With Marussia terminating Timo Glock’s contract due to the tough economic conditions it has highlighted F1s reliance on pay drivers to maintain the sport. Whilst some F1 fans may think that pay drivers are bad for the sport, the reality is they have been and always will be part of F1.
It is fair to say that since the introduction of three new teams to F1 in 2010 the pay driver has been more widely recognisable. Caterham, Marussia and HRT were dependent on pay drivers to build their teams in a world were the economy was and still is struggling.
Both Marussia and Caterham had previously built their teams on one salaried driver and one pay driver but the current economic climate has seen this nearly impossible to do. Whilst Glock would have brought sponsorship to the Marussia team this was not enough to compensate for the three million Euros he was paid in 2012. Compare this with ‘pay driver’ Charles Pic who brought around 5 million Euros to the team but was paid just 150,000 Euros it is clear to see that the team could struggle financially.
The situation was similar at Caterham where it now looks as though Heikki Kovalainen will face 2013 outside F1. The Finn was being paid roughly four million Euros in 2012 whilst teammate and pay driver Vitaly Petrov was being paid just 500,000 Euros but brought £12 million in sponsorship. Petrov ended up finishing ahead of Kovalainen in the drivers standings and helped Caterham to 10th in the constructors showing that pay drivers can prove their worth.
Many fans complain that pay drivers do not deserve to be in F1 since they do not have the ability of their non-paying colleagues. However whilst these drivers bring money they do bring talent too. Take for example Pastor Maldonado and Sergio Perez. Both are pay drivers with money from Venezuela and Mexico respectively and they have proved that they are just as good as paid drivers. Maldonado may be wild but he won the Spanish Grand Prix and Perez may be inconsistent but he scored three podiums in 2012.
Conversely there are examples of teams exploiting the pay driver, namely HRT. In the 2010 season HRT fielded four drivers- all of which were pay drivers- with two (Karun Chandhok and Sakon Yamamoto) receiving no paid salary.
There was a similar occurrence in 2011 where three drivers raced for HRT, however one of these was Daniel Ricciardo a Red Bull protege. Red Bull ‘paid’ for Ricciardo’s drive hence without the funding and being a ‘pay driver‘ Ricciardo would never have got his chance in F1.
The way that HRT appeared to exploit the pay driver set-up is nothing new. In the 1975 and 1976 seasons Frank Williams Racing Cars- the predecessor to Williams F1- had ten different drivers who drove for the team. As a consequence of this rules regarding the number of drivers that could be used in each season were tightened.
The idea of the pay driver is not a novel one and many famous drivers- even world champions- have been pay drivers at some point in their careers. Both Michael Schumacher and Fernando Alonso started out as pay drivers in their early careers, as did three time world champion Niki Lauda.
Similarly Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton’s careers would not have been possible without financial support and backing from Red Bull and McLaren. Every driver one way or another has had some financial backing to reach F1 and the backing is crucial to the teams to help develop the sport.
Whilst not everyone is going to agree with F1 teams recruiting pay drivers the reality is the sport needs these drivers, especially in the tough economic climate. The pay driver is an essential part of F1 with sponsorship harder to find. Despite negativity towards todays pay drivers they are more talented and competitive than ever and they are deserving of their place in the sport.