Pay Drivers: Has it Gone Too Far?

With the rumors of Narain Karthikeyan being in the running for the second Force India seat, many have gone back to discussing the state of Formula One, both financially and qualitatively.

As for the quality of the Formula One field, you could argue that there hasn’t been a more high quality grid for years, what with names like Button, Alonso, Raikkonen, Webber, Vettel, Hamilton, Massa and Rosberg, all veterans of the sport, still racing at the front of the grid. The racing is more exciting than ever and the technological achievement is more staggering with eacha nd every new season.

The demise of the F1 careers of Heikki Kovalainen and Timo Glock, two more veterans of F1, at the hands of so-called “pay drivers” has left many fuming at the turn our sport is starting to take.

What many know, but seem unwilling to accept, is that getting into F1 without some sort of financial backing or support is impossible. The financial demands of running a successful Formula One team are far too strenuous for one rich man and the money earned from some other of his businesses, as Vijay Mallya is finding out the hard way. The only way to be financially viable in the cutthroat world of F1 is to run drivers that bring money in the form of either sponsorship or just cold hard cash.

In 2013, rookies such as Esteban Gutierrez, Max Chilton, Luiz Razia, Giedo van der Garde and possibly Jules Bianchi have been signed to most of the midfield and backmarker teams. All of these drivers, bar Bianchi, are race-winning graduates of the 2012 GP2 season. In fact, those four drivers finished in the top-six of the championship (the champion, Davide Valsecchi, is the test driver for Lotus). Despite all the obvious successes of these fine drivers, the criticism of these drivers has failed to cease.

I feel bad for these young rookies who have finally achieved their dream of being a Formula One driver, only to be bombarded by accusations that they only got there because of their money or that they donLt even deserve to be there at all. Those types of comments are unnecessary and totally unwarranted. No Formula One team, regardless of how dire their financial situations may be, will take a GP2 or Formula Renault 3.5 series graduate without evaluating their on-track performances.

The Caterham GP2 team of 2012 was the home to now Caterham F1 driver Giedo van der Garde and Venezuelan Rodolfo Gonzalez. One of these drivers won a race and finished 6th in the championship, and the other was the lowest placed driver who completed a full season. These drivers were from the same team in GP2, have similar financial backing (in the millions of dollars), yet it is Giedo that is now the Formula One driver. Caterham could easily have chosen to take on Rodolfo, who subsequently has more money behind him, over the Dutchman, but they didn’t. Caterham valued the talent of Giedo over his budget but took his backing into account when they made their decision to sign him.

Now to Karthikeyan. Force India has always been proud of the fact that they don’t take “pay-drivers” but instead base their driver decisions on the driver’s talent alone. This is evident in their signings of Paul di Resta, Adrian Sutil and Nico Hulkenberg. However, the times we live in have seemingly caught up with the small Silverstone-based outfit. Vijay Mallya has to make the decision whether sign a driver based only on his massive financial backing (Karthikeyan) or one who brings a more modest sum of money but a less than modest amount of talent (Bianchi).

A vast majority in the F1 paddock will concede that signing Karthikeyan would be a huge mistake on the part of Force India, with the 36 year-old driver having never proved himself worthy of an F1 driver since he arrived on the scene in 2005. Indeed, his only F1 points come from that year’s U.S. Grand Prix when only 6 cars raced.

It seems that Force India is in an uncertain situation when you hear that they are considering Karthikeyan for one of their F1 seats. Whether or not they make the right decision in their driver choice is yet to be seen.


5 thoughts on “Pay Drivers: Has it Gone Too Far?

  1. Narain has won in every single seater racing championship hes raced in except F1, he set the pole position time at MacauGP, won korea f3 superprix, won in British F3 in convincing fashion against the likes of Button, at times in 2005 beat his teamamte in quali by 2 SECONDS! Beat PDR last yr in singpaore quali by 1 second, and more or less matched him for the 2nd half of the season despite missing FP1 and FP2 being eventually wet.

    He might not be as good as the likes of DiResta etc… but he is not in the same league as Yamamato. I’d say he is as good as ppl like Sato.

    On the commercial side, an Indian driver racing for an Indian would be a HUGE boost for Indian motorracing and international motorsports as a result and there would be huge growth for motorsports in a country of more than a billion people, that would create a monumental shift for the sport.

    In this context, hiring NK on whose speed people like Emerson Fittipaldi, John Watson, Peter Windsor, Jackie Stewart etc.. have placed their confidence and who also brings the added commercial opportunity will not be an entirely bad decision.

    • I don’t doubt his successes in the junior formulae. But I seriously doubt his ability in an F1 car. It’s the plight of many drivers. They do fantastically well in the junior categories, but fail to meet expectations once they make the step to F1. Narain is a prime example of this. He is obviously a good driver, but when compared to many if the young drivers who haves proved themselves in Junior formulae like Bianchi, I find it impossible to see Narain as a suitable candidate when many know that his success in F1 is practically non existent and he is past his prime in terms of age.

      As for the commercial aspect, I agree. It would be great to have an Indian driver in an Indian team with an Indian GP. It’s like Petrov and the Russian GP. Narain has raced in the Indian GP twice now and it seems attendance is down from the first year. I’m not saying that F1 in India will be an overnight success, but it hasn’t had the huge impact many expected.

      • With all due respect, F1 is not the ultimate test of a driver’s ability. The car is what makes a driver successful or not successful in F1. Narain was incredible in the Jordan in 2005 on many occasions. He outqualified his teammate by 2 seconds in imola, outqualified a williams in japan, outqualified sato (BAR) and Villeneuve (Sauber) in China, Set the 12th fastest lap (ahead of better cars) in the race in Imola and generally impressed all, particularly in the first half of the season. In the second half, there was politics involved in the team and we all know how bad that can be.

        And ofcourse his success in F1 in non existent, he hasn’t driven a good car yet! He has the speed in him and many people with years of experience and knowledge have shown their confidence in him.

        In the commercial aspect, I don’t think you quite understand what I said. I said that the sport would have a huge boost in Indian when an Indian driver is driving for an Indian team and in a competitive car. With F1 still being new in India, not many people realize the difference between a HRT and a Ferrari. So driving a useless car will not have a serious impact.

      • Isn’t there a reason no one has put him in a top car?

  2. Because hes been at the wrong place in the wrong time. U can keep talking shi* based on how bad he looked at HRT or you can present a fair perspective on the issue.

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