Is this the heyday for “Pay Drivers” in F1?

Before the 2013 F1 season had even finished the talk in the paddock began on the driver market for the 2014 season. Whilst moves such as Kimi Raikkonen’s surprise return to Ferrari and Daniel Ricciardo’s promotion to Red Bull in 2014 have stolen the headlines, it the moves further down the grid which have the most long term significance on F1. In the last few years F1 has increasingly felt the financial pinch, however the 2013 season showed that the financial climate was only getting worse in F1 as stories developed through the season of star Lotus driver Kimi Raikkonen not being paid at all in 2013 , and the Sauber team which needed significant Russian investment to even see out the season. This naturally has meant that finance is becoming the primary attribute teams are looking for from their 2014 drivers.

The most high profile example of these financial considerations was the ongoing Nico Hulkenberg to Lotus saga which dragged on for the final few months of the season. Whilst both were happy to team up together the deal became dependent on heavy investment from the mysterious Quantam motorsport group.Without this investment the cash-strapped team would be forced to take on a driver with financial backing for 2014. Whilst many deadlines were set the investment kept being delayed until the saga was finally put to bed last Friday when they announced Pastor Maldonado as team mate to Romain Grosjean for 2014.

Whilst Maldonado is already a Grand Prix winner with Williams in 2012 his temperament has been heavily questioned in the paddock and is believed to have been a significant factor in Williams decision to replace him despite it meaning a loss of his vast to PDVSA state oil dollars to the Lotus team.  Meanwhile for Hulkenberg, tipped by many as a future world champion, announced yesterday a move back to the Sahara Force-India team for 2014 . This move can be widely viewed as a good second choice for Hulkneberg who clearly would have preferred to have been in a race winning Lotus for 2014 , yet his lack of sponsorship dollars appears to be the only thing holding him back from a title contending drive which he clearly deserves.

Although Force-India are backed by wealthy businessman Vijay Mallaya they too are not immune from the financial crisis in F1 as their 2014 line-up appears to be motivated in part by finance . Whilst Nico Hulkenberg was clearly signed on merit it appears the second seat may be going to the highest bidder as the rumors suggest they are set to replace highly talented Paul Di Resta for 2014 with Sergio Perez , who brings a wealth of Telmex support. Whilst it is difficult to judge the talents of both individuals as they have shown they have supreme talent and deserve a decent drive in F1 the tie break clincher in this case appears to be the high level of sponsorship Perez can bring compared to Di Resta.  The current state of F1 must be hard to swallow for Di Resta who was being tipped for the second Ferrari or McLaren drive only a year ago yet now it appears he is unlikely to be on the F1 grid in 2014.

The team with the most pressing financial concerns of 2013 was surely the Sauber team who have built a reputation in F1 for delivering good results on an underfunded budget. Part of the deal for their Russian investment during the midway point of the season appears to be the fact they will promote rookie , and son of one of the investors , Sergey Sirotkin to a race drive in 2014 , however this is dependent on his ability to gain a superelicence over the winter. Whilst Sirotkin has proven to have talent during his 2013 World Series by Renault season the 18 year old appears to need several more years of experience before he could gain a berth in F1 on talent alone.  The second seat with the team appears to be also highly dependent on finance with firstly Adrian Sutil being the rumored favorite for the drive. Whilst he has shown promise on his return to F1 with Force-India in 2013 he was out-performed by Di Resta comfortably , it appears his sponsorship is the most enticing prospect to any team for 2014. The other outside contenders for the drive appear to be a return for either Sergio Perez or Esteban Gutierrez. Both are heavily backed by Carlos Slim and Telmex and both have driven for Sauber in the past . From these two it appears more likely Perez will be signed if he does not get the second Force-India drive.

Other moves such as Felipe Massa’s to Williams have drawn much less attention yet whilst he is an experienced and fast racing driver it appears his Brazilian backing was at the very least a plus point for the Williams who are still reeling from the loss of Maldonado’s state PDVSA funds, despite a settlement being agreed between both parties to end the relationship it appears highly unlikely this would be the same as the 40 million dollars sum they previously enjoyed from PDVSA.

Finally the ‘new’ teams are also feeling the pinch at the back of the grid as the chances of Marussia keeping Max  Chilton on for 2014 to partner the rapid Jules Bianchi appear to be dependent on his continued financial backing he brought to the team in 2014. Also the Caterham line-up for 2014 appears to center on the retention of rapid rookie Geido Van Der Garde , who also brings a healthy amount of Dutch backing to the team. This finance his brings appears to be a major factor in the decision for the second drive as it appears that if the team does not need much further backing to survive in 2014 they will take Heikki Kovalainen back after dumping him for Van Der Garde in 2013. If the team however needs another driver with backing it appears Charles Pic will retain his drive with the team.

In conclusion, the driver market for the 2014 season is heavily influenced by financial demands and this in my opinion is having a negative effect on F1 as it means that firstly drivers like Nico Hulkenberg are being denied the race winning drives they deserve meanwhile an even worse fact appears that even talented drivers such as Paul Di Resta appear to be off the grid for 2014. This to me shows how the financial demands teams need from drivers is allowing some drivers to attain F1 drives despite their talent not being enough to get the into F1 on it’s own yet drivers with the opposite situation are denied the F1 drives their talents should deserve and realistically expect.This is a very worrying time for F1 indeed.

 

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