By Berthold Bouman
Paying for a drive in Formula One, rather than being paid, is as old as the sport itself, even Niki Lauda paid for his first Formula One race in 1972. Being labelled as a pay driver is a stigma, but as a result of the economic recession — which has also hit Formula One hard — the pay driver has made a prominent return to the sport.
German Nico Hulkenberg, now driving for Sauber, was famously ousted by Frank Williams at the end of 2010 to make way for Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado, who brought with him the money of the Venezuelan state-owned oil company PDVSA. He was labelled a pay driver, and many said that Maldonado had more money than talent.
But he in fact saved the Williams team, as many sponsors had left the Grove-based outfit at the end of 2010 and Sir Frank really didn’t have any another option. Luckily for Sir Frank and his team, Maldonado proved to be a talented driver, as he not only won the GP2 championship in 2010, but also gave Williams their first victory in eight years when he won the 2012 Spanish Grand Prix.
After his victory Sir Frank said to the many pay driver sceptics, “He [Maldonado] did a great job, he’s a very happy boy, he deserves to be. He fully deserves to be in the team with or without the dosh. The truth is that if you haven’t got the dosh you can’t go Formula One racing.” And that is of course to what it all boils down to, the dosh.
Heikki Kovalainen – Photo: Caterham F1
Last year Caterham driver Heikki Kovalainen said, “Caterham know that they’ll need to pay to keep me next season. I consider Tony [Fernandes, team owner] a good friend but he’s a businessman and he has to do what’s best for his business and, if that means bringing in a paying driver, then that’s life. But I’d rather be out of Formula One than be paying to drive.”
These proved to be Kovalainen’s famous last words, as Caterham hired two pay drivers for 2013, Frenchman Charles Pic, who has the support of Renault, and Dutchman Giedo van der Garde, who brought wealthy sponsor McGregor with him.
Timo Glock left the Marussia team because they couldn’t afford to pay him, now Max Chilton and Luiz Razia will be racing for Marussia this season, again thanks to the many sponsors they have brought with them. A tricky situation, as both drivers have very little experience in Formula One, and Marussia’s future, in fact, depends on them.
Max Chilton – Photo: Marussia F1
Chilton acknowledged it will be a difficult season not only for Marussia, but also for him. “It is not ideal and we will sometimes have a hard time. I had been looking forward to being Timo’s team mate, because of his vast experience,” he recently said. About pay drivers he commented, “Unless we were all capable, we would not be in Formula One.”
Mexican Sergio Perez was hired by Sauber because of his sponsorship, he has now moved on to McLaren, and was replaced by his compatriot Esteban Gutierrez, who also has an impressive sponsor portfolio. Sauber Team Principal Monisha Kaltenborn defended her team’s choice to give the seat to Gutierrez, “Everybody who comes into Formula One is on a high level and if there are only a limited number of seats, then of course every team is looking for the best option. Who wouldn’t?”
Toto Wolff, who is now Mercedes’ Head of Motorsport, agrees with Kaltenborn and Chilton, “The classic pay driver was one who was clearly under performing but had a big budget,” he said. “There are no drivers who are clearly under performing. Most have either won championships before, or races, there is no one who is a waste of time. You simply can’t afford to put a complete loser in the car who is two seconds off the pace because it is going to hit you hard in the long-term.”
But McLaren Team Principal Martin Whitmarsh, is clearly not a fan of pay drivers. “For me, personally I think it’s sad there are so many pay drivers in Formula One. The numbers have crept up,” said Whitmarsh. “I’m sure it’s good and exciting for those that can afford it, but you would hope in the premier form of motor racing worldwide, you would not have pay drivers.”
Esteban Gutierrez – Photo: Sauber Motorsport
And he added, “That means there are some good young, professional drivers who can’t get in and aren’t getting in.” Some of the pay drivers shouldn’t even be in Formula One said Whitmarsh, “It’s sad to say, but the reason that some of those guys are pay drivers, not all of them, but the reason that some are pay drivers is because they are actually and fundamentally not good enough to be in Formula One.”
But he understands why teams need pay drivers, “It’s difficult in Formula One for us to say to some of these teams ‘you can’t have pay drivers’. Sadly, they have become an important constituent of their budget, so I wouldn’t want to condemn them.”
And indeed, these drivers contribute to their team’s budget, and without them they wouldn’t survive. The Spanish HRT racing team ceased to exist as it became increasingly more difficult to find enough money for another season in Formula One. HRT also had in their short existence a long history of pay drivers, but that still wasn’t enough to survive.
Formula One has now become the survival of the financially fittest, and inevitably, if no action is taken, more teams will not survive. Although they deny they have financial problems, Marussia is dancing on the edge of the volcano, if they don’t improve their performance, they will not score any points this season and will not get any money from the sports commercial owners, and Formula One could lose another team next year.
Giedo van der Garde – Photo: Caterham F1
FOM CEO Bernie Ecclestone doesn’t really care, he would be satisfied with only ten teams on the grid, “I’d rather have ten [teams], I never wanted 12. It’s just that ten is easier to handle, for the promoters, for transport. We’d rather have ten … so long as we don’t lose Ferrari.”
It seems former FIA President Max Mosley’s efforts to give other teams a chance in Formula One by restricting the spending of the existing teams, has become a failure. Current FIA President Jean Todt has shelved the RRA (Resource Restriction Agreement), which means the big teams like Red Bull, Ferrari and McLaren, still spend ten times more than the smaller teams.
Ecclestone already said in 2011 the RRA was doomed from the start, “I think it was probably dead before it started. It is very, very difficult for all these people who are competing with each other to agree [on] anything that’s going to stop their ability to win.”
By Berthold Bouman
Lewis Hamilton, who will leave his current team and will drive for Mercedes next season, has shown a sudden interest in the details of his McLaren MP4-27, that is the claim of the UK Independent newspaper. According to the newspaper Hamilton has shown a renewed interest in the technical aspects of his McLaren, especially the exhaust system and the telemetry seem to be his favourites.
During the Friday FIA press conference at Suzuka, Hamilton tried to dodge questions about his move to Mercedes, and when again quizzed about his new employer he said, “I’m not really here to talk about that this weekend. I’m here to talk about trying to win this World Championship still.”
Sergio Perez wasn’t interested in talking about his new employer either, and said he was also concentrating on the six final races of the season. But when Hamilton was asked about Perez taking over his car next year, he couldn’t help himself saying, “Trust me, it will be a good car next year as well, I know.” And then he turned to Perez and jokingly said, “I know exactly what’s going on next year with your car!”
McLaren Team Principal Martin Whitmarsh tried to play down the risk Hamilton could take McLaren’s secrets to Mercedes, “I think Lewis has been part of the team for a long time, I think he knows the people and what we’re trying to do, but I don’t think there’s any great secrets in that, so I don’t think it’s a concern.”
And he added, “I think if I was pursuing intellectual property from other teams, I’d probably go for engineers not drivers.” And Whitmarsh further commented, “But I think, again, Lewis is respectful of the team and what it’s doing, and I think he knows we’re going to do everything we can in the remaining six races to try and win, and try and win some championships. The best way to do that is to work together, be open and carry on as you ordinarily would.”
Most driver contracts have a clause that says drivers are not allowed to pass technical information when they leave their team to join another team, but Hamilton is of course at liberty to tell Mercedes what he has learned and has been taught at McLaren, and what he can still remember about his car.
But that is all theoretically of course, and meanwhile McLaren will certainly not give him more inside information about the 2013 McLaren, as he will not drive it in 2013. And last but not least, neither Hamilton, nor his boss-to-be, Ross Brawn, are fools; Hamilton will certainly not show up at the Mercedes headquarters in Brackley with a briefcase under his arm containing all McLaren’s ‘secrets’.
And that is why Hamilton said, “We’ve got six races ahead in a great team that I’ve had a great, an incredible journey with, and I’m working on trying to finish that on a high.”
By Berthold Bouman
The FIA has revised the regulations concerning the flexibility of aerodynamic parts, as McLaren allegedly used a new front wing design that enabled the front wing to flex backwards. The German Auto, Motor und Sport magazine reported Ferrari had complained about the McLaren wing and had asked FIA officials to act, as the Maranello-based team thought the wing was illegal.
The new trick this time is that the wing can move as the pillars that support it, can rotate or ‘twist’ in such a way that under high speed the wing moves backwards a bit, there is less drag and thus the trick results in a higher top-speed on the straights. Also the airflow under the car is improved, which has an effect on the way the air passes through the rear diffuser, which gives more traction.
Red Bull was the first team to recognise the potential of the new idea, and introduced a new longer nose during the Singapore Grand Prix that could even rotate further than the one used by McLaren.
McLaren Team Principal Martin Whitmarsh this week said the new flexing wing saga was just ‘business as usual’, “From time to time questions and disputes arise between teams, who feel that other teams are too flexible or whatever. I don’t envisage any particular problems for McLaren in that regard, and consequently I don’t think that it is anything that will harm us.”
Red Bull design wizard Adrian Newey, however, thinks the tightness of the regulations are the real culprit. “I think it is a shame that they are so tight in a way, there’s no doubt that it stifles some of the creativity. But that’s the world we live in,” he said. The competition is also tight Newey said, “The grid is so tight if you can find two tenths of a second in the final qualifying session, that can move you quite a few grid positions.”
According to Autosport, the FIA has now revised the way the flexibility is tested, the new test should now expose any twisting of the pillars as well. It is also understood all teams passed the new test at Suzuka today, but teams were warned in advance so they might have changed their front wings to pass the test.