Mark Webber fears the quality of drivers on the F1 grid has dipped in recent years because of teams seeking sponsorship over talent. Is Formula 1 really in a ‘sad state’?
The Australian believes that teams are focusing more on budget these days and are overlooking some worthy drivers. Instead, they employ the first driver that brings sponsors and money, without analyzing results in lower series. The consequence? Drivers like Gutierrez and van der Garde making silly and often dangerous mistakes on track, something that shouldn’t happen at the pinnacle of motorsport.
Kamui Kobayashi was one of the many victims of sponsorship preference in Formula 1. Despite the Japanese driver displaying talent and supplying good results for Sauber (including a brilliant 3rd place in Japan), he didn’t have sponsorship and sufficient money to keep his seat for 2013. He was replaced by the Mexican Esteban Gutierrez, who is yet to score a single point for the team this season, while his teammate Hulkenberg has 7.
Sauber employed Gutierrez not because of his talent, but because of Telmex. The Mexican telecommunications company agreed to a sponsorship if Sauber employed a Mexican driver, after Sergio Perez’s departure. That’s when Gutierrez came into the picture. While Sauber now have the money (albeit debatable since the team was still on the verge of bankruptcy this season until saved by Russian investors), they have one quality driver less than last season.
With three Russian entities securing the future of Sauber, the team will now be employing a 17 year old Russian pilot, Sergey Sirotkin, due to the partnership terms and agreements. Sirotkin doesn’t even possess a super license to drive in Formula 1 yet. That certainly raises a few eyebrows.
Because of Sirotkin and supposedly another driver joining the team, Hulkenberg will risk losing his seat as well. The German produced some solid results this year given the weak car he’s been driving, but as we can now suspect, results mean little when you don’t have cash.
Sauber is just one example of a team choosing sponsorship over talent. Caterham have replaced Heikki Kovalainen, a man previously driving for McLaren and securing even a win for the Wocking team, with Giedo van der Garde. The Dutchman was granted the seat after bringing substantial sponsorship on the table. However, van der Garde displayed some poor form this season with four 18th place finishes, two retirements and occasional 15th place spots. The deal has not really been worth Caterham’s time, as the team is now behind rival Marussia in the championship and are seeking to give Kovalainen the spot back.
Marussia went down a similar path. The team fired the highly experienced Timo Glock to hire rookie Max Chilton. The Brighton is so far the weakest driver on the grid, and in last place in the championship standings. But again, money speaks louder than talent.
It’s not all doom and gloom, however. There are still drivers with potential on the grid: Nico Hulkenberg, Valteri Bottas, Jules Bianchi, Paul di Resta. But despite their strong performances, their spots at their current teams are never secure – there’s always the possibility that some rich kid arrives with a big black bag of cash to steal your seat because well…he can. because that’s the way Formula 1 works.