Formula 1 will always have pay drivers

2010 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix - Saturday Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates 13th November 2010. Jenson Button, McLaren MP4-25 Mercedes. Action.  World Steven Tee/LAT Photographic  ref: Digital Image _A8C7279

Money Talks has always been the way of Formula 1

Jan.20 (PVM) The issue of pay drivers has dominated Formula 1 news during the off season with countless reports, blogs and forums decrying how bad things are in Formula 1 that pay drivers are starting to rule the roost and dictate terms with their suitases packed with cash.

Nelson Piquet (BRA) Brabham BT50 talks with Brabham team owner Bernie Ecclestone. 1982 Formula One World Championship. Catalogue Ref.: 10-203 Sutton Motorsport Images Catalogue

Nelson Piquet and Bernie Ecclestone took Brabham to great heights in F1 before the demise of the team

This is not a new scenario. In fact it is very much part and parcel of Formula 1 – and motorsport – through the ages and not only in this modern era. Unlike ball and stick sports, motor racing is expensive and from the outset has always been something of a business.

Traditionally since the first Grand Prix in 1950 Formula 1 has been the domain of the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’. Throughout the sport’s history there have been wealthy teams and struggling teams and very little in between.

Instances are plentiful of once big teams sliding down the pecking order until either selling up or packing up for good. Brabham, Tyrrell, the real Lotus, Ligier are teams that spring to mind.

The teams doing the winning were invariably those with the most disposable cash, hence hiring the best driving talent and paying these star drivers very well for their services.

Race winner Jim Clark (GBR) Lotus. USA Grand Prix, Watkins Glen, USA, 2 October 1966

Jim Clark enjoyed a good life as a F1 driver and champion

Stories abound about how ‘back in the good old days’ the likes of Stirling Moss, Jim Clark and even Juan Manuel Fangio did not make much money out of the sport. This is a fallacy, as they made a very comfortable living during their career as drivers and for many years after they had retired from the sport.

Relative to what people were earning in their day, there was remuneration for race drivers that would have been highly valued at the time.

In bygone days superstars of the sport, scrapping it out at the sharp end of a Grand Prix, were not struggling to make ends meet.

A snap study reveals that, throughout the history of F1, between 30% to 40% of teams a any one time would fall in the wealthy category while the rest (60% to 70%) of the teams scraped by to make ends meet and these were and are the teams that require drivers with suitcases filled with cash to ensure their survival.

Pastor Maldonado

Pastor Maldonado has paid his way into F1 like many before have

In 2011 Pastor Maldonado is taking around $15-million to Williams courtesy the Government of Venezuela, Vitaly Petrov is also a $15-million man thanks to Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin, Sergio Perez has $10-million from Telmex for Sauber, Jerome D’Ambrosio has amassed $7-million for his seat with Virgin Racing from private backers and most recently Narain Karthikeyan allegedly paying $8-million for a Hispania Racing berth with Tata money.

The common denominator is that all the teams mentioned above are in some form of financial difficulty and pay drivers allow contribute to the overall budget that helps them survive. Without pay driver income these teams would fold and there is no guarantee that some may disappear in the near future.

Niki Lauda (AUT) BRM P160E suffered a big crash on the second lap at Kesselchen, fracturing a bone in his wrist as a result. German Grand Prix, Nurburgring, 5 August 1973. BEST IMAGE

Niki Lauda paid for his F1 drive with BRM in 1973

But this is nothing new as throughout history drivers have paid their way into Formula 1 teams. Although most have faded into obscurity, some have gone on to become legends of the sport.

Niki Lauda famously took out a series of bank loans to finance his foray into Formula 1 and even very briefly contemplated suicide when things looked really rotten for his career in 1973. Fortunately Enzo Ferrari, with encouragement from Clay Regazzoni, saved Lauda and the rest is now history.

In 1991 Michael Schumacher took a suitcase packed with $150,000 of Mercedes cash to Eddie Jordan’s team where the German replaced imprisoned Bertrand Gachot at Spa-Francorchamps. The rest is also history.

Eddie Jordan (IRL) Jordan team owner, with his new driver Michael Schumacher (GER), who qualified a fantastic 7th in his first race. Belgian Grand Prix, Spa, 25 August 1991

Eddie Jordan received money for Michael Schumacher to make his F1 debut in a Jordan at Spa in 1991

Between them, Lauda and Schumacher, have won 10 world championships having started their careers as pay drivers. Would they have cracked the big time without that initial investment? Good question.

According to Formula Money 72% of money paid out to drivers in 2010 was banked by the highest earners: Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton, Jensen Button, Felipe Massa and Michael Schumacher.

Kimi Raikkonen smiled all the way to the bank as Ferrari paid him handsomely to leave F1 and pave the way for Alonso to drive for the Maranello squad a year earlier than would have been possible had the Iceman not agreed.

Below are 2010 salaries for Formula 1 drivers as published by Spanish newspaper El Mundo:

1 Fernando Alonso, Ferrari – $40 million
2 Lewis Hamilton, McLaren – $21 million
= Kimi Räikkönen, Ferrari – $21 million (for not racing in F1)
4 Felipe Massa, Ferrari – $18 million
5 Jenson Button, McLaren – $12 million
6 Michael Schumacher, Mercedes – $10.5 million
= Nico Rosberg, Mercedes – $10.5 million
8 Robert Kubica, Renault – $7.5 million
9 Rubens Barrichello, Williams – $7.4 million
10 Mark Webber, Red Bull – $5.6 million
11 Jarno Trulli, Lotus – $4 million
12 Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull – $2.6 million
= Heikki Kovalainen, Lotus – $2.6 million
14 Timo Glock, Virgin – $1.3 million
15 Nico Hülkenberg, Williams – $940,000
16 Pedro de la Rosa, Sauber – $670,000
= Kamui Kobayashi, Sauber – $670,000
18 Vitaly Petrov, Renault – $540,000
= Sébastien Buemi, Toro Rosso – $540,000
= Jaime Alguersuari, Toro Rosso – $540,000
21 Adrian Sutil, Force India – $260,000
= Vitantonio Liuzzi, Force India – $260,000
= Lucas di Grassi, Virgin – $260,000
24 Bruno Senna, Hispania – $200,000

– Karun Chandhok, Hispania – Pay driver
– Sakon Yamamoto, Hispania – Pay driver

  • nemo

    Love the picture of Eddie Jordan, lol

  • Arthur

    So being a champion makes Sebastien the worthiest driver for every penny paid by the team…

    Wow! A world champion only receiving that small amount of salary. Now I see Seb’s determination as a real champion…

    So I think he should sign up with Willi Weber… These people are so good in negotiating than a F1 world champion at 23…