Editor's Note: Cássio
Côrtes is a young Brazilian journalist who writes for
AutoRacing1.com, and will be doing more with us now.
Multilingual (English, Portuguese, Spanish and French), Mr.
Cortes brings a fresh South American perspective to our
spite of pocketing dozens of millions of dollars every year during their
heyday, The Beatles kept telling us that they didn’t care too much for
money: it couldn’t buy them love.
Yet this venerable piece of Lennon & McCartney’s wisdom seems highly
ignored around open-wheel racing’s paddocks these days. The pinnacles of
motorsport skill, both in America and overseas, are largely occupied by
not the fastest and most skilled drivers, but by the wealthiest ones.
Now imagine the following news piece: In a stunning announcement, the
New York Yankees have decided to field up-and-coming Brazilian Cassio
Cortes instead of Derek Jeter for the next World Series. Yankee
management claimed financial reasons for the substitution: “Whereas
Jeter was costing us 18.9 million a year, Cortes will bring to the
franchise that exact same amount, giving us a much-needed infuse of cash
We all know such nonsense will never happen, no matter how fat Mr.
Cortes’ wallet may be (not very, by the way). The reason is simple: it’s
called Major League Baseball, those first two words symbolizing the fact
that only the very best are allowed in.
This common sense paradigm has been scrapped in many forms of racing
today, and it degrades the racing from one of a sport, to just a show.
Anywhere between 20 to 30 percent of the current Champ Car, IRL and
Formula One fields are comprised by drivers who, although may have the
talent to be racing among the world’s best, have not reached their
current position of privilege - circa only 60 spots on each season -
through their own merits against the stopwatch.
While some may argue that these ride-buyers hardly do influence the
outcome of a race, being relegated to finish one or two laps down each
Sunday (or five or six, if you were naïve enough to buy your way into
Minardi), they do hurt the spectacle.
Again, that's arguable: “If it weren’t for the rides for sale, Paul
Tracy would have never been able to impress people in his Dale Coyne
debut in ’91, same thing for Nelson Piquet driving a four-year old
McLaren rebadged as an Ensign in the ’78 German Grand Prix”.
True. But those were different days. Champ Car’s field in the early ’90s
and F1’s in the late ’70s often didn’t allow the smallest teams to even
start on race day, as 30-something cars would be battling for 24 or 26
spots on the grid. Young drivers who believed in their talents could
prove themselves worthy by merely qualifying those severely underfunded
efforts for the Sunday race.
(If a certain Mr. Cortes showed up with a couple of hundred thousand on
Friday, sure, he would get to do a few practice and qualifying laps, but
come race day, he’d be watching from the grandstands).
With the current economics of racing reducing these fields drastically,
everyone who shows up makes it to the big show. If that is our current
reality, then those fans on the stands, who are no longer able to see 26
cars crowding the streets of Long Beach once the green flag drops,
deserve at least to be treated to some action provided by the top
available 18 (and “top” here means “most-known” as much as it does
So listen to the ancient tune, team owners (and Gentilozzi, Kalkhoven
and Forsythe. And Bernie, too): sure, ride-buyers’ money might help you
pay a few bills around the shop. But it can’t buy you the fans’ love nor
earn your series any respect as a 'major league' sport.
Buying your way into the minor leagues to
show the world how good of a driver you are is one thing, but there's
something wrong with the business model when the top athletes/drivers
have to buy their way into the major leagues. The teams and the
racing series should run on a proper business model in which they get
the sponsorship and then hire the best athlete/driver that money will
Then and only then will racing be viewed
as a true sport instead of a side-show.
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