Formula 1 is one of the most expensive sports in the world, requiring huge expenses from teams to participate in races. It is not surprising that many are looking for various options of attracting additional funds to keep afloat.
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Common practice, especially among end grid teams, is signing a contract with a driver who able to finance the team’s work through sponsorship, personal funding or family support, and does not receive a salary. As well as a seat in the F1 team, such sportsman receives an offensive label «pay driver». But is this stamp appropriate and fair in the modern motorsport world?
The path from start to end
Racing from karting to F1 is so expensive that very few drivers are successful to go all the way to the end. Unfortunately, talent is not enough to get into the world of «royal races», and indeed into motorsport. At every stage of a career, huge investments are required. Only a few families are ready for this. The rest have to hope for talent and luck or networking which can forward the career’s momentum. One way or another, any driver at any moment can be a “pay driver” in order to be able to declare himself and transfer to another step of his career or continue it, achieve the cherished dream – to become an F1 driver.
Is there a place only for top teams on the grid?
One of F1 main question is the reduction of the teams’ budgets. For many, these annual costs are prohibitive. For 2021, the average F1 team’s expenses, excluding drivers’ salaries, is $ 145 million. The budget of the top teams clearly exceeds this amount. And without the possibility of such practices as hiring a “paid driver” and such huge costs, only the top teams would remain in the grid, and F1 races would hardly have remained so attractive for everyone.
Talent or money
Surrounded by fans, it is generally accepted that in the peloton there is no place for drivers who buy a prestigious F1 seat. Should a person’s talent be underestimated if he starts his career in “royal races” as a “pay driver”? The driver should be talked about by his results, not his financial capabilities.
Also, the teams’ management takes into account many factors when signing a contract with a “pay driver”. One of them is commercial, it is not enough just to bring money, also need to earn it for the needs of the team’s development. This can only be done by truly talented drivers, who via their results, can interest new investors to sponsor in the very team for which he stands. It is unlikely that someone will want to invest in a losing business.
It should be remembered that the greatest drivers in history like Fernando Alonso, Michael Schumacher, Niki Lauda also began their careers with a “pay driver” stamp. They would hardly have been able to get an F1 seat, if not for funding from sponsors or their personal finance. Can anyone say that these drivers ended up in vain in F1?
The phrase “pay driver” has no meaning in modern motorsport and should not be used. We should accept the fact that there is nothing wrong with a “pay driver”, personal money simplifies and accelerates sportsman’s debut in F1, the teams, in turn, receive the funding that is necessary for their development. Mutually beneficial cooperation.