For years Bernie Jong Un has presided over our beloved formula one, moulding it in his own inimitable way. But with the rise of Liberty media there could be hope that the might of money could come to an end.
Allow me to expand.
Formula one operates a results based reward system the more points you get, the more winnings you get, which is as it should be. However, inevitably, the teams that win all the points are the ones who can afford to develop their car, the ones who can pay top dollar for engines, many thousands of hours in wind tunnels, the latest development programmes, materials, systems and absolute armies of people to operate them. Inevitably the less well funded team have turned more and more to drivers who bring money to supplement their lack of performance.
Driver sponsorship is common throughout the sport at every level. When Fernando Alonso signed for Ferrari in 2010 it smoothed out the sponsorship deal with the Spanish bank Santander. Pastor Maldonado, though markedly less successful than Fernando, bought much needed funding to Williams. Perez, Hulkenburg, Ocon, even the great Fangio would not have got where he did were it not for the sponsorship of Juan Peron’s government.
The question is where do we draw the line ? At what point does the bringing of sponsorship overtake the level of talent/ability as the main reason for hiring or firing a driver. Teams need cash to survive, HRT, Marussia, Caterham, all fell victim to the huge levels of cash needed to develop and run a Formula one team. Usually though the team will turn to driver sponsorship to save them, Kamui Kobayashi, an extremely talented and aggressive driver, with a penchant for overtaking where others didn’t dare and who was arguably better than his oil company sponsored team mate Sergio Perez, lasted just 2 years, where would he be now if he had got the Mclaren Drive I wonder ?
One of the first public admissions of this was Timo Glock. Halfway through what was to prove his final season in F1, the team announced they could no longer afford to run two paid drivers and had prematurely end his contract in favour of one who bought money to his seat. A lamentable decision you might think, certainly he wasn’t short of messages of condolence on social media. Button, Alonso, Hamilton, Vettel and more all expressed their regret at what appeared to be such harsh treatment. But what choice did the team have ? Carry on limping to the end of the season and then wind the team up costing hundreds of jobs just to keep a driver who was proving no better than average among his peers ? I think not.
So how do you go from needing to employ a driver who pays for his seat to choosing a more talented driver who wants to be paid for his trouble ?
The answer ? Points.
As I said at the start, points means prizes and in order to develop a successful car the team need to be able to more effectively fight for those seemingly unattainable top 10 places. The playing field needs to be levelled, Currently all the cars have to comply with the same regulations but if you can pour £20m into developing a front wing its going to be better that one that was developed for £1m. That could be balanced by allowing teams that operate under a lower budget to operate under less strict design regulations.
At the top end, the ‘premiership’ you could have no DRS available there will be true racing and no more “like a train” overtakes, mid-level have the same design specs but have DRS available, and down the bottom they have DRS and can run more down force and possibly even remove the regulation that makes them have to use 2 different types of tyre in a race. This wouldn’t mean the top 5 would be vastly different, but it would mean that occasionally the next 5 might see some variety.
These changes would make a premiership style formula but as it is this year more than half the drivers are there purely because they paid for it, and with Lance Stroll coming to Williams with a reported £80m behind him, the problem is getting worse. Williams is a team that have known success and failure and Frank has long been one of my heroes, but they are not also rans, they are not a struggling start up.
When Maldonado was there he came with pedigree and talent as well as money but so far Lance Stroll has proved as talentless and forgettable a driver that has been on the grid for many a year, but this guy is driving a WILLIAMS and if they can’t choose a talented driver then from Williams down we are not getting the most talented in the world, we are watching spoilt rich kids trying to be famous. They are good of course, you don’t get to drive in F1 if you’re not an exceptionally good driver and with enough money and practice I could have been a good ballet dancer but I wouldn’t have performed at the Bolshoi because I could afford to fund the production. They are good, even great but they are not the best, they haven’t done it on talent therefore they wouldn’t have been chosen if Daddy hadn’t paid for it.
There are hundreds of other ways to do it and this is just one but surely the vast chasm of performance has to be addressed. Formula one has become a money train, so please Liberty Media, give us some proper racing again.
~ Mark Onley