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What’s an F1 pay driver? All to know in regards to the controversial tag

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Motorsport is among the costliest industries on the earth as Pink Bull paid a staggering $7,445,817 to enter the 2024 F1 season. 

However prices are additionally excessive at a nationwide stage with groups paying as much as £29,000 for an area on the British GT grid. 

So it’s no surprise why some motorsport groups will appoint a pay driver, which is an idea that’s very distinctive to the trade. 

What’s a pay driver in F1? 

A pay driver is a time period in motorsport for any person who competes without spending a dime as they bring about cash to a staff quite than being paid by it. There are numerous methods during which the driving force could have that cash whether or not it’s by means of their very own checking account, funding from family or through a sponsor. 

Niki Lauda, for instance, paid for an F2 seat at March in 1971 after withdrawing a financial institution mortgage. Lawrence Stroll paid Williams to provide his son Lance an F1 seat for the 2017 season, whereas 5 years later Zhou Guanyu made his debut after sponsors in his native China helped him safe a spot at Alfa Romeo. 

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It prices some huge cash for a staff to enter F1 with the bottom entry charge for the 2024 season being Haas’ at $736,737, so some constructors have beforehand relied on a pay driver to outlive.  

That was the case for Forti Corse, who entered chapter throughout 1996 after shedding its pay driver Pedro Diniz on the finish of the earlier 12 months. Forti failed to attain any factors throughout its season on the grid so pay drivers are inclined to go to backmarkers who’re wanting funding. 

Pedro Diniz, Forti Corse

Picture by: Motorsport Pictures

Within the twenty first century, Williams has usually employed a pay driver because it was drastically wanting cash earlier than its possession change in 2020. In 2018, the staff partnered Stroll with one other inexperienced driver in Sergey Sirotkin who introduced a lot sponsorship to Williams earlier than Robert Kubica did the identical in 2019.  

Consequently, the pay driver tag could be very controversial as a result of many attain F1 regardless of their skillset not deserving it to the assumption of some followers. 

Nikita Mazepin was an instance of that as he joined Haas for the 2021 season, whereas his father’s chemical firm Uralkali turned the staff’s title sponsor. Mazepin’s promotion to F1 got here after ending simply fifth in F2 and outcomes throughout his rookie marketing campaign didn’t assist the undesirable tag both, as he was slower than team-mate Mick Schumacher in each qualifying session in the course of the season. However Mazepin solely lasted a 12 months in F1, as Haas dropped him simply two weeks earlier than the 2022 marketing campaign in response to his native nation Russia invading Ukraine.  

Not all pay drivers have restricted expertise although – Jordan was paid £150,000 to provide Michael Schumacher his debut – and typically the backing from one may help a staff to be aggressive.  

That’s as a result of, how can a staff construct a aggressive automobile if it doesn’t have the required funds to take action? It typically comes all the way down to the query of what’s extra necessary, a proficient driver or a aggressive automobile? 

The idea will not be unique to F1 both. In sportscar racing, the time period ‘gentleman driver’ is usually used for any person who claims a race seat by means of private backing, whereas it will also be for an individual who purchases a automobile earlier than partnering with a staff to type a privateer entry.  

Gentleman drivers are extra broadly accepted in sportscar racing although, as a result of in lots of sequence from the World Endurance Championship to British GT groups sometimes encompass an expert and an novice driver.  

#91 Century Motorsport BMW M4 GT3: Darren Leung, Dan Harper

#91 Century Motorsport BMW M4 GT3: Darren Leung, Dan Harper

Picture by: JEP / Motorsport Pictures

The way forward for F1 pay drivers 

The F1 pay driver is now much less frequent for 2 causes: the rollout of the FIA superlicence and the business increase that the sequence has lately had.  

Below the superlicence, a driver should accrue 40 factors earlier than reaching F1. Factors are awarded primarily based on a driver’s ending place in different classes, so not simply anyone with cash can attain F1 as a result of they need to now be of a sure normal to get there.  

Then there may be F1’s reputation enhance from the early 2020s, which has resulted within the worth of all 10 groups rising. As of 2024, Ferrari is probably the most useful staff at $3.9billion but even William, who’s the least useful, continues to be price $725million. 

So the funds in F1 are higher than they’ve ever been, which means “the pay driver is out” based on former Toro Rosso/AlphaTauri staff principal Franz Tost.

Guenther Steiner, former staff principal for Haas, echoed these ideas saying: “Within the {old} days, you had groups which have been financially not steady. Now we have 10 very stable groups right here so no person must depend on a pay driver proper now as a result of Method 1 is in such a great spot.” 

Pay drivers in F1 historical past  

Whereas drivers like Stroll, Lauda, Schumacher and Mazepin have all acquired a race seat by means of monetary backing, they don’t seem to be the one so-called pay drivers in historical past – listed here are another examples.  

Vitaly Petrov 

  • Groups: Renault, Caterham 

  • Grand prix begins: 57 (2010 Bahrain Grand Prix – 2012 Brazilian Grand Prix) 

  • Wins: 0 

  • Podiums: 1 

  • Championships: 0 

Vitaly Petrov made his F1 debut with Renault on the 2010 Bahrain Grand Prix after a promising 2009 season the place he completed second within the GP2 championship. Regardless of that, his promotion to F1 sparked a lot controversy as a result of he landed the seat after securing monetary backing from his father and the Russian authorities, who helped him grow to be the first-ever F1 driver from Russia.  

Vitaly Petrov (RUS) Renault R30 leads Fernando Alonso (ESP) Ferrari F10 and Mark Webber (AUS) Red Bull Racing RB6.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 19, Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Race, Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, UAE, Sunday 14 November 2010.

Vitaly Petrov (RUS) Renault R30 leads Fernando Alonso (ESP) Ferrari F10 and Mark Webber (AUS) Pink Bull Racing RB6. Method One World Championship, Rd 19, Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Race, Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, UAE, Sunday 14 November 2010.

Picture by: Daniel Kalisz

Petrov’s assist from the Russian authorities was sturdy and forward of the 2011 season then prime minister Vladimir Putin pleaded for extra backing in direction of the driving force. He began that marketing campaign with a podium on the season-opening Australian GP, but it surely resulted in Renault not retaining Petrov for 2012 regardless of him ending a career-best of tenth within the 2011 standings. 

That wasn’t the top of his F1 profession although, as Petrov moved to Caterham for the 2012 season however that partnership solely lasted a 12 months after failing to attain some extent. After F1, Petrov competed within the 2014 DTM season earlier than shifting to WEC from 2016 to 2019 the place he claimed two podiums on the Le Mans 24 Hours.  

Pastor Maldonado  

  • Groups: Williams, Lotus  

  • Grand prix begins: 95 (2011 Australian Grand Prix – 2015 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix) 

  • Wins: 1 

  • Podiums: 1 

  • Championships: 0  

Pastor Maldonado turned the primary Venezuelan F1 driver for 27 years – Johnny Cecotto drove the 1984 season – when he made his debut for Williams on the 2011 Australian GP. He was given the drive after successful the 2010 GP2 title, whereas providing Williams £30million a 12 months by means of oil firm PDVSA – a deal that was personally authorized by then Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. 

Maldonado subsequently turned a controversial determine throughout his F1 profession, as he was concerned in a sequence of crashes together with 11 in 2015 though not all have been his fault.  

Regardless of constantly working outdoors of the factors, Maldonado did have his shock day within the solar by successful the 2012 Spanish GP. He achieved it by beginning on pole as authentic pole sitter Lewis Hamilton was demoted to a back-row begin as a result of McLaren failed to provide sufficient gas for evaluation post-qualifying. 

Maldonado then misplaced the result in Fernando Alonso firstly however regained it by undercutting the Ferrari driver within the first pitstop window. Maldonado needed to make one other overtake for the lead when Kimi Raikkonen ran an extended penultimate stint, earlier than holding off Alonso’s late cost to provide Williams its first victory for eight years and likewise its final as of 2024.  

Podium: race winner Pastor Maldonado, Williams, second place Fernando Alonso, Ferrari, and third place Kimi Raikkonen, Lotus F1

Podium: race winner Pastor Maldonado, Williams, second place Fernando Alonso, Ferrari, and third place Kimi Raikkonen, Lotus F1

Picture by: Sutton Pictures

He left Williams for Lotus in 2014 however that partnership solely lasted two years, as a result of funding from Maldonado’s sponsor ran dry on the finish of 2015 inflicting him to lose his F1 seat. Maldonado turned a Pirelli check driver in 2016 and 2017 earlier than competing within the 2018-19 WEC marketing campaign the place he completed third within the LMP2 class. 

Rio Haryanto 

Rio Haryanto turned the primary Indonesian to ever compete in F1 when he made his debut for Manor on the 2016 Australian GP. He landed the seat after ending fourth within the 2015 GP2 championship however, most significantly, had funding from oil firm Pertamina for the primary 11 grands prix. 

Manor then allowed Haryanto to compete within the twelfth grand prix, the ultimate one earlier than the summer season break, earlier than dropping him mid-season as he wanted an additional €7million to finish the marketing campaign.  

Esteban Ocon duly changed Haryanto, who turned Manor’s check driver earlier than shifting to GT World Problem Asia and the Asian Le Mans Sequence after a disappointing F1 profession the place he failed to attain some extent.  

Nicholas Latifi  

Nicholas Latifi turned one more pay driver to have competed for Williams when he was promoted from his check driver position for the 2020 season. Latifi argued that ending second within the 2019 F2 standings meant he deserved the chance, however followers nonetheless labelled him as a pay driver as a result of the Canadian got here with huge sponsorship together with his father’s firm Sofina Meals.   

It additionally didn’t assist Latifi that he struggled from the off, as he completed his rookie season with zero factors whereas failing to beat team-mate George Russell in qualifying. Latifi’s sophomore 12 months was higher as he completed contained in the factors twice, however was within the headlines for the flawed purpose on the 2021 Abu Dhabi GP when his crash precipitated a late security automobile within the controversial title decider between Hamilton and Max Verstappen. 

Nicholas Latifi, Williams FW44

Nicholas Latifi, Williams FW44

Picture by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Pictures

Latifi then entered an important ultimate 12 months of his contract in 2022, the place he had a brand new team-mate in Alex Albon as Russell moved to Mercedes. However, Latifi was once more constantly crushed by a team-mate and only one factors end that season led to Williams not renewing his contract. 

That was additionally Latifi’s ultimate 12 months in motorsport as he retired following the 2022 season to pursue a Masters of Enterprise Administration on the London Enterprise College. a



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