“For me, personally I think it’s sad that there are so many pay drivers in Formula One. The numbers have crept up”, Whitmarsh was reported saying to Dutch publication Formule1, “I’m sure it’s good and exciting for those that can afford it, but you would hope in the premier form of motor racing worldwide, you would not have pay drivers”.
Whitmarsh was quick to clarify his comments however, stating that a bleak economic outlook may be influencing a frugal approach adopted by teams.
“Teams get conservative and don’t take risks, and then the risks that are taken materialize as an instant revenue to the team, but don’t materialize in developing the driver potential of the future”, added Whitmarsh.
“One of the sad things is that in those junior categories, because those teams are making a business, the good teams get second- or third-year, well-budgeted drivers. I think if you said, in lower formulas, that a driver can only stay for two years in a junior category and each team has to have a rookie then I think you’d cleanse the system there”.
Whitmarsh’s comments come on the back of four rookies finding their way into Formula One in 2013. Marussia in particular will be debuting two new new drivers fresh from GP2 in the form of Max Chilton and Luis Razia. Both drivers are reputed to be worth $30 million to the team (which lost upwards of $20 million after losing 10th position in the 2012 Constructors Championship), but are both talented performers in their own right.
Newly appointed Marussia Technical Director Pat Symonds, outlayed the situation facing F1 minnow’s and praised outgoing driver Timo Glock for his magnanimous decision to end his contract early and take up a drive in DTM with BMW.
“I have to take my hat off to Timo”, said Symonds speaking to Auto Motor und Sport. “He understood our situation and told us that if his leaving can help 100 jobs, then he will make room for another driver… For Red Bull, one million has little effect. For us it is very different”.
Whilst the same could be true of Whitmarsh’s own team at McLaren, the Woking outfit were themselves not immune to the economic downturn; losing the services of Lewis Hamilton after being outbid by Mercedes. Whilst McLaren has cited an immutable policy on personal sponsorship deals as the reason behind Hamilton’s departure, its recent decision to sign Sergio Perez over McLaren Young Driver protégé Paul di Resta was inappreciably assisted by the Carlos Slim finance tied to Perez.
Although cash input is a product of the times, the pay driver debate will no doubt rage on for some time yet. Whether the situation will resemble that of the mid-nineties is probably what most Team Principals fear most.
Images courtesy of Octane Photographic