drivers are a terrible symptom of a sick sport. Unjustifiable in the commercial era and Williams are being pannned, rightly so.

    1. I don’t entirely disagree with your comment about Williams being somewhat complicit via previous Concorde Agreements, but yet I also find them to be victims of the more recent circumstances of global recession starting 10 years ago, combined with the whole BE/CVC money grab thing, and since 2013 the power that the top 4 teams have been given. In other words, the goal posts have been moved on Williams and the other less resourced teams. I think pay drivers are too few to be a ‘terrible’ symptom, and they are far from new, and Liberty has their chance now to start to heal the sport. Unjustifiable? I think pay drivers are probably more justifiable than ever given all of the circumstances that have been spelled out that have brought the likes of Williams to have two pay drivers. Liberty deserves time to get onto a better path than what they knowingly, and with eyes wide open took over. But for now contracts and agreements already in place have to run their course.

    2. Speaking of Williams…I wonder if they still require their drivers to pass an in-house competence test?

  3. Nice piece. It is indeed not black or white. Most though agree that Alonso isn’t exactly a pay-driver but Stroll is.
    On a side note, I think Nico Hulkenberg brings personal backing with Dekra (cap).

    1. The DEKRA sponsorship is only linked to Hülkenberg, not to Renault (as there are not visible on the Renault car).
      Therefore, there were and currently are no financial advantages for his team by signing him.

      1. … other than his wage requirements on Renault being lower, due to his personal sponsorship taking care of some – maybe all – of his living expenses?

        1. It is a personal deal, a hangover from his days with Weber Management.

  4. It is wrong and illogical to summarize such a brilliant article.
    Nevertheless , the following statement/statistic (also the icing on the cake) captures the crux of the write up very well —

    To put the scale of their bonuses into perspective, consider: Ferrari would earn more per season even if both its cars crashed out in the first corner of every event through to 2020 than would Force India, even if the latter serially won both world titles.

    This article made my day !!
    Thank you Dieter Rencken

    1. The revenue structure lies at the root of most of F1’s current ills, hence I bang on about it.

      1. @dieterrencken, Thank you Dieter, you obviously have more credibility than I do, keep at it.

  5. To put the scale of their bonuses into perspective, consider: Ferrari would earn more per season even if both its cars crashed out in the first corner of every event through to 2020 than would Force India, even if the latter serially won both world titles.

    Ouch.

  6. The term pay-driver is indeed mostly used as a misnoma, as it isn’t applied solely on the basis of a driver bringing in funds; instead, a further criterion must be fulfilled before fans start calling a driver a pay-driver: It happens when we, the fans, suspect the driver isn’t good enough for the seat.

    Even if the economic situation was different, if sponsor-acquisition had not been outsourced from the teams to the drivers, it would be the same drivers we criticise. We’d probably use other terms, but that’s it.

    Drivers who have brought money with them, but haven’t been hit with the pay-driver-term just show the same thing: sponsoring individual drivers, sticking with them, making them part of your brand identity, that’s not a thing fans object to. Your brand identity will suffer if the driver you sonsor isn’t up to the job, though.

    And a last thing I can’t for the life of me understand is: Why on earth, in a globalised market and on a global platform with global viewers, why do companies sponsor drivers for the sake of being from their home country if they could just go for the best globally available? Why sponsor a driver that would have trouble to get to F1 if money wasn’t a thing instead of associating yourself with a driver that could develop a marketable legacy? Why not try to get a lifetime-deal with Leclerc asap no matter where your company is seated?

    It comes down to this: If driver choice moves from F1-teams to sponsors, the sponsors need to become as good as F1-teams in scouting drivers. If they do that, everything is ok.

    1. @crammond, I’m not always sure that it is necessarily just because fans “suspect the driver isn’t good enough for the seat”. Sometimes, the “pay driver” tag seems to be thrown about as a bit of an insult when fans want to complain about a driver instead.

      Equally, we’ve seen drivers who were labelled as a pay driver prove to be better than expected – people attacked Perez when he first appeared as a pay driver, but now he is one of the more respected drivers of the midfield pack.

      1. I’d put that as “The suspicions fans have about the qualities of drivers aren’t always correct and can change over time”. It’s just that, to get rid of that pay-driver tag, as Perez did, the only thing that really helps is performance. The tag itself is too strong to be overcome by a marketing-department or by team officials talking to the press. Maybe a good way for a sponsor to deal with this phenomenon would be to not just enter the sport with a driver, but to first announce “we are looking for a driver to enter the sport with”, then do a somewhat transparent or at least visible scouting process.

  7. While I agree with everything written in the article, I feel the term pay driver is still useful, it just needs to be defined more carefully. I suggest “A driver who would not have a seat in F1 if his presence did not provide the team with a net financial gain”. Subjective, I know, but at least we can discard the silly comparisons with Alonso then.

    1. Indeed, I struggle to see how alonso, schumacher, lauda, senna wouldn’t have got the drive, perhaps a year later, hadn’t they had a little financial backing.

      1. @esploratore, I can, actually, see how some of those drivers would not have made it into F1 without buying their way in.

        Lauda’s career in junior series had more or less stalled when he made the decision to buy his way into March, being stuck with the odd European Touring Car race at the time, and he could quite easily have ended up stagnating in minor series or ended up going into sportscar racing instead.

        Equally, in the case of Senna, we know that when he tried to enter F1, he tested for Williams, McLaren and Brabham (I believe that he might have contributed a bit towards the expenses involved in a couple of those tests), but in all three cases was rejected. It was only when, according to Ron Dennis, Senna paid for a seat at Toleman that Senna finally managed to break into F1. As others have noted, there were other high flyers at the time who were rejected because they didn’t fit in with what the teams wanted – we know how Tommy Byrne, a contemporary of Senna who’d shown considerable potential when he tested for McLaren (putting in faster laps back to back than their current drivers could in qualifying trim, despite McLaren lowering the rev limit on Byrne’s test car), never made it despite being very similar in terms of performance to Senna (with a lack of funding being a repeated roadblock to his success).

  8. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
    21st February 2018, 14:28

    Fascinating article with great history. I believe the term pay driver for the fans has nothing to do with the fact that a driver brings money to a team. It has to do with the relative/perceived performance of the driver and also being given a chance where other more qualified drivers are passed up.

    Obviously, a great driver will bring sponsorship to the team indirectly.

    As Dieter pointed out, football doesn’t have those issues. F1 is an extremely popular sport and should also not have those issues. I don’t understand how a team like Williams cannot find the resources to compete in F1.

    Should Liberty Media be responsible for creating a new marketing department and spearheading the marketing efforts of the bottom teams to ensure that they have better funding? Perhaps the lower teams can be in a shared pool of resources sharing the same sponsors. They can also be allowed to pursue their own sponsors if they want with some parts of the car reserved for private sponsorship but the rest reserved for common sponsorship. It would be more economical and easier for a company to reach out to Liberty and for them to run a “world-class” marketing boutique than for the smaller companies to do so. You can’t expect Force India, Haas, and Sauber to run a top-notch marketing department and any sponsorship they receive is limited to their teams while Liberty could extend it to all teams thus increasing the sponsor’s exposure massively. For instance, a Belgian company could pay for all bottom teams to showcase their brand at a race in Spa. A German company might be willing to sponsor a much higher amount at the German Gran Prix. That might it much more appealing than having one sticker on the Force India in every race.

    My point is, funding is not an inherent issue of F1 – the sport has tremendous following and appeal and only 10 teams. It’s an issue created by mismanagement and short-sightedness.

    1. @freelittlebirds I’m quite surprised you don’t understand how Williams cannot find the resources to compete in F1. Football doesn’t have those issues? Yeah nor do they need to spend as much as half a billion fielding two competitive cars for a season, with all the complexities that entails, and that being no guarantee of the big trophy either.

      Isn’t it plain as day that there is a combination of factors that have F1 where it is today? We had a global recession 10 years ago that the world hasn’t yet recovered from. Media took hits for example as company after company globally started to haul in the reins on marketing spending. Or went under themselves. Internet and social media has changed the way companies approach marketing themselves to the world. Car racing on every level also took a big hit from fewer sponsors, and that remains a struggle today. BE/CVC went paywall, hurting sponsorship potential that way too. Since 2013 the big four have had it their way. And F1 is more expensive than ever to compete in, including with the introduction of the current complex pu’s, shutting out all but the top 3 or perhaps 4 if Mac can make a comeback to their traditional placing.

      The sport does have tremendous following and appeal, but that has been diminishing. Mismanagement and short-sightedness? Absolutely. That’s what Liberty has inherited and will work toward fixing, while their hands are still tied with existing agreements and contracts, until those run out.

      1. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
        21st February 2018, 20:15

        @robbie For a sport that depends on sponsorship, the paywall obviously affected the smallest teams massively. It was the wrong call and pretty much crazy to do it in Europe. Does anyone know the breakdown of the F1 audience by continent? I would suspect Europe accounts for a large percentage.

        A team with Williams’ pedigree and history should not be in the position that it currently is. They were 3rd, 3rd, 5th, and 5th over the past 3 years with an average position of 4 in the WCC. When the sport has trouble accommodating the top teams, it has a huge issue.

        It’d be akin to Bayern Munich not being able to compete in the Champions League. PSG and Juventus would be akin to Haas and Sauber and on the brink on going bankrupt.

        1. @freelittlebirds Agreed. I do hold high hopes that things will turn around for the better, and I believe firmly that all of the concerns we have are concerns that Brawn and team are well aware of too.

      2. @robbie, well, since you draw the comparison, there are actually Premier League teams who are spending similar amounts of money – Manchester United’s turnover, according to their most recent accounts was about £515 million, with their net costs being £466 million (however, whilst they did make a profit, it is worth remembering that the Premier League now actively penalises clubs if they run at a loss for more than a few years in a row).

  9. I sometimes feel that the term ‘Pay Driver’ is now used by fans more as a way of ridiculing drivers that collectively we seem to decide we don’t think much of & don’t feel should be in F1 regardless of any success they had before F1 & in some cases good results they have in F1.

    People do after-all like to ignore the fact that Maldonado won an F1 race on merit, Beating Alonso in a straight fight.

  10. Yes I would have to agree partly, I mean who are we kidding, money talks in F1. Though I don’t enjoy how heavy sponsor backed drivers are making it into F1, I think Williams might be onto something here.

    More money the team has, more they can experiment and try different things things out rather than risk believing in one concept, investing in just that and hoping it brings magic. 2014 they have something going, 2015, 16 and 17 well meh !

    Williams are now looking at pushing raw money into their equation, they might have all the talent and brilliant minds within their engineers but what use is it if they can’t find funding to bring in on track.

  11. I have no problem with “pay drivers in F1” as it will always more or less be self-regulating. Giovanni Lavaggi wouldn’t ever have got a Ferrari drive.

    What does irk me is the extent of it we see in F2, such as Galael in the Prema. I wish for such a pure racing formula – that this factor could be reduced to the same level that F1 has.

  12. all world champions since 1992 – and many before then – came from modest backgrounds

    We shouldn’t deny Nico Rosberg his WDC or priviliged backgroud.

    1. True, I had actually overlooked his title – no excuses other than I had drawn up that list some time back and drew on it from memory. Thanks.

      1. Otherwise a great article.
        Thanks @dieterrencken

        1. Damon Hill? Jacques Villneauve? Ayrton Senna? All from wealthy families. The other champions picked up in driver programmes or big sponsors to bank roll them from national Kirtling onwards. No pleb will make it to F1 without a sponsor from a young age.

          1. Damon’s family was penniless after his father’s uninsured aircraft accident, JV’s family didn’t have much as Gilles had only just started earning good money when he died, and Senna was champion before 1992 – hence the cut-off date

  13. This is incredibly well put together, many thanks @dieterrencken. I fear from some of the comments above that your message will be missed by most. The term “pay driver” is nuanced and the internet hate nuance…even in as well read a community as this!

    Perez is a pay driver, make no mistake, the fact he has blossomed into a very good grand prix driver makes no difference. So are people like Ocon and Leclerc. At the end of the day, someone is paying for them to be in the seat and that’s the end of it. It is asinine to say its bad when your dad gives you a wad of cash to fund your racing but its fine when the person writing the cheques works in the accounts team at Mercedes or Ferrari.

    1. @geemac

      It is asinine to say its bad when your dad gives you a wad of cash to fund your racing but its fine when the person writing the cheques works in the accounts team at Mercedes or Ferrari.

      The difference is that to be sponsored by a manufacturer suggests you have earned that support with talent and hard work. Commercial sponsorship like Perez can be either, depending on how you acquired it (i.e. whether your family have connections in said company or you were talent scouted). Being payrolled by your family or their business on the other hand doesn’t require anything above basic competence, which you could say is what Stroll displayed last season.

      As there are no self-made millionaire drivers these days, by your definition they’re all pay drivers, which makes the term worthless anyway.

  14. That’s a super article. Also something I find interesting that I’d never thought about before is the case of Sergio Perez; he came into the sport as a ‘Type 2’ pay driver – backed by Ferrari – had a brief stint with McLaren as a non pay driver, and is now a Type 1 pay driver.

    1. Some of Checo’s Mexican sponsors, such as Claro, appeared on the McLaren.

  15. Dieter, I think you went too far inferring Kubica brings cash for the seat as if he wouldn’t have earned it on merit. I think, given Williams’ reputated penchant for easing the way into F1 for pay drivers in recent years, even a driver of Robert’s ilk, knew he would have to bring money to merely be considered for an opportunity. Remove the money aspect and Kubica is in the seat while Stroll and Sirotkin are working at McDonalds.

  16. RK seemingly didn’t at Renault. Folk forget that L Stroll won the F3 championship convincingly, and qualified for a drive in any event

    1. @dieterrencken Stroll won the GP3 championship in a watered down field. He HAD to be ushered into F1 by his backers (and a complicit Williams) at that time! No way they risk him being embarrassed by the likes of LeClerc, Giovanazzi, et al in GP2. This way, it was easier for Williams to justify the move because they could market him as a ‘champion’ of something. It was always the plan to give Lance that seat regardless of the talent pool in the junior categories. Had Williams done it any other way, they would have risked being exposed as cash grabbers.

      1. A coupe of things:

        Stroll raced in F3, not GP3 – and there is a substantial difference in the two categories, both quality wise and technically.
        He won 14 races versus 4 by the next best driver.
        Some of those competing in 2016 are tipped for F1
        One cannot hold a driver responsible for the quality of a field in his chosen category, although I do not agree it was watered down in any way
        He won’t be the first to bypass F2 (or similar) on the way to F1. Even if he had competed in F2 he would still be F3 champion, that accolade does not get taken away if you fail to win the next title. Verstappen did not go GP2 either.
        If a F1 drive is available, why would a driver turn it down and go GP2?

        I honestly believe you have missed the thrust of the column.

        1. @dieterrencken I stand corrected, yes F3. I understand fully the spirit of your column- which is well written by the way. The only issue I have is any perception Stroll was some type of hot commodity. I’m not aiming this at you specifically, I’m simply attacking the notion his talents rather than father’s vast wealth got him the Williams seat. One can conclusively say there were others more deserving of that Williams seat at that time. And while he can not be held accountable for the level of competition he raced against in F3, nor can it be ignored the impact of his father’s wealth on the success of his team F3 team. I’m not blaming him for taking advantage of the opportunities laid in front of him, I’m simply saying he deserves fully the public criticism as his current fortunes are owed to money as opposed to talent.

          1. All I will says in closing is that L Stroll was the ONLY driver outside of Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull drivers to score a podium in 2017. Daddy didn’t drive the car in Baku…

        2. Stroll also had his Dad contributing massive funds to Prema. And had Williams engineering the car. And Lance had much Williams F1 simulator time running in F3 mode. The Prema car was in another league that season.

          As Keith wrote:

          Prema’s rivals took note of their growing dominance and many deserted the championship. The 35-car field which assembled for the first race of 2015 fell to 21 the following year and reached a nadir of 17 at the Nurburgring, the weekend before Stroll collected the title.

          That Lance won so many F3 races isn’t fully explained by racecraft alone. He had some very clear and costly advantages. His first year in F3 was a disaster. Even with FDA chief Luca Baldisserri as his mentor.

          Verstappen bypassed F2 because Mercedes and Red Bull were fighting each other to sign Max. RBR won with a promise of the TR ride in 2015.

          What team was fighting to sign Lance strictly on merit when he was in F3?

          I watched that race in Baku. While he kept it out of the barriers – so bravo for that. He also was gifted many positions by Ocon taking out Perez with damage to Ocon’s car, by Vettel’s road rage penalty, by Hamilton’s extra pitstop for the floppy headrest, by Massa’s DNF, by Max’s DNF, by Kimi’s DNF. It was a freak race with a freak and lucky result for Stroll. If that’s a testament to driver skill…then luck trumps skill.

          As great as the position was in Baku, do I need to mention his dismal performance in the last race of 2017? Qualified poorly and finished worse. Rookie lessons not learned. Lance is not a terrible driver, just a mediocre one with world-class support and billionaire father financing. To me, he did nothing to prove otherwise in his rookie season, despite being the best prepared rookie since Lewis – almost 5000 miles in a Williams FW26 with full test team support.

  17. Ability to find and maintain sponsors from an early age is as essential today as learning to shift gears…and I don’t think it has ever hurt anyone in the seasons gone by.

  18. Hasn’t Nico Hulkenburg had long and considerable support from Dekra, @dieterrencken?

  19. Yes as per above he has a personal Dekra cap deal, throwback to his Weber Management days

  20. I don’t agree. I think a “pay” driver is not about whether someone brings money into the team. I put parenthesis around the word “pay” because there seems to be about million different definitions for the word. I think some of them are very misleading and wrong because they are based on the wrong idea. They are all based on the single fact whether a driver brings money into the team or not. Such binary view of the situation misrepresents the situation. Why do they bring money? That is the question!

    Is a driver skilled because he brings money or does he bring money because he is skilled? In other words is driver valuable for the team only because of the money he brings in or does he attract money for the team by being skilled?

    That is the question that defines what kind of driver he is. If you bring money because that is the only “skill” you have then you are a pay driver. If you bring skill that attracts money then you are not a pay driver. That is my definition but other definitions exist.

    In gt racing there is the term gentleman driver. Just like pay driver the name itself is misleading. These drivers are not hired because they act in gentlemanly fashion. It is a term for drivers who rent a seat. There is nothing wrong with that as it pays the bills and they have rules and regulations so it is clear for everybody what is going on.

    But going back to my definition. We can look at some examples. Vettel, ricciardo, schumacher, lauda, senna, stroll:

    Vettel: Was spotted by red bull at early age because of his skill. Brings money because of his skill. Without skill red bull would have never sponsored him.

    Ricciardo: Won formula bmw scholarship because of his skill. Has won many championships. Brings money because of his skill.

    Schumacher: Was spotted by Willi Weber in formula könig because of his skill. Brings money because of his skill.

    Lauda: Not only once but twice bought a seat. First in F2 and then in F1. But proved his skill and is regarded as one of the best f1 drivers by some. Lauda is a great example why simply bringing money does not make you a pay driver. You also need to bring skill. And later with ferrari lauda fulfills the definition of real talent perfectly. He brings money because of his skill.

    Senna: Born into incredibly wealthy family. Brought lots of sponsorship into his early teams (not himself but via sponsors) but also won a lot. Towards the end of his career it is crystal clear senna brought in money because of his skill.

    Stroll: Has bought his way through every championship. Buys his teams and is willing to pay insane sums of money to guarantee the best car. F3 had to make a rule limiting wind tunnel testing because of stroll escalated the costs to the extreme. Is in f1 only because he rented f1 team. That being said stroll’s f3 season is a bit like hamilton’s f1 season. If you have the best car by such a massive margin should it really count against the driver if the driver wins? I don’t think so. A driver with best car still needs to win and if he does he has done good job and earned the title.

    And even if I hate to admit it stroll did win f3. But with such massive sums I think half on that field would have done the same if not better. Out of the drivers listed stroll is the only one who would not be anywhere near f1 if he wasn’t paying tens of millions. The most definitive pay driver that there has ever been. Ever. Totally useless without money but when you bring so much money you can literally buy anything.

    I have posted earlier about how hiring stroll makes sense for williams. The benefit of good driver versus 70 million dollars to make the car faster is pretty straight forward equation. F1 is 95% about the car. 70 million buys a lot more faster car than it buys a better driver. In william’s case that 70 million surely makes the car more than 1s per lap faster compared to the 1s per lap stroll loses due to his lack of skill. And where can williams expect to finish anyways? 4th is really a difficult target when renault, force india and mclaren are competing against you for that spot.

  21. A good read but totally spoiled by putting someone like Alonso as a pay driver.
    In my book a pay driver is someone that gets in F1 mainly because of his financial back up – as opposed to someone with gets into the sport purely on merit. Following that definition considering Alonso as pay driver is almost offensive. Not only the guy comes from a very humble background but there was no doubt he entered the game only because of his skill.
    As you probably know he tested the F1 (Minardi, by far the worst car of the grid) in 1999 ONLY because he won the Nissan Formula. That day he basically smashed the competition running over two seconds faster that any other guy testing the Minardi for the first time including Italian champion of the F3000.
    A couple of facts to put things in context:
    -he was one second slower that the official driver the very first day he tried a F1 (any F1)
    -it was raining cats and dogs
    – the Minardi had 700hp compared to the 250hp of his Nissan.
    Minardi inmediatelly offered him a contract of ten years but Renault bought the contract right afterwards from Minardi with the condition that alonso will stay with the Italians the first year.
    Legend has it that Briatore made a quick offer to Minardi to get ahead of Todt (Ferrari) that was also interested in the hiring.

    All this doesn’t sound like a pay driver to me.

    1. +1

      Let’s talk again about Stroll vs Alonso comparisons when Stroll has two F1 championships on his CV.

      1. and I thought it was crystal clear from the article that there are huge difference between the various ‘pay drivers’ (drivers who bring money/sponsorship to the team).
        You both seem to agree.

    2. I think you’ll find that Alonso was Telefonica-backed into F3000, then they massaged his way into Minardi and followed him to Renault. Coincidence? Equally, he was not the first or last drver whose contracts were sold on by his manager who just so happened to be his team his at Renault. In my book that certainly makes for driver-linked funding.

  22. Stroll gets a lot of hate, for no apparent reason. Yes he didn’t have the best of years, but he managed a podium and some decent finishes. It was his first year, with new regulations and new tires. I’ll reserve my judgement for this year.

    Also the whole “pay driver” issue is being exaggerated. I am sorry, but wealthy folks have a better chance to be decent and in order participate in almost every sport, because they can afford the best trainers, equipment, managers, public relations and more. If only I had a nickel of every time I hear the “what a great talent he was but he didn’t have a good manager/coach/academy” story…

    1. While it’s true that it takes lots of money to develop into a world class racer. Once the development phase is complete, the driver’s skill and training would be enough to attract either team funding or sponsors. Nepotism is not the same as sponsorship.

      Disagree about Stroll. He is very lucky to be in F1. Not nearly on talent alone. The podium in Baku was lucky for him and bad luck for Massa with the DNF. Stroll benefited by the cars ahead dropping out or being penalized.

      Stroll was out-qualified by Massa over the season. Other than the freak wet qualifying in Monza where he lost 5 places in the race. Massa at the end of his career was still a better driver than Stroll. Watching onboard footage from Stroll’s car shows him sawing at the wheel on most occasions. Rookie technique that didn’t improve over the season. Instead he seemed to regress by the last race of the year.

      Stroll might be a decent driver, but certainly not one of the 20 best in the world. He’s amongst the best for one reason only – Daddy’s millions. I’d be happy to be surprised by a performance increase this season by Stroll – but if the new rookie at Williams outperforms…then what? Would not be surprised when he disappears from F1 as quickly as Crashnaldo when Dad’s millions stop flowing into the sport.

      1. If for a moment we forget the whole “daddy” thing, let’s say he just got in F1 the Verstappen way, straight from F3, with no money involved. Heck, he was the champion, Max was third.

        In that alternative universe, would you rate his rookie season that low @jimmi-cynic ? Yes, he had some low points, he obviously had huge trouble to bring the tyres at the optimal temps, but come on, he scored on his 7th race. He scored a podium. He was P2 in Monza, 1.2s faster than Massa in the wet. He finished 12th, one place and 3 points behind Massa. That is not a disaster in my eyes.

        Besides, almost nobody says the top 20 drivers in the world should be in F1, rather we’d like them to be. There are plenty of top drivers in other categories. Check WRC for example, the top drivers there have amazing skill, in my opinion on par with any F1 driver.

        1. @afonic: We can’t forget the ‘Daddy’ thing. As much as we’d like to. He would have been lucky get out of North American Karting without Daddy’s purse.

          let’s say he just got in F1 the Verstappen way, straight from F3, with no money involved.

          He did get straight out of F3 – with lots and lots of money. He was given lots of Williams F1 simulator time – setup for F3.

          Heck, he was the champion, Max was third.

          False. Max was already in F1 when Lance ‘won’ the F3 championship in 2016. Max was already in F1 when Lance finished 5th in F3. His success in F3 was directly influenced by the money Daddy Stroll poured into Prema and Williams.

          Stroll never competed against Max in the 2014 Italian Formula 4 championship that Lance won. In 2014, Max was competing in F3 before making the leap to F1 in 2015.

          If you are going to use the two month non-championship Florida Winter F4 Series as the glowing example of Lance’s innate skill and better performances than Verstappen, the results show that Max won two races while Lance never won at all.

          See Keith’s Lance Stroll profile.

          If Stroll was such a great talent in the lower formulas, why didn’t Mercedes and Red Bull battle each other to win Lance to their side as they did with Max?

          Lance has been mentored for years by Luca Baldisseri – the architect of much of Michael Schumacher’s success at Ferrari. He was the best prepared rookie since Hamilton – in 2016, Lance covered nearly 5000 miles in private testing in a Williams FW26 – with a full test team of mechanics / engineers – reportedly costing $80M.

          With that sort of support and testing, I would rate his rookie season as meh. Average to below average. Not saying he’s a horrible driver, he’s just an average driver with a rich kid’s ego, extraordinary financial backing, the best training and support that millions can buy. It’s not my millions, so if Williams are happy with his results that’s all that matters.

          If I’m somehow expected to give him the same respect and appreciation I have for other more gifted drivers, then Daddy Stroll is going to have to fund me at least in six figures. Then I’ll be a better Lance cheerleader than even you.

          Want to expand the top world drivers to other series? Would be surprised to see Lance in the top 500. Although as this grand experiment writ large in Stroll senior’s millions evolves it could give us insight into the nature vs nurture debate regarding racers.

          Let’s continue this discussion in 5 seasons. Compare where Max (representing Team Nature) and Lance (representing Team Nurture) are in the F1 driver standings. Could be interesting. I could be terribly wrong about Lance’s lack of top tier talent.

  23. Even if the sport overnight equalised the team’s finances and they all had the same (ridiculous, more-than-enough-amount-of-money), surely there would still be a temptation for a team to pick “a pay driver” (however we’re defining it) as the extra cash would effectively translate into advantage over everyone else…?

    Anyway I agree with the general point – the lines are so blurred that we’re never going to not have “pay drivers”.

    I think all we can do is be happy that the people bringing large amounts of cash to the table are also very talented with it and only get upset by clear examples of “that guy’s absolutely terrible but has a big wallet”. I don’t think we have any examples of that on the 2018 grid. Yes, there’s probably one or two weaker candidates, but I don’t think there’s anyone who is hilariously awful.

  24. @dieterrencken I thought the Hulk had support from DEKRA.

    1. As per above, its a cap deal, throwback to his Weber Management days

  25. Talking of pay drivers I heard Marcus Ericsson’s management tried to get him a sponsorship deal with Ikea- but they couldn’t put it together :)

    @dieterrencken – great article. I think most people understand why independents like Williams & smaller teams need to use pay drivers, to essentially stay in the sport, but I think lots of fans get frustrated when a guy comes in with money and gets a seat over a guy with more talent- I don’t think too man F1 fans would disagree that Antonio Giovinazzi deserves a seat before quite a few drivers that will be on the grid in 2018. Unfortunately its not the way it works.

    Like you say the inequity in prize money is a major problem in F1 and its going to be a big fight when they look to 2021- the big 4 want to keep their advantage and the rest want to change it. Its actually a wonder someone like Gene Haas look at the distribution structure and decided still to join (He must have seen additional benefit in exposure to Haas Automotive and that outweighed the negatives)

    1. How is Sillana linked to Ericsson?

      1. Silana has been linked to Marcus since Caterham. If you check, you’ll find them on the sidepods of the green cars, then they supported his move to Sauber. Its a very secretive company, so no further details.

  26. great article – really helps to lay out the complexities in this issue. it teases out the semantic differences between ‘pay driver’ and ‘pay driver’.

    one thing that has always interested/confused me about sponsoring junior drivers is why some drivers get sponsored and others don’t. for example, marcus ericsson has pretty substantial backing but he never showed himself to be as quick as robin frijns, who had less backing (this was always reputedly why he failed to get his big break in F1). so, why would the sponsors stick with a relative dud like ericsson? obviously there are national interests (swedish sponsors prefer swedish driver), or personal interests (stroll snr is more likely to sponsor his son than someone else), but from a financial point of view, the sponsoring company would get more return on their investment by promoting a more talented driver.

    i guess things don’t have to make sense.

    (i should also point out that i think ericsson is pretty decent – no one on the grid these days looks out of place a la lavaggi or deletraz. also, pedro diniz wasn’t that bad….:)

  27. @dieterrencken
    Asking this as a curious fan..What about Mark Webber ?
    He had some backing during his early year through ‘Yellow Pages’.
    But was he a Type 1 pay driver driver in F1 ?

  28. Well, at least from my background in Brazil when I was a kid dreaming to be a f1 driver, not being from a wealthy family prevented me from starting in the first place. When my dad looked for the costs to race in the local kart championships, they were already astonishing. So, in a way from the start, this is a sport that only people from a wealthy background might stand a chance to kickstart a career on merit only. It’s the reality of the sport. Maybe in Europe it’s a bit easier to a guy like Hamilton come from an unfavourable social condition, but on my time, all the kids that were doing karts were sons of bankers, industries and large business owners, politics, etc. I never saw a middle class kid there. I never had the slightest chance of getting started. So in a way, it’s almost impossible to not be a “pay driver” of some sort at any stage of your career. But for me it’s clear, a guy like Ricardo Rosset was a pay driver, no talent at all. Nelson Piquet Jr had a bit of talent as well, but had a career built like stroll: loads of cash, built teams around him, unlimited testing, etc.. for me it’s in a certain extent, a pay driver in the sense that probably in the same conditions other drivers would do better than him. If I think of someone that defied all the odds and raced solely on merit, it was Roberto Moreno. His story is incredible. He achieved podium finishes in F1, and this only by his merit, no backing whatsoever. Sure, he wasn’t a talent like Senna or Piquet, but I doubt a Stroll would be able to do the same as Moreno should he not had been super mega wealth. That for me shows who’s a “pay driver”.

    1. @mmertens

      Good post mate!! I wanted to race go karts as a kids but my parents divorced at 3 ( me, not them 😉)and there was no agreement in that and certainly no money! I looked at it for my 11 year old to start, and i do pretty well money wise, but it made my eyes water!! Wow!

      In your comment about Roberto Moreno- he debuted in Adelaide- Maybe 1987… or 88. Many said he wasn’t fit enough for F1- he finished maybe 5th or 7th then jumped out and hit the floor and done push ups- just to prove them wrong 💪

      1. Thanks mate! Yes, I remember when they asked if his podium at Benetton was his best achievement in F1, he told that actually his highlight was getting the absolutely woeful Andrea Moda car to qualify for Monaco Grand Prix. It was an incredible feat. He told that when he entered the pits after qualifying the car, all teams crews were applauding him. Priceless

  29. Wonderfully informative article. Many thanks, @dieterrencken!

  30. Fantastic article!

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