McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh believes the presence of pay drivers, some of whom wouldn’t otherwise make it to F1, is hurting the sport
Many teams have needed to add drivers that bring considerable financial clout to their line-ups, rather than pick drivers with the most talent or proven ability, in an attempt to balance their books. While pay drivers are not a new to F1, Timo Glock’s exit from Marussia because the team needed a driver who could pay for his seat has served as a stark reminder of the problem.
Whitmarsh concedes that the situation is far from ideal.
“I think, personally, it’s sad to have so many pay drivers in Formula One,” he is quoted as saying by ESPN.
“The numbers have crept up, and while I’m sure it’s good and exciting for those that can afford it, you would hope that in the premier form of motorsport worldwide that you wouldn’t have to have pay drivers and that means there are some good young, professional drivers who can’t get in and aren’t getting in.
“If you look at the churn of drivers it’s very low. One reason is because teams are conservative and don’t take risks [with their line-ups] and the risks that are taken materialise in instant revenue for the team but don’t materialise in driver potential for the future. 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.”
The Briton believes that the issue needs to be addressed and while pay drivers are likely to always be present in F1, changes need to be made in lower formulas.
“One of the sad things is that in those junior categories, because those teams are making a business, the good teams get second- or third-year, well-budgeted drivers. I think if you said, in lower formulas, that a driver can only stay for two years in a junior category and each team has to have a rookie then I think you’d cleanse the system there,” he said.
“I think it’s difficult in Formula One for us to say to some the teams that you can’t have pay drivers because sadly they have become an important constituent of the budget. In the junior categories, having drivers that are around for four or five years because they can afford to be there just clogs up the system. If the top teams had to have a rookie then I think they’d be a fight over the good rookies at the bottom and they’d get sucked in because those competitive teams need them and they’d get accelerated through.”