Friday, March 5, 2010

The New Era of Pay Driver’s!

The one real thing which happened in the 90’s was that though the entry of manufacturers insanely hiked the budgets of various teams but with the likes of Mercedes, BMW, Honda, Toyota, Renault and Ford all either started teams or closely aligned with constructors and the likes of Jordan, Sauber and Minardi were the last set of independent teams and apart from Sauber who after taken over by BMW is once again back as an independent team this year while Williams after a bad marriage with BMW which finally ended in 2005 was at one stage the only independent team in the grid.

With the global financial downturn, big names like BMW, Honda and Toyota have all left the sport while Renault only exists in its name while teams like Red Bull, Toro Rosso and Force India are financed by billionaire entrepreneurs. Also the FIA had such a dicey selection process where known names like Prodrive and Lola missed out while teams like Manor, Campos & USF1 made the grid. Off the 3, manor due to Virgin’s backing did not have any problem launching while Campos is now taken over by Jose Ramon Carabante and renamed the team Hispania Racing F1 Team while USF1 has shut shop.

The influx of new teams and the high cost of the sport have forced even established teams Sauber and Renault to look for drivers with some money as otherwise Nick Heidfeld would have still made it to the grid. The issue with under funded team entering the sport is a huge risk as their cars are 5 seconds slower than most of the grid and Hispania Racing is going to start the grid in Bahrain with 2 rookie drivers with no testing. The teams would not have any qualms about overtaking a slow car but then a car which can potentially drop parts is highly dangerous and looking at what happen to Massa, this will be a concern for all the teams.

There are five new boys: Nico Hulkenberg, Vitaly Petrov, Karun Chandhok, Bruno Senna and Lucas di Grassi. Of the lot, Nico Hulkenberg has proved himself at all the previous levels of racing while Lucas di Grassi has been a test driver with Renault and does deserve a spot on the grid. Vitaly Petrov is a decent driver who did finish runner-up to Hulkenberg in GP2 but without his money he may not have made it to the grid. Bruno Senna is decently talented but got his break due to his last name while Chandhok is purely in because of the money he managed to bring in for the team.

There is an argument that GP2 or any other lower formulas is an indication on the talent as we had Kimi who came through after just a handful races at open wheel racing while Kamui Kobayashi did not exactly set the world on fire in GP2 but have shown that he is an extremely quick driver and with a fast car can go wheel to wheel with anyone. Though guys like Hamilton, Rosberg, Kubica and Vettel who have come through the ranks of lower formula have all done consistently well at those levels and of course for every Hamilton you will have a Nelson Piquet who despite good credentials at junior formulas failing at the highest level.

F1 is an expensive sport where but the era of pay drivers is something which should be avoided as guys like Chandhok who apart from a few wins in GP2 in 3 years has not exactly set the world on fire but him racing ahead of a talented youngster like Paul di Resta or a veteran like Heidfeld is just bringing the standard of the grid down. 2010 is having one of the strongest grids ever with the likes of Schumacher, Alonso, Hamilton, Button, Vettel, Massa and Webber all eying for the championship along with the likes of proven drivers like Rosberg, Barrichello, Kubica, Sutil, Trulli & Glock along with exciting youngsters like Kobayashi and Hulkenberg is just amazing for the sport. You will always have the likes of failed drivers like Heikki Kovalainen and guys making comeback like Vitantonio Liuzzi but the grid should not be weakened by the era of drivers coming in due to their money.

These names will come and go but as with the case of established teams like even Jordan and Sauber at times due to financial constraints have to employee pay drivers as a one off basis and this should not become the norm like how Minardi used to run it but then Minardi also gave us the likes of Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber from time to time. It would be great if the new teams can provide talented drivers a start in F1 but then giving it to the guys with the most money is just not the right thing to do. Off the rookies, the most likely to impress will be Nico Hulkenberg while Vitaly Petrov may just prove everyone wrong and prove that he too deserves his seat.

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