‘A quarter of the grid is heavily-financed’: Why F1 is snubbing junior star Piastri

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A sport is only as sustainable as its seam of future talent, and in this regard Formula 1 is no different. Indeed, under FIA president Jean Todt and Stefano Domenicali, the president of the single-seater commission before the Italian accepted Formula 1’s top job, the ‘ladder’ has been streamlined and better promoted to theoretically enable youngsters to progressively rise through the ranks from Formula 4 through F3 and F2 to F1.

Both F3 and F2 are on the supporting bills of F1 and globally broadcast to display the best youngsters to team bosses, sponsors and fans. These and other series award superlicence points which enable the governing body and teams to gauge when a driver is ready for promotion to the premier league – the more the superlicence points accrued, the readier the driver should be. That is the theory.

But even the best staircases are of zero use if the top rung of the ladder leads to nowhere but empty sky. A number of hopefuls are fast discovering that if no open seats exist even the richest haul of superlicence points is as useless as slick tyres during a full-on Spa storm. That said, at least Spa dries up at some stage, whereas the dearth of opportunities is unlikely to be alleviated any time soon.

F1 is seemingly on a mission to bar new teams entering, having devised an anti-dilution fee of $200m to be paid by newcomers and split amongst existing teams. Thus, F1 seems set to remain at 20 cockpits through to, at least, 2026. With F1’s ‘new era’ regulations coming into force in 2022, increasingly complex cars and restrictions on testing, teams are sticking to experience rather than giving youth a chance.

F3 winner Piastri may succeed Schumacher as F2 champion
Moreover, F2’s regulations decree that the champion is thereafter excluded from the series. Thus, the best talents face the most vicious of circles: no chance to gain the slightest experience and no F1 experience to gain the slightest chance of a seat, leaving no single seater options save IndyCar. Unless you have a multi-billionaire in the family, or your exotic passport fits a particular market.

In the process champions end up unemployed and secondary talents are promoted. There is an argument that it has always been thus; that in F1 bucks have always counted for more than ability. However, when even highly talented academy drivers with backing from the likes of Renault, Ferrari and Red Bull have nowhere to go then the sport has truly raced itself down a dead-end track.

As this is written exactly six months remain to the start of the 2022 season, yet just a single seat remains to be filled. This is at Sauber-run Alfa Romeo, where 41-year-old Kimi Raikkonen, who came into F1 in 2001, is heading for retirement. As many as five drivers, ranging from Alfa Romeo placement Antonio Giovinazzi through Formula E champion Nyck de Vries to Chinese F2 driver Guanyu Zhou, are linked to the drive.

However, Australian Oscar Piastri, whose junior championship record rivals those of Charles Leclerc and George Russell, is not on that list.

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“I think I’ve done a good job of putting myself in a pretty prime position for an F1 seat,” the 20-year-old Alpine development driver said in Monza after taking pole position for the weekend’s main F2 event. “I’ve won two championships in a row and [I’m] leading a third. We’re still only halfway through this F2 year so a lot can still change.

George Russell, Formula Two, Yas Marina, 2018
Mercedes promoted Russell to F1 after his double title win
“But all the moves in F1 are happening now or have already happened. So it’s a bit disappointing the way it’s kind of played out because I really don’t know what more I could have done.”

Piastri is on course for a remarkable trio of consecutive titles: Having won the Formula Renault Eurocup in 2019 and FIA Formula 3 series last year, he is leading the Formula 2 standings after 15 of 24 races. He is supported by compatriot and nine-time grand prix winner Mark Webber, who admits he would not have made it into F1 had he not been handed a break by Paul Stoddard’s perennially underfunded Minardi team. There were 11 teams – and therefore 22 cars – on the grid at the time.

“Sometimes in Formula 1 timing can be a little bit against you and ultimately he’s been a little bit of a victim of his own success in terms of the speed he’s come through,” believes Webber.

“When you have a [super]licence and there’s no seats it’s obviously not much use,” he said in an exclusive interview. “25% of the grid now are heavily-financed drivers, so that’s the way it is currently. But it probably won’t be any higher than that in the future, hopefully.

“Then we may get a [few] more of the guys that come through with the desire, passion, intensity. The sport has to hunt for the [next] Leclerc, Verstappen, Norris, Russell. That’s what the sport is about, they want to be there, they want to win, and they’re self-motivating individuals. That’s what Oscar is. There are some young [drivers] that I believe are ready for F1 and Oscar is certainly one of them.”

Webber believes another problem is the slow rate of turnover among those who have seats. “In Formula 1 its sometimes harder to get out than to get in,” he suggests. “We see some drivers, they just can’t leave and teams sometimes don’t quite have the balls to go for young talent [so] they recycle some guys that have those 100 grands prix under their belt.”

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The former Red Bull driver admits they can’t compete with “the money that’s in the pipeline” of young driver talent. “Oscar doesn’t need to: He’s bringing performance, he’s bringing the stopwatch, he’s bringing one of the key facets. And his level of maturity for his age is extraordinary.

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“We know [funding] can turbocharge it if you’ve got eight figures, but that’s something Oscar has never had and never will have so he’s going to have to get there on talent alone.”

The saving grace for Piastri could be F1’s plans to institute compulsory running Friday running for rookies. This would not only provide crucial experience but could (and should) enable youngsters to shine on the same day in the same kit on the same track as regular drivers.

“That’s an absolute no-brainer for Alpine,” says Webber. “If [Oscar] wins the championship he’s unemployed in junior racing, he can’t race [in F2] of course but he’ll have a lot of superlicence points. So that won’t be a problem.”

That may be so but an F2 champion, whoever he may be once all points are tallied, surely deserves more than regulatory Friday running. If F1 hopes to have a sustainable future it has an inherent responsibility to deliver real opportunities for talents such as Piastri.

British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli once said, “The youth of a nation are the trustees of posterity.” That holds true for F1, too.

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Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...

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75 comments on “‘A quarter of the grid is heavily-financed’: Why F1 is snubbing junior star Piastri”

  1. F1 reality, yeah.

  2. The ‘steamlining’ the ladder had the effect of reducing the number of seats worth racing in. Decrease supply… and what do you get? Increased prices. This was so obvious day 1 when they started all this with he super licence nonsense.

    1. Yeah, I agree, there is really only one route to F1 now, via FIA F3 and F2. Compare to 20-30 years ago, when future champions came in from a variety of places: Schumacher (German F3 and sportscars), Hakkinen (various national F3 championships), Hill (F3000) and Villeneuve (IndyCar) all had very different routes to the top.

    2. I totally agree. And by making F2 and F3 international it create even more barrier for this have not to compete. At least national competition can be somewhat reasonably cost comparatively

      1. The have not. Not this

      2. Interesting point. The addition of having to do some level of multiple round international competition to accrue the points is not something I’d thought of.

  3. Surely it is Webber’s job to go and get money behind him if it is hamstringing his career

    1. It’s not easy finding 30,000,000 euros for one year in car racing.

    2. This was my thought as well. Renault (now Alpine) have a history of not affording their juniors any opportunities in Formula 1, so Webber should have avoided Piastri signing with them. You can’t tell me with Piastri’s performances, he wasn’t in the picture by anyone else (and if he wasn’t, I’d consider that to be to blame on Webber, too) that would’ve had a more likely chance to land him in F1?

      Yes, seats in F1 are limited and that means some people will fall outside of the boat. But Piastri shouldn’t be one of them, and his manager bears at least a significant part of the responsibility for that, I would argue.

      The one thing that does need to change, aside from the obvious of removing all the roadblocks for new teams to appear or having teams field optional third cars for rookies, is that the rule for the F2 champion needing to be removed from the championship has got to go. If there’s no chance of the F2 champ getting promoted to F1, having him fade into obscurity because he isn’t allowed to drive in F2 anymore is the wrong way to go. This is now the second time a F2 champion (potentially) will disappear elsewhere and that’s just hard to come back from.

      1. @sjaakfoo He really wasn’t in the picture for any of the other academies, because all of them had too many drivers at the point Renault picked Oscar up (at that, he was only picked up at the start of last year and that only because he took the F3 title. Australia just isn’t a big market right now, which was true when Webber was in junior series and has not changed).

  4. The move to keep the grid at 20 cars is one of the most ridiculous and self-defeating actions ever taken in a sport not exactly unfamiliar with ridiculousness and self-defeat.

    1. Indeed, Jules Bianchi, George Russell and even Fernando Alonso showed that it is possible for a young driver to shine in below average material in F1, so if I was the FIA/FOM I’d be pushing for 1 to 2 new teams to join the grid as soon as possible to open iup more seats for promising youngsters.

    2. @red-andy Although this is true, it’s also relevant that these new teams be willing to sign these young promising drivers. Let’s not forget that the likes of Virgin/Marussia, Lotus/Caterham, and HRT would usually sign terrible pay drivers or old drivers rather than the likes of Piastri. Ricciardo and Ocon are probably the only ones who established themselves in F1 from those teams, and both of them got the drive midway through the season once a pay-driver was dropped. More seats in F1 would be welcome, but as long as we don’t get the likes of Karthikeyan, Pic, Ericsson, de La Rosa, Glock, etc. hogging these seats. Let’s be real, the most likely scenario would be that if there were more 6 seats available in F1, we would just see more Nikita Mazepins in the sport than Oscar Piastris.

      Junior teams in F1 might be the way to go perhaps. If Mercedes or Ferrari had their own Alpha Tauri instead of partnering with private teams, we’d see more of these promising drivers in F1. Because say what you will about the Red Bull Academy, the one thing their juniors can’t complain about is not getting a seat in F1.

      1. @mashiat The pay driver issue was itself down to the team opportunity being mis-advertised – Max Mosley had claimed to anyone who would listen that F1 2010 would cost $40 m, which he had not and did not secure. Entries were closed before Max was in a position to admit he could not secure it. Thus, all the small teams were suddenly expected to work with an expected budget 2.5 times that planned, which is why none of them could square the books (For anyone claiming Bianchi as the exception to the “only replacements turned out to be able to get in as low-budget talents”, he was himself a substitute for Luiz Razia, it just happened Luiz’s payments dried up before the 2013 season started instead of halfway).

    3. Yeah this non-dilution nonsense has to go.

  5. I get what he means about the older drivers staying in the sport for quite a while, but at the same time I think the age spread in F1 is quite healthy. Ultimately F1 needs more than 20 cars on the grid, aiming for 24 should be the aim but for some reason they seem committed to just 20. So much money in the sport, they could make it happen for sure.

    Also Webber with the Disraeli quote there at the end, where did that come from!!

    1. It might be because there simply is very little money for teams who come in. Haas have only survived due to the backing.

      But it has always been like that

    2. Hehe think that might be Dieter’s insertion not Webber quoting.

    3. I fully agree. People refer to the 1980’s as the golden era of Formula 1 and 15 or more teams at times. The anti dilution fee is absurd.

    4. @john-h He didn’t say that quote.

      1. Ah yes, my bad @jerejj

  6. Piastri not getting a seat in F1 is just ridiculous.

    He’s more talented that a few already in F1.

    Sigh. One of the many reasons F1 annoys people.

  7. A quarter of the grid is heavily financed, and you have drivers in top teams who are only there because the owner also owns the company that manages the driver.

    Toto has always been corrupt as hell

    1. I agree, but you can hardly blame them. FIA should regulate this process or decide anything goes and make it one big commercial circus. I personally wouldnt mind exploring the football model, focusing on teams rather than drovers. If you perform well in F2 (top 3) you go to F1. If you are bottom 3 in F1 you get demoted to F2 etc. Change drivers as you like. Pay them what you like. Team are not allowed to have paying drivers.

      1. Why are you singling out Toto ? Just because you don’t like it does not change the fact that it is a business practice very common in this industry, he is not the only and /or the worst at it. You might want to tack a look at how the drink company has been treating there own academy drivers.

        1. Sorry, I was addressing Jeff’s comment

      2. You’ll have to accept losing at least three teams, in that case.

    2. Or in the case of Lance that daddy owns the team. When Mazepin’s father buys out Haas in 2023 with Putin’s cash that will make it 10% of the grid

  8. Very well written. Can feel and share the disgust Dieter has towards the most successful junior driver in years not having a sniff at a F1 seat. Also with the closed house of 10 teams. No reason F1 shouldn’t be up at 13.

    1. @Darran 12, 13 teams, whatever, but only if the slowest ones weren’t moving chicanes like in 2010-2012.

      1. Ricciardo was in one of the moving chicanes.

          1. Well, not right then obviously – but the same team…

          2. Ok – just to correct myself…
            Ricciardo, Webber and Alonso all drove in ‘mobile chicanes.’

            Nothing to see here. Move along now.

      2. That’s likely what will happen unless the new teams get shared tech a la Red Bull / Toro Rosso

  9. News shocker: Top talent didn’t make it into the club. A story as old as time itself.

  10. A message to F1:

    We don’t want to see the sons of billionaires driving around in Daddy’s car on a Sunday.

    Give us real talent.

  11. How about making teams field a third car?

    That car has to be driven by a rookie that brings no finance to the team.

    The rookie driver only gets one year in the car and the following year a new rookie must take their place.

    If F1 also imposes a maximum contract length of 2 years on drivers then it would give teams the opportunity to consider signing a rookie driver that impressed in their 1st year rather than re-signing an established driver.

    It would keep current drivers on their toes and give F1 a steady flow of new blood.

    1. Alternatively, ditch the pointless Sprint Race and instead have a Rookie Race every Saturday with a separate Championship.

      1. @sonnycrockett That would be quite exciting, but not if they wreck Sunday’s race car, so would have to be a 3rd car and that will probably be too expensive.

        1. @balue

          Maybe the rookies could race using the prior year’s car?

      2. I would have the saturday race race fielding one junior driver and one regular driver (regulars each doing the same number of races), and have it pay only constructors points

        1. @fullcoursecaution

          I like that.

          Each teams’ worst performing regular driver in qualy has to drop out of the sprint race!

          1. And the regular drivers get the current 3, 2 or 1 points for 1st, 2nd anf 3rd but any rookies that finish in the top 10 get the equivalent of normal race points for their position i.e. 25, 18, 15, 12 etc.

            Imagine how hard those rookies would be fighting to win!

            Right, I think we’ve sorted this one out for Liberty. Next… world peace!

    2. @sonnycrockett Third car is about $25 m per team, and most teams don’t have the budget for it.

  12. To increase the number of cars/teams on the grid would be a solution. However, I think this would mean that the cars would have to be simplified to reduce cost and make it possible for teams to survive without backing from a billionaire. And that could mean the pinnacle of motorsports would no longer be that.

    1. The cars are ‘overly simplified’ already in terms of the available technology that’s been banned from the sport, so that’s not a good argument against simplification of the formula. F1 is a weird technical entity now where it’s hyper refinement of out-of-date tech essentially.

      I don’t think a change in technical specifications would diminish the pinnacle aspect of it. But it’s a complex problem to solve. But I am not sure we are in an environment where new teams can be formed. Those days are long gone because the infastructure required and investment. Where’s the money coming from?

    2. The cars are being simplified and the pinnacle of motorsport will no longer be what it was. This has been happening for years

  13. Person with interest in advancement of successful junior driver unhappy with not being able to secure said advancement.

    So, does that mean that once again, Mark Webber isn’t doing as good a job as he ought to?

  14. In 2012, we were faced with a similar situation. Robin Frijns had just won Formula BMW Europe, Formula Renault Eurocup and Formula Renault 3.5 on the trot, beating a host of Red Bull, Ferrari and McLaren juniors along the way. Red Bull offered him a place in their academy, but Frijns turned them down, likely citing the cut-throat approach of their academy at the time. Instead he went off to race for the middling Hilmer Motorsport in GP2, ran out of money and that’s all she wrote.

    Now we have less championships in the ladder. Renault/Alpine don’t have much presence in touring cars either, so the old Mercedes approach of putting someone in DTM or sportscars while they mature (Frentzen, Schumacher, Di Resta, Wehrlein and Ocon) is likely out of the picture too. A Super Formula excursion worked wonders for ex F2 champions Vandoorne and Gasly, but with the pandemic still ongoing no one wants to risk doing a Vips. Alpine have proven that unless you’re French, or you have money, you’re not worthy of investment.

    1. They invested a lot in a certain Spaniard….

      1. Mate you know I was talking about the younger drivers. Alonso is a special case.

  15. There is a pretty easy way to resolve the issue of ridiculous cost to run an F1 team (to expand the amount of teams on the grid) and thats to allow single car teams. only running one car literally halves the cost. Maybe that would be a way of getting some of this talent on the grid, rather than just the sons of wealthy businessmen.

    1. only running one car literally halves the cost.

      No, it doesn’t. It doesn’t even half the costs of running the car, which in turn is just a small part of the costs of partaking in Formula 1.

    2. Not sure about your maths, but designing a car costs the same amount no matter how many you build…
      Once the R&D and tooling is done, cars/parts can be churned out for relatively little cost.
      If one car cost $10m for instance, two can be built for $12m. That’s not double.

      And being able to extract only 50% of the data from any given track session would inevitably put the car even further behind the rest of the field as the season progresses.
      One car teams would be even less financially viable.

      1. True, maybe 3 car teams is the answer then, not much higher cost.

        1. Yes, a third car is cheap. Unfortunately, no one has any desire to see three Mercedes (or before that Red Bull, or Ferrari, or McLaren) on the podium, or hardly anyone but the quickest 4 teams getting into the points with any regularity.

    3. No, it reduces costs by $25 m. Which still leaves teams spending up to $120 m, or 50% more than of the class of 2010.

  16. Bring back the T-car

  17. The whole world works like that way, I don’t see how F1 can be an exception.
    Secondly too many variables involved in racing unlike sitting for an examination.
    Many potentially great drivers have missed out on F1 for this same reason.
    The FIA’s points system now helps those with more cash.

    1. Not the whole world. There are still sports that are about merit only.

  18. So closer to the end of the season you might get the odd situation that Oscar Piastri is deliberately dropping points to become runner up in F2 rather than F2 champion so he has another year in F2 and hopefully a better chance to get a F1 seat for 2023.

    1. Having read the article, that’s the conclusion I came to – if no seats available, ditch the championship and go again. Hardly a good advertisement for F2. Surely if you take the F2 Championship and aren’t permitted to go again you should almost be guaranteed a seat for a season in F1. How that would work – no idea but the FIA could provide funding to the team that takes the F2 champion on to make it enticing for teams and to dilute the appeal of taking on a sub standard driver with backing

  19. I think with Piastri things haven’t aligned for him. He’s a Renault driver but Alonso and Ocon. Alonso is towards the end of his career and may only spend another season in F1. Piastri may be the obvious replacement but he is threatening to progress through the ranks too fast. It’s a nice problem to have for Renault but frustrating for Piastri.

    1. If Alonso was guaranteed to retire after 2022 it wouldn’t be the worst thing for Piastri to spend a year with third driver duties and/or racing in a low-pressure, low-profile sportscar or touring car series before stepping up to F1 a year later. But you get the sense Alonso will decide his own future based on how competitive Alpine is with the new rules; ironically Piastri’s biggest hope is that Alpine produce an uncompetitive car. If not he could end up becalmed somewhere and forgotten about.

  20. It is also relevant to note that F2 has only 22 seats, whereas F3 has 30, so the streamlining starts happening further down the road.

    1. That’s true @major-dev, although drivers tend to stick around in F2 or F3 for much less time, so turnover of seats is much higher.

  21. Maybe IndyCar will expand out of the US.

  22. This is why F1 needs to abandon it’s ‘closed shop’ attitude and open up to more teams.

    We are way past the times when we’d end up with the likes of Andrea Moda, EuroBraun, Life, Colini, etc.

    We’d might even still have Manor and/or Catherham around.

    1. do we really want that though. they sucked

  23. They should make a rule where F2 champion should have a vacant seat in F1 next year. Of course that could make F2 the “new billionaires’ sons club. It partly is, so the problem a big one.

    1. I think they should abandon the ‘F2 winner can’t defend their title’ rule

  24. Maybe F1 (liberty) has a single car team so the F2 winner is always guaranteed a seat in F1. One year only rotating to the new champ. If that driver proves themselves they might get a seat. If not…Out!

  25. Probably another reason F1 is destined to be a spec series. Any number of cars or teams they want.
    First it will become single spec engine (there’s a good recent article here on that), then the changes made for 2022 will be followed up with more restrictions and F1 will be F2 with turbo hybrid PUs.
    Bring on the reverse grid races and points for pole!

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