Voice of the #F1 Fans: The decline of British drivers in F1…

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.

Jenson Button qualifying British Grand PrixBut 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?

Joylon PalmerJolyon 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.

alonso-minardi-2001-monzaRemember 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.

18 responses to “Voice of the #F1 Fans: The decline of British drivers in F1…

  1. That’s why I wasn’t opposed to the idea of 3 cars in certain teams (those who want it of course). If they made some sort of rules to only give it to a youngster( 0 to 3 years experience or something like that). More chances to find raw talent. To give them a real chance to prove something. And it would be fun for the spectators. Youngsters in the best cars always think with their heart. Not their mind 😉

  2. I think this is a real problem, not only for British drivers but for all young guns wanting in. And with the new super license rules it will get more difficult to get in.

    Again, make the sport itself more affordable so that teams can have a proper business model.

    • See whilst I like that idea, won’t that increase cost in terms mechanics, race engineers, transportation etc?

      • It does. But frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn. It’s f1. It should cost money… and that is why I said it should be an option. If you want to spend it, go ahead. If you don’t, don’t. ..

    • Ironically, when the teams can all stand on their own two feet without folding, that’s when they’ll pick the best drivers, as at that point that’s the only consideration – whichever two drivers can gain them time on the track.

  3. Congratz on the article Fortis,but if you think the Brits have it bad what about the Italians? with the famous prancing horse being Italy pride n joy who was there last prolific driver ,and how many yrs have we been without an Italiana driver…..diciamo qui e fratello carlucio ,sai tuto eh

    • Thank you…

      I hope that’s not you swearing at the F1 Gods for not unearthing the next truly exceptional Italian to join the grid 🙂

      • That is probably Alessio Lorandi, who is following straight in the footsteps of Max Verstappen, moving from the top of karting to FIA F3 with Van Amersfoort. In the past, he’d have been a shoe-in for a Minardi debut, like Jarno Trulli, once he was ready for F1.

        However, for every Lorandi, there’s another talent making a career out of karting, say, Luca Corberi..

        • Yes I gather there are quite a few talented karters who do not move into cars because they can have a better, more rewarding career by staying in karts.

  4. Hm, so you guys are as shit at driving cars as you are at building them – it does fit, doesn’t it? I don’t get this sense of entitlement. British drivers have always been part of F1, while automotive heavyweight nations like Germany and japan have not. Granted, Germany has beeen doing a bit of catching up since 1994, but does it really matter where a driver comes from?
    Isn’t it the personality and the general conduct that makes people like drivers? My all-time favourites are Mansell and Zanardi, both people who fought onj despite the odds and entertained on the track. I couldn’t care less about what flag is raised when they win…

    • It’s not about sentimentality, entitlement or what makes someone likes a particular driver hippo. Just something that I’ve been observing for sometime now. But this is not just something that affects British drivers, as Samaritan can attest to with Italians.

      Who’s the next young hotshot German you see that will make the leap into F1 at some point in the future? Is there a team out there that would offer him an opportunity to go racing without the need to have a billionaire backer?

      • There are 3 talents – Kirchöffer, Wehrlein and Abt – apart from them there is absolutely nothing coming from Germany. It’s just a normal developmenmt. Schumacher started the hype that brought about Vettel, Hülkenberg and Sutil, but that’s over now. Same happened with the British the last few years.

        • What about young Schumi? Mick Jr should pivot into cars soon, as most of his peers are now doing. He’ll probably be good, but now he has a Bruno Senna path to follow, going it alone rather than with his WDC relative.

          I really rate Kirchhoefer, and Wehrlein even looks the part as a direct Hamilton replacement (going down the Paul di Resta route to F1 with Mercedes). Abt has his family name on his racing teams, so he should be OK wherever he ends up.

          But I would love to see Audi come in with Hulk/Kirch, who as you say, is from East Germany (as were Auto Union back in the day?). Otherwise, I can see them never quite getting that chance at the top.

          It’s notable how few German drivers are in the European junior ladder.. just Kirchhoefer, with DTM for Vietoris, Wittmann and Wehrlein. The rest stick to ADAC Formel Masters/German F3, where Pommer finally won this year.

          So I must agree that ‘the hype is over’. It’ll be dead in the water if Kirchhoefer/Mick Jr don’t make it. But Germany now have ‘quality over quantity’ in their favour at least.

  5. What do you get if you combine Jenson Button and Max Chilton? Answer: Lando Norris. The World Kart Champion reputedly has a 9! figure family valuation.. so, by the time Lewis is thinking of retirement, he’ll probably be entering F1. Lets see if Enaam Ahmed (Junior WKC) can be so lucky.

    On the flipside, we do have ‘numbers’.. which are also swelled by the British motorsport industry ‘sucking people in’ – so names like Zamparelli, Blomqvist, Bernstorff are now flying the British flag, rather than Italian, Swedish or German/Danish.

    Now, they were all born here, so can fully do so of course. For Alex Albon.. after being dropped by Red Bull, maybe switching from Thai to British helped him get picked up by Lotus?

    Any advantage will help them make it, so to many, it’s probably just that, although Lynn/Palmer said that the less British drivers, the better the chance of one of them finding a sponsor to crack F1!

  6. Who Cares ? – Talent Will Find A Way.

    It Took 41 Years For A BRIT To Become A Multiple WDC All Over Again – But Finally There Is Another One.

    GO, 44 !

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