The Trouble With Quotations: Pay Drivers and their Importance to Formula One’s Future

Other than for specifying a direct quote from someone other than yourself, what are quotations used for?

Think about that for a second.

Done?

When we use quotations, often times it is in an attempt to highlight or draw attention to a certain word or group of words in a sentence. If I said that I was friends with a racing driver, you may get excited in the hopes that you knew who he or she was. If I said I was friends with a “racing driver”, immediately a red flag would go up. Is he really a racing driver? Does he just pretend to be one? You would immediately question his status as a racing driver and thus, the meaning behind the words “racing driver” is lessened.

Now, it seems to be an old topic these days, but one which is central to the future of the sport. Pay drivers. Or should I say, “pay drivers”?

Go to any accredited Formula One news source and find an article in which pay drivers are mentioned. You will find that the words “pay” and “drivers” are almost always put in quotations. Why? It would seem strange for the importance of these words to be belittled by the use of quotations. Especially when one considers how vital they are to the future of the sport. For the rest of this article, I will not be restricting pay drivers to the bounds of quotations. Instead, I will let them be free (no pun intended) from constraint, as they have a part to play in this ever-changing world we call Formula One.

If you take a step back and look at the state of Formula One at the moment, you will see a sport that is, quite frankly and understandably, desperate for money. Many have grown weary of the so-called tyrant, Bernie Ecclestone, and his rather controversial and sometimes unpopular way of doing things for the sport. But really, Bernie has one of the hardest jobs in the sport. Arguably THE hardest. He has to promote a sport which sucks up money like a vacuum cleaner on steroids with an insatiable appetite, while also making sure that contracts with drivers, teams, tracks, sponsors, commercial rights holders (a company Bernie himself owns), and various other groups that make Formula One what it is today are maintained and honored in their entirety. Ally that with a global economic climate that is not conducive to big spending at the moment, and a natural environment which is in a seriously precarious state and you have a recipe for conflict. If the switch to V6 turbo engines seemed a bit rushed, there is your reason. Economically, Formula One is not ready for the engine and regulation changes in 2014, but the environment is not really ready to handle the type of fuel and energy waste that defines Formula One at present.

The drivers in Formula One are the face of the sport. They have, and form, an intimate connection between the fans who make the sport viable and the big wigs like Bernie and the FIA. The drivers have an obligation to promote themselves in a way that pleases their fans as well as those who run the sport. First, though, they have to make it into F1.

The story of Luiz Razia is a painful one which no one, especially him, wants to relive. If you can imagine being a young 23-year old on the cusp of making it big in the racing world, only to be let down by circumstances that were out of your reach, you can imagine the emotional pain Luiz went through on that fateful day in February. If you recall how Luiz got his chance in Formula One, however, you will notice that he took the place of a highly respected veteran who did not have the financial means to pay for his seat at Marussia in 2013.

Timo Glock was a very determined driver who made a lot of sacrifices for the sport he loved. Having been left out to dry in the wake of Toyota’s exit from the sport at the end of 2009, Timo sought refuge in the Banbury start-up team known in 2010 as Virgin Racing. Only in 2012 would title sponsor and Russian sportscar maker, Marussia, take over as the name of the team.

As 2013 loomed large, Marussia had to face the facts; they didn’t have enough money for the year to both operate as a functional Formula One team and to pay Timo’s salary. The unlucky German was aware of this situation and, in January, Marussia announce they would be signing GP2 graduate, Luiz Razia, to their team to partner known pay driver, Max Chilton. It didn’t take long, however, for people to realize that Luiz’s future with the team was just as insecure as Timo’s was, as the Brazilian driver was nowhere to be seen during the second pre-season test in Barcalona. The rumors were finally answered when Marussia announced that, due to a lack of funding from Luiz, they would have to drop him from their lineup.

Perhaps a lack of funding is the wrong way to word his predicament. Supposedly, there were millions to be had from the Brazilian’s sponsors, but there was a problem getting said millions from the sponsor to the team. The people funding Luiz’s Formula One dream ran out of time to provide the money to Marussia, despite being gifted a deadline extension, and the sad fact of the matter was that Luiz had to go. As mentioned earlier, this was through no fault of Luiz. He had no control over how fast his sponsorship got to Marussia, and that, perhaps, makes the circumstance more painful. Luiz was helpless in this situation and there was no help to be found.

This unfortunate event drew a lot attention to the topic of drivers who pay for their race seats. The debate is as such: Formula One needs to find a way to operate so that teams with less money don’t have to resort to running drivers who pay. However, with such a way not clearly or easily available, Formula One teams rely on paying drivers to fund their competitive efforts. Without their money, the teams have no hope in the first place of advancing up the grid. Once they have made good progress, however, the possibility of hiring drivers purely and absolutely on merit is made feasible. The facts are clear though: at present, low-funded teams have absolutely no way of operating successfully without the help of pay drivers.

This brings me back to quotations. If you thought I had gone on a rather long tangent, do not worry, for I have found my way back.

I ask you this question: Would you rather the likes of Marussia, Caterham, Williams, Sauber and Force India had slightly lower caliber drivers, but still existed, or would you rather that those teams folded and never saw the light of day again? For me, there is a very simple answer: The former. I for one, can accept the climate of the sport at the moment and as such, I know, and must also accept, that pay drivers are a part of life. There is nothing that is going to remedy this in the immediate future. I don’t want to sound one-sided at all, because I know that I would rather have drivers in Formula One that are there purely because of their astounding driving talent, and that I am not the only one who agrees my former point. But at the present moment, the economic climate does not allow for the extravagance that characterizes some of the top Formula One teams. This lack of finances is the precise reason that in-season testing is banned, refueling is a thing of the past, and European tracks are now outnumbered by Asian, South and North American tracks on the calendar. Formula is finding it hard to accept the fact that this is not the early 2000’s.

In almost any news article written about pay drivers, those two words will be both preceded and succeeded by quotation marks. Why? We should never attempt to alter or abate the meaning behind these words.

There is a common sentiment that pay drivers are detrimental to the future of the sport, that their mere presence is harmful to the worldwide perception of Formula One and that making them a part of life in Formula One is ruining fans’ appreciation of the sport. This is exactly the opposite of the truth, however.

There is no reason to lessen the meaning behind pay drivers, and it would be dangerous to do so. Pay drivers are a fundamentally integral part of the current climate in Formula One and if we forget how important they are, we risk ruining our love for the sport, because we won’t recognize that the very existence of Formula One depends on these drivers brining money for the teams. I don’t care how much you complain that the quality of racing is diminished by the use of pay drivers. There is no running from the truth: We need them.

Formula One’s history of racing the world’s fastest cars with the world’s fastest drivers against each other will never be lost. Formula One’s history of providing the world with the most exhilarating racing spectacle on earth is not in danger either. Formula One’s fundamental qualities are not about to be resigned to the history books. Yes, extenuating circumstances have created a tough environment for Formula One to work in, and yes, there are some things that each and every fan might want to change. The fact that some drivers have to pay for their seats in Formula One is a natural part of the Formula One at present. There is nothing we can do about it at the moment, and we may never be able to do anything about it. Because of this, their importance should never be degraded. If anything, their role in Formula One needs to be more publicly endorsed, because if fans never realize the essential role they play in the narrative of Formula One, then Formula One has some even bigger problems on its hands.

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