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.