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F1: Pay Drivers Back With A Bang

Max Chilton - F1 driver thanks to
his family's AON connection?
F1 has always had its share of pay drivers - those who get a seat purely because of the money they bring to a team in sponsorship. Sometimes those drivers pull off a surprise when they turn out to have some skills to back the money up - Sergio Perez and Pastor Maldonado are two recent examples.

However with the world in financial meltdown we have reached a point when an already small grid is so littered with drivers bringing a budget that we are losing talented drivers at a faster rate than at any time in history. In the last few weeks we've lost Timo Glock and Heikki Kovalainen to make room for pay drivers, whilst popular Japanese racer Kamui Kobayashi was unable to find a seat despite raising around $1m from fan donations after losing his drive at Sauber. HRT's failure further reduced the number of seats available, although the teams failure to perform probably restricted them to pay drivers only anyway.

F1 can't claim to be the pinnacle of motorsport when some of the world's best drivers are being denied the opportunity to race and disappearing off to other formulae. The FIA and Bernie Ecclestone need to recognise this and reorganise the sports funding to better support the midfield and back of the grid teams.

Currently F1 prize money is split between the top ten teams in the championship, with the major prizes going to the winners. Like it or not this has to change. These arrangements reinforce the status quo and only a company with the means to make massive investment can ever hope to break into the front running pack. Red Bull is the only team to have made the leap in recent years and that after burning though huge amounts of cash.

Reducing the costs of engines and gearboxes would make for a flatter playing field too. The manufacturers in the sport haven't really been creative enough with the branding of their supplier engines. Renault have done the best job, with the Lotus brand on its factory team and Infiniti branding on the Red Bulls. If the Red Bull engine supply was Nissan or Infiniti though this would go some way to offsetting some of the costs of being in the sport. Similarly FIAT have failed to utilise either the Alfa Romeo or Maserati brands for its customer teams. Both brands crying out for motorsport links. For FIAT having a Toro Rosso-Maserati on the grid has surely got to outweigh any income it currently gets from supplying the engines to the team?

Doing away with some in season testing has helped reduce budgets, but banning all in season testing would do even better. More so if it were replaced with an extra day on race weekends when teams are free to run their cars for as long as they like, but only in the hands of a test driver. This would make the test driver role a more valuable seat to have, allow young drivers to gain some experience and also make their reputations without being thrown straight in at the deep end of a race seat. The extra day of income for the circuits involved would probably make for a much better financial base to run the event from. I would imagine that the option of seeing tomorrow's stars spending a day blatting around the circuit in a current car would draw plenty of spectators.

All of these financial measures have a single outcome, by reducing the cost of being in the F1 circus it should allow teams to bring in drivers who deliver skill and not money as a prerequisite for their seat.

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