Pay Drivers have always been on the grid in F1 and will always remain in the sport! It is just next to impossible to avoid pay drivers in F1. In a sense both Michael Schumacher and Fernando Alonso both had to pay for their first slots but then it was by their sponsors, which is similar to few drivers in the grid and it does not always mean that they are bad. There are 2 types of pay drivers – one who are good but needs some financial backing to get into the sport and others well little said about them is better. Also there are talented drivers who have vanished from the sport because of lack of funds while some mediocre ones continue to appear on the grid.
Ever since the strict tobacco bans came about one sport which has been deeply affected is F1. There was a time when Marlboro was sponsoring both Ferrari & McLaren and nearly every single car on the grid has some cigarette brand on them. Smoking cigarette is injurious to health but just because we see Marlboro on Ferrari does not mean that we are going to go out rushing and buying packs. If Alonso smokes a Marlboro and then drives it may influence people but then having stickers on car does not influence at all. It has been more than a decade since the ban kicked on and people still smoke. Everyone millions of new people join the smoking brigade.
With the global economy in a very bad state there was a time when the top companies had the budget of a third world country but gone are those days and barring a few teams a majority of them lack cash and would not mind more money coming in. Cost cutting and other FIA introduced policies may work but then this is F1 the pinnacle of motorsport so I personally feel like the best of technology should be showcased. I do agree testing 365 days a year is a bit too much but next to zero testing is also not good. FIA for its bit got in 3 news teams recently and among them only Caterham have been decent while Maurussia is there just to get track time while HRT well is a big joke! I would rather see only 10 teams than have 14 teams with teams like HRT on the grid.
In the current grid there are as many as 7 who are in some way of the other classified as pay drivers but then a few can hold on their spot on but still in way their pay driver status helps them get a spot easily over their rivals. Paul di Resta is good enough for a top team but his Force India ride is easier with the Mercedes backing he receives while Sergio Pérez is good enough to be part of the Ferrari Driver Academy but still his Carlos Slim backed sponsorship makes it easier for Sauber to hire him. Williams a team with such a rich heritage is now forced to have 2 pay drivers. Both Bruno Senna[ and Pastor Maldonado’s credentials are debatable but without their money there is no way that they will be driving for Williams. Also Williams Nico Hülkenberg after a very impressive rookie season for Maldonado’s oil money.
Then there are guys like Narain Karthikeyan who have no business to be in F1 but is still there because of sponsorship money! Here is a driver who is in his mid-30’s in a team which is yet to have a car ready and all this is not at all good for the sport. He maybe a decent driver but without the money there is no chance that he would have made it to F1. Karun is a much better driver who is also younger and it would have been wise for Tata to spend money on him rather than NK. Maurussia has a habit of picking a pay driver for each season and the latest one is Charles Pic. He is young decent driver and could go on for bigger things but currently he is on the grid because he has the sponsors with him.
Romain Grosjean is a very interesting case as he was part of the Renault driver program and though he made his debut for Renault in a controversial way there are people who still feel that he deserves a fair chance in F1 but then he is in Lotus because he is managed by Gravity and also he is still Renault backed so it made sense for Lotus to give him his chance. Petrov the former Lotus driver may still upstage Trulli for the Caterham drive while Sutil though is not a pay driver he does brings with him some sponsorship which will always be helpful. In fact Webber was part of the package when Red Bull got Renault engines but no way can you call a guy like Webber a pay driver.
Pay drivers are not good for the sport but then it is better to have talented pay drivers like Perez & even di Resta rather than have someone like NK still having a go at F1 at the expense of a younger driver.