There are pay drivers in F1 and there have been for a long time. But recently, there appears to be an abundance of them, especially in the lower teams who are fighting for survival. Yet, what is this grudge that we as spectators seem to hold against them?
Pay drivers essentially pay the team to race; they do what they say on the tin. Say ‘pay driver’ and people often roll their eyes, regard them negatively.
Recently, Williams F1 confirmed that Lance Stroll would race for them in 2017. Why? The young driver would be paying the British team a large volume to be able to make his debut in Formula 1 (although these claims have been denied by the incredibly wealthy Stroll family).
The question I raise is: is this really necessary for one of the top teams in the sport, when there are plenty of more experienced drivers out there?
Pay drivers often have a good racing record – a few championships under their belts and a bright future ahead of them. But would they be destined for the pinnacle of Motorsport if they didn’t have a big cheque book?
That, of course, remains debatable. Stroll had a lot of help from the Williams team this year to help him secure his FIA European F3 title – from tests in the wind tunnel to wing mirrors being made by the team in Oxfordshire. Without large payments, he arguably wouldn’t have received the amount of success that he has had. Not everyone on the grid can afford to do what Stroll has done. Some are merely fighting to be there, let alone seeking the help from Formula 1 teams. Though, albeit Stroll’s helping hand from Williams this year, I have been told that the Stroll deal has been set in stone and signed for some 12 months. Pre Stroll’s big time.
“I can’t imagine Williams would put him in the car if they didn’t think he was ready. Frank Williams has got to have been impressed with his character and probably echoed some of the points below himself. Bring on Australia,” Tim Gaymor told Sky F1.
But Stroll won’t be the only pay driver on the Formula 1 grid in 2017.
Jolyon Palmer is one of several and has received a high volume of criticism this year. If I had to scroll up my Twitter timeline during a race, 3/4 people would be condemning him.
Pay drivers are fundamental to teams. In fact, a driver bringing sponsorship to a team is not rare. Yet, as soon as a ‘pay driver’ label is put on them, they are signed off by the fans. Then, their every move is watched and those social media trolls look on with bated breath, waiting for them to run wide at a corner so they can slate them.
Regardless of what the opinion polls say, one must remember that pay driver or not, the individual often has an impressive racing CV to make it to the top of Motorsport.
“Does that mean that, specifically, Palmer’s ascent to Formula 1 was merited? In an alternate universe where racing F1 cars is completely free and teams can choose whoever they want, would Palmer get a look in?
“On the basis of much of his junior career, despite a fair number of successes across various British and international categories, you’d have to say no. On the basis of his first three years in GP2? Also no,” stated a recent Motorsport.com article.
Pay drivers have turned out some successful Formula 1 drivers in the past, but they are quickly forgotten when running parallel with the ‘bad’. Who can forget the entertainment that Pastor Maldonado provided with on Grand Prix weekends?
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NZvdT2bC0_4 – Here is a link just in case it has slipped your mind.
Yes, pay drivers aren’t perfect, but they enable a team to go racing. The money ploughed into the team is re-invested to ensure good results and progress. It enables those 500 people to still have a job, enables the fans to still support their favourite team, and allows research and development to happen. That’s a big positive.
It is not just about the money they pay for that seat, they must have talent, vast potential and the likability factor. If I rocked up at Manor with fifty million, they’d laugh at me. My go-karting experience would probably stand for nothing.
So whether you like them or not, you had better yet used to the idea of still seeing them on the grid in years to come.
F1 isn’t just about racing; it’s a complex political agenda.