There is a popular argument among the forum fans about the presence of ‘pay drivers’ – those who are deemed to be in an F1 car thanks to the bag of money they bring – in the sport. A quick glance down the grid and you can see the obvious candidates. Things are not, however, quite that simple.
Take Williams, one of the most popular and established teams of all: Pastor Maldonado comes with a healthy sponsorship package from Venezuela. Indeed, it is believed the team has a contract with certain factions in that South American country. Maldonado is, therefore, a typical pay driver. Yet, lest we forget, he won a race this year. In the other seat is Bruno Senna, who also brings money but not on the scale of Maldonado’s funding, but few doubt that Valterri Bottas, the talented young Finn, will be in that seat next year. It’s a case of swings and roundabouts, with drivers taking their sponsorship package to whoever needs it.
Caterham is another good example: Heikki Kovalainen brings little – if any –sponsorship and Vitaly Petrov apparently provides some funding, and both are talented drivers, but the team is likely to plum for Giedo van der Garde as the Dutchman is said to have decent funding. He is not, however, as good a prospect as either of the team’s two drivers. Rumours are rife the Charles Pic, also well-funded, may head from Marussia to Caterham, leaving both drivers out of a seat.
At Sauber there is the curious situation of the team apparently needing a Mexican driver, in order that they can continue to draw on the generous funding of Carlos Slim, said to be one of the world’s richest men. With Sergio Perez having jumped ship to McLaren and Nico Hulkenberg coming in from Force India, the team seems certain to draft in Esteban Gutierrez, despite his young age and lack of experience. This leaves Kamui Kobayashi – an obvious talent with no funding – looking for a job.
It is an unfortunate set of circumstances that leads to a clearly talented driver having to make way for one less so, but it’s nothing new. Gutierrez has shown signs of potential and, for all we know, may be one of the sport’s bright new things. Van der Garde is good, but that’s about it.
As a footnote it is worth casting your mind back to 1991, and the Belgian Grand Prix. Jordan, with Bertrand Gachot in prison, needed a quick replacement. There were many options, but he was persuaded – thanks to a nice wad of cash from Mercedes Benz- to give a young German called Michael Schumacher a go. The rest, as they say, is history.