Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor Fortis96
Britain has a proud history in motorsport not just Formula 1 but that is the sport we love. Wikipedia lists 61 British drivers that have raced in Formula 1. Of those 19 has won at least 1 race and 10 have gone on to win at least one WDC. In total British drivers have won a total of 15 Formula 1 World Drivers Championships.
But are we seeing the end of British drivers in Formula 1? Had McLaren decided not to retain the services of Jenson Button for the 2015 season, only one British driver would have been on the grid – Lewis Hamilton. This would have been it’s lowest total since the sport began.
So the question has to be asked, what happens after both Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button hang up their racing boots? Sadly, given the current trend, there’s a strong possibility this may happen. Since the arrival of Lewis Hamilton in 2007 only 2 other British drivers have joined the grid, Paul Di Resta and Max Chilton (well I could add Will Stevens into the mix). Of the 2 (3) listed neither are on the grid any more.
Looking at the lower categories it appears there are some talented British drivers though. In 2014 there were 3 British drivers in in GP2, 7 in GP3, 5 in the European F3 Championship and 5 (including Will Stevens) in WSR 3.5.
While some of these drivers have been successful in the lower formulae has any of them caught the eyes of F1 paddock?
Jolyon Palmer, last year’s GP2 champion, won’t be on the 2015 grid. Neither is Sam Bird, ex Mercedes test driver and reasonable talent. So what is missing? It appears that unless you have a rich dad (Max Chilton) or know someone with buckets of cash who are willing to pay your way or have very lucrative backing (Gutierrez, Perez, Maldonado, Nasr and Ericsson) you don’t have a chance. That or you need to be part of a young driver programme like Stoffel van Doorne and Kevin Magnussen at McLaren or the Red Bull crowd. Even then, there’s still no guarantee that they’d get a drive.
While Palmer had harboured hopes of securing a seat at Force India, hope was not enough as the team announced that they’d be retaining their current driver line-up. Given the current financial situation of team owner Vijay Mallya, it was always to be expected that they’d retain the services of Sergio Perez due to the financial backing of Carlos Slim’s Telmex and Telcel.
Other options, affordable, evaporated when both Caterham and Marussia went belly up.
Current GP3 champion Alex Lynn’s chances was effectively ended (for next season at least) when fellow Red Bull backed driver Max Verstappen was announced as the replacement for Dani Kvyatt, the latter promoted to partner Ricciardo at Red Bull. And then, the final nail in Lynn’s F1 coffin was when it was announced that Carlos Sainz Jr. would be racing alongside Max at Toro Rosso.
What is behind this decline?
In my opinion it is down to the higher running costs the teams have. This affects the smaller teams more than the big ones and it is these teams that have always played a pivotal role in discovering and nurturing the next generation of F1 drivers.
Remember Minardi? Both Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber made their start there. Similarly, Jordan had Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello while Toleman had Ayrton Senna and Sauber had Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa. Toro Rosso, even though you can’t really call them a small team, nurtured Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo, with the latter first serving his apprenticeship in the now defunct HRT.
(Note: Of the current WDC champions on the grid, Lewis Hamilton is the only one that did not serve an apprenticeship in either a mid-field or back marker team)
With the current disparity in how the funds are distributed amongst the teams, with the smaller teams getting relative pittance, so as to survive, pay drivers has now become a formality, irrespective of whether that driver is any good or not.
Perhaps we can point to young Mexican Esteban Gutierrez. After having a fairly average season in 2013, where he scored 6pts, 2014 was a complete shocker. Neither he nor the team were able to score a single point. He’s now at Ferrari as their 3rd driver… is that by merit or due the funding he brings? I’ll leave that for you to decide.
It appears that smaller teams (I am looking at Sauber here) have now moved away from the model of looking to sign young talented drivers (Massa/Raikkonen) and have been forced into signing drivers that can bring in substantial funding just so they can maintain their presence on the grid. It was stated recently that their current line-up are reportedly bringing in $50m in sponsorship. Given how badly they were last season and the continuing reports of being on the brink of collapse, that’s welcome funding to the team.
So what’s next for British drivers with the aspirations of one day becoming a full member of the F1 grid?
While there are various programmes that are trying to give the next bright prospects every chance possible is this enough to guarantee a flow of talented drivers onto the F1 grid?
The BRDC has been running a driver development program called BRDC Superstars for the past 7 years. The program selects the brightest prospects and put them through a rigorous training programme. They compete across the different disciplines, ranging from single-seaters, prototypes up to touring cars and GTs. Similarly; The Racing Steps Foundation, a privately run not-for-profit organisation, offers a similar programme.
But is that enough? Though the on field results have shown that both programmes have given the participants a competitive edge, I feel that’s still not enough.
Unless these young drivers are lucky enough to find themselves as part of a “McLaren/Red Bull” backed young driver programme, funded by a billionaire or the equal distribution of the money pool, which would allow for more privateer teams, then I fear that it will be a while yet before we see the 62nd Brit to race in F1.