Open Wheel Racing's plaque As Formula One and IndyCar adapt to the global economic crisis, really good drivers sometimes get replaced by a ‘pay driver,’ as funding in the sport becomes ever more crucial.
‘Pay drivers’ are hardly a new phenomenon in the sport. Three times World Champion Niki Lauda took out a bank loan to secure his first drives in F1.
The Pay Driver term is more frequently attributed to drivers who lack ability but bring huge funding to a team, i.e. they buy their ride to live the jet-set life. The reality is that most pay drivers do possess the ability required to drive at the top level and be competitive. But the perception, and sometimes the reality is that a more talented driver may be overlooked.
Talented F1 driver Heikki Kovalainen’s position at Caterham is also under threat, whereas Kamui Kobayashi was dumped by midfield team, Sauber.
Talented Rubens Barrichello could not bring enough sponsorship to stay in F1 or IndyCar so now he is resigned to drive Brazilian stock cars where he will actually get paid to drive. And that is true for most stock car series worldwide, be it DTM or NASCAR - drivers get paid to drive.
Esteban Gutierrez, who has huge financial backing from Mexico’s TelMex, will replace Kobayashi for 2013, but Kobayashi started as a pay driver himself, backed by Japanese manufacturers like Toyota.
The argument for pay drivers bringing money is that financial stability and funding will boost a team's development of the car and hopefully propel them up the grid, helping both the pay and non-pay driver.
All well and good but compare that to stick and ball sports where the best athlete's never pay to play. They get paid for their talent.
And so this is the plaque that is rotting open wheel racing's imagine to the average sports fan, and it is something the sport had better fix before it's too late. Mark C. reporting for AR1.com