Talented drivers overlooked in open wheel cancer crisis

Too many Formula One and IndyCar drivers are being gifted dash-for-cash breakthroughs at the cost of the more talented but less financially blessed, who are being dumped off the race grid.

The fiscal cancer-crisis that threatens the two top echelons of open wheel racing, F1 with increasing development costs and travel expenditure amounting to many millions of dollars, and IndyCar, destroyed by Tony George's power play, and with a car so ugly the fans can't stand to watch……so they don't, looms with dire promise.

And that is why some teams at the wrong end of the income scale are only too keen to recruit a pay-as-you-go driver, bolstered by many millions in sponsorship monies, rather than opt for a more highly talented individual, who does not have the backing and who needs a wage. Sports fans are not stupid. They buy tickets to see a sport of the most talented athletes. No one wants to pay to see a field full of wankers compete.

“It’s all wrong," says Red Bull’s outgoing Aussie star Mark Webber. And Felipe Massa agrees, saying: “It’s a shame."

They are both supported by former F1 driver and now TV pundit Martin Brundle, a veteran of 158 races, all of them salaried.

He confesses that, when he was striving to make his entry into F1 in 1984, he tried to dupe renowned British team boss Ken Tyrrell by promising to bring in $200,000 that he did not have.

“I was kidding," he reveals. “And Ken said to me ‘I know you don’t have the money, but I want you to drive me for me anyway’."

Brundle adds: “There is no doubt that pay drivers are creeping their way up the grid — and the balance is getting pretty close to pay drivers dominating the sport."

A prime example is Pastor Maldonado, who has transferred his 30 million pounds oil company sponsorship money from Williams into an ever-grateful and cash-strapped Lotus for the upcoming season.

The erratic Venezuelan, a one-time winner but a fade-out last year, has been welcomed with open arms by the team who lost ex-champion Kimi Raikkonen to Ferrari because they failed to pay his wages in 2013.

The spin-off tragedy, with team doors wide open as cash-packed wallets are thrust under hierarchical noses, is that the likes of Paul di Resta, extremely talented but financially unsupported to any useful or desirable degree, is out of a job for the upcoming campaign.

“The issue is disappointing when you see brilliant drivers like Paul getting booted out of F1 when you know that others are only in because they are bringing in cash. And that is what is making me and others uncomfortable," said Brundle.

Massa, formerly with Ferrari and now with Williams, says: “It is a shame to imagine a young driver who has the talent and the ability to probably be a world champion does not get the chance to compete in Formula One or loses the place he has to another guy who has the money to bring to a team.

“And, let’s face it, more teams want a driver to bring in a budget."

In IndyCar the drivers turnover so quickly from one pay driver to the next that they never develop a fan following. So with few drivers with a fan following, coupled with a car too ugly to watch, on a TV network (NBC Sports Network) no one tunes to, the result is near-zero TV ratings. While F1 has huge cumulative worldwide TV viewers that attract sponsors, IndyCar has TV ratings so low sponsors go running for the door. With no way to attract sponsors because hardly anyone is watching on TV, the IndyCar team owners have no choice – take the ride-buyer checks or go out of business. It's a vicious circle from which there is no way out until IndyCar moves all its races to ABC network TV and they put body kits on those ugly cars to make them look better.

As the old saying goes: Money does not bring happiness. But it does, as far as F1 and IndyCar goes, buy favoritism.

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