Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor Catman
Following on from Part 1, Catman looks at the second part that is needed to become an F1 star.
Talent alone is nowhere near enough to make it into Formula One; there are many people who have a massive amount of potential that do not get anywhere near the upper echelons of motor racing. The main barrier for most people is the sheer expense of working their way up through the lower formula.
Just look at Dan Cammish, who dominated the British Formula Ford championship in 2013 by winning all of the 24 races that he entered. Despite this Dan was unable to set his sights on single seater greatness as the financial support required was too great, so has turned his focus to securing British GT and British Touring Car drives in future, which come at a fraction of the cost.
To give you an indication of the numbers, a driver will need to find around £30,000 per season of national level karting for all the entrance fees, travel and accommodation expenses, the kart itself and all spares and consumables.
On top of this a large contingency needs to be built into the budget for the season. Racing is a tough environment and sometimes car problems will strike and components will need replacing, or a small misjudgement on track results in an expensive accident.
Initially this is where parental resources and dedication comes in and many families work multiple jobs to support their youngster’s dream.
Those that are lucky enough to be able to play this expensive game can move their way up the ladder to single seater racing.
There are many options out there, from Formula Renault 2.0 and GP3 costing around one million pounds per season, all the way up to GP2 and Formula Renault 3.5 with budgets surpassing two million pounds each year to stand a chance of being competitive.
This level of investment required means that the struggle to find funding is crucial. Some are able to turn to family backing to help their cause but for most finding endorsement from a company is the only way to access the funds needed to progress.
Most companies use driver sponsorship to further their brand awareness by having their logo displayed prominently on the cars they race. This brings them greater rewards in higher disciplines when brand exposure is greatest. Infiniti, title sponsor of Red Bull recently have been calculated to have gained over one billion dollars of advertising equivalency value, which is an astonishing amount considering their annual investment in the team is estimated to be around a mere seventy million pounds.
Drivers who can bring funding with them are very important to teams, especially in the current economic climate where finding corporate sponsorship is incredibly difficult. Mclaren have not had a title sponsor since Vodafone left the sport at the end of 2013 and let’s not forget the three teams HRT, Caterham and Marussia that have folded in the last few years.
There is no secret that the Sauber F1 team are struggling to put a financial package in place to stay afloat. They have had to sell their seats to the highest bidders, but unfortunately made a very public mess of it by having five paying drivers signed to pilot their two cars for this season.
In 2014 Giedo van der Garde had a agreed terms with the team to race in 2015 bringing £5.7 million pounds from family interests in the McGregor fashion business. Worsening financial problems for the team meant that over the winter Sauber had to take drastic action which resulted in this agreement being gazumped by Marcus Ericsson, who brings an estimated £15.7 million from Swedish corporations and by Felipe Nasr, who arrives with backing from Banco de Brazil is in the region of £12 million.
The resulting legal battle and eventual pay off for Van der Garde still leaves the Sauber team in credit, but their reputation has suffered a great deal in the process.
The driver currently in Formula One to bring the biggest sponsorship deal to their team is Pastor Maldonado, who’s backing from Venezuelan state-owned oil company PDVSA brings around thirty million pounds to the Lotus team each year. This may go some way to explaining why he is still there despite his high (self-induced) attrition rate and only having scored points eight times in his first eighty Formula One starts.
Sergio Perez is another driver who brings large amounts of personal sponsorship to his team through Mexican company Telcel to the tune of about seven million pounds.
DRIVER DEVELOPMENT PROGRAMS
A number of the F1 teams have their own driver development programs to bring talent through the lower formulae. The two most famous graduates of such a program are the current and previous World Champions, Lewis Hamilton (McLaren Mercedes Young Driver Development Program) and Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Junior Team). They were both signed on whilst in their very early-teens competing in national karting championships.
The young padawans embark on a structured support program and each of them receives countless hours of driver coaching and media training, but even more valuable than this is the access to important contacts and the weight that affiliation with an F1 team throws behind them, landing them drives with the most competitive teams.
The Red Bull Junior team has been the most successful with twelve of their youngsters making it to the F1 grid. Unfortunately for them this great honour comes with massive expectation and if they don’t immediately impress their Austrian overlords, they are mercilessly turfed out into the wider world to fend for themselves.
Young British drivers also have two independent funds that can help them to rise through the ranks. The Racing Steps Foundation supported Oliver Turvey and James Calado to turn professional and is currently funding five drivers including Oliver Rowland in Formula Renault 3.5, a hot prospect for the future.
The BRDC also regularly scours junior categories and promotes selected promising drivers through it’s “Rising Stars” and “Super Stars” programmes providing career guidance, training and support.
It is a myth that there are “pay-drivers” and non-pay drivers. Felipe Nasr who has been dealing with this rather ridiculous stigma said “What’s the difference between being supported by Red Bull paying for your drive, and having sponsors that want to be with you?”.
Each and every driver in the sport has to have backing in one form or another to make it there. Even the true greats of the past had to pay for their ride including the most successful driver in the history of the sport, Michael Schumacher, who came with the blessing of Mercedes and forked out $150,000 for his debut in the 1991 Belgian Grand Prix for the Jordan team.
Triple world champion Niki Lauda took out a £30,000 loan secured on his life insurance policy to buy his F2 seat in the March team for 1971, and then another for his BRM F1 drive in 1973 that gave him the platform to impress and be noticed by Ferrari.
IS THERE ANOTHER, MORE UNDERHAND WAY?
A journalist for Forbes trawling through the 598 pages of the failed F1 stock market flotation prospectus uncovered a section that reveals that FOM “from time to time, we sponsor GP2 and GP3 drivers to encourage the development of the sport in key markets.”
This raises questions as to the identity of the individuals who have benefited and in what capacity – “sponsoring” comes in many forms, not just monetary. Positive discrimination towards drivers with different ethnic and cultural backgrounds also raises an ethical dilemma of providing a fair and level playing field.
The fact that this favouritism has been hidden beneath the radar is an indication that they didn’t want this to become common knowledge. A number of drivers have made their racing debuts in the same year as their native country has hosted their inaugural races.
Until further evidence comes to light we will have to see this as coincidence.
There is a conflict of interest here – the governing body should be promoting and nurturing talent in general rather than for individuals. It is the job of teams and other development programs to fund aspiring drivers, not those who run the sport and make the rules.
Imagine a situation where a FOM supported driver had disciplinary procedures against them – how could the decisions made be impartial? Could this situation already have arisen?
A blend of natural talent, hard work and strong backing will set you on the way to the remote possibility of getting into Formula One. The length of your stay at the top is determined by the balance you can strike between them.