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How the FIA can rid pay drivers from the F1 grid

FEATURE BY GUEST AUTHORS
17/02/2014

The odometer on my Grandmother's 1991 Toyota Corolla reads just over 30,000 kilometres. Since Grandma purchased the silver-trimmed-with-rust coloured chariot 23 years ago, she has averaged roughly 1,300 km per year tooting back and forth to Tuesday Night Bingo. Yet, even with this next-to-never driving schedule, our family matriarch would need just three months to qualify for her FIA super licence.

Much has been made of the growing pay-driver pandemic in the world's premier racing series. But South American oil money is not alone to blame. The FIA has made a mockery of its licensing system by granting their stamp of approval to just about any cash-endowed biped who applies, with all due respect to Mr Yuji Ide, of course.

Current FIA standards require aspiring drivers to complete 300 km in Formula One machinery to qualify for their licence. That's just a few hours in the car. This mileage can be conducted during private testing when cars are not compliant with all F1 regulations. Turn on the traction control and even Billy Joel could make it around Jerez enough times to satisfy the governing body.

It's time the FIA restricts the amount of super licences available by installing a competitive application process for hopeful F1 pilots. Consider the following:

All licences expire after the season's final Grand Prix. F1 drivers who finish in the top 12 receive automatic licence renewal for the following year. Assuming a final grid of 22 cars, that leaves ten positions available for new applicants. Stars from the world's top racing series - including GP2, DTM, Formula Renault, IndyCar, WRC and, yes, even NASCAR - are invited to apply, as well as the remaining F1 tail-enders.

Enter the FIA comité de selection du pilote.

Comprised of a select group of former drivers, the committee assesses applications, debates merits and votes for the best candidates. Factors like mechanical failures, strength of competition, hindering injuries and propensity for being run off the road by Romain Grosjean are all taken into account.

Once a 22-driver field is set, all licensed drivers are free to negotiate contracts with F1's constructors. Naturally, the teams offering the most money score the biggest names. The more frugal outfits are left to choose from whoever remains, with a minimum salary imposed.

So, how different would the 2014 grid look?

Finishing 12th would allow Paul di Resta one more kick at the carbon fibre, while Davide Valsecchi, Bruno Spengler and Andre Lotterer could finally see their big-league ambitions come to fruition. Heikki Kovalainen would be welcomed back with open arms. Heck, even Jimmie Johnson might become a "lucky dog" after the application process concluded.

On the other hand, say "adios, auf wiedersehen and cheerio" to the likes of Esteban Gutierrez, Adrian Sutil and Max Chilton. Also falling victim to relegation would be, with great satisfaction, one Pastor Maldonado.

Under this system, Mr Maldonado must use whatever cash he has left to buy the best IndyCar drive David Letterman can offer, win the series outright and reapply to F1 for 2015. Even so, if Grandma finally gets serious and submits her super licence application, poor Pastor may still find himself on the side-lines - where he and all the other pay drivers belong. Formula One is only for the best.

Brian Richardson
brianrich1@outlook.com

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1. Posted by gturner38, 07/03/2014 5:14

"I'm all for making it harder to get a super licence, but I don't like the idea of a panel being able to arbitrarily decide the drivers who are eligible, especially if they are only picking just enough to fill the grid. Surely the people who actually have to hire the drivers, pay their salaries, and cover the cost of any damage they do to the cars should have some say in who they get to hire. Just imagine being Marussia and finding that you have to choose two drivers out of Valentino Rossi, Kyle Busch, and Sebastien Loeb because the panel wanted more variety and the better funded teams grabbed all of the real single seater drivers. What are the chances that a young kid with 2 Group C wins would get a superlicense? That would have stopped Michael Schumacher. Vettel and Raikkonen wouldn't have made it either while Button would have likely been thrown out either after a bad year at Renault or during the 2007-08 Honda fiasco. That's a lot of WDCs changing due to a panel hand picking drivers instead of letting the teams make the decisions.

All they have to do is go back to a system of needing certain minimum results. Top 10 in points in Indycar, top 5 in points or a race win in the previous season of GP2 or Formula Renault, a WEC championship or multiple race wins as a platinum/gold driver, or a championship in F3, GP3 or other national level series could be required. That would give F1 teams a pool of drivers who all have reasonable credentials, but still allows them to weigh salary requirements and take drivers with sponsorship if they need to.

"

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2. Posted by stoney, 27/02/2014 21:19

"@Bobster: Was "Hunt the Shunt" ringing your bell? :)

As said, I personally don't see a change in the pay driver until teams are incentivised to make driver performance a key part of their package. By definition, the money they bring is more important than their ability - hence "pay driver".

I'm personally thankful that The Hulk's pure speed managed to avoid him driving a Renault powered car this year... some justice, perhaps.

The only solution I see is to make the driving experience much more complicated for the driver to handle, either by going back to basics and making the cars ride on a knife edge without driver aids and a radio link to the pits (so they are really alone), or by making the technology such a complicated beast to handle, only the best can ensure the right ERS setting, activate the DRS, while dropping a banana skin at the right moment (oh wait, that's Mario Kart) to be successful.

Even managing a car over a complete race distance is mostly worked out on a supercomputer back at head office, so I see this as a limited impact on the problem."

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3. Posted by Ken, 27/02/2014 13:40

"Damnsborn states "Pay drivers are a necessary evil for the less well funded teams ...". But does this have to be? You seem to accept it. Can someone/entity correct this problem? If not the FIA, then who? The teams? They can't even agree with each other to be united on anything. The whole thing is out of control and we fans are getting fed up with it. The well financed teams, Ferrari, McLaren, Merc, Red Bull are controlling everything and don't want to hear from the smaller, less financed teams who want budget caps so they can have a chance. Right now none of these teams have a chance. The FIA just sits there with their thumbs up their a#*ss; Bernie steps up and other 1mil Sterling to catch violators...is this the way an organization should address a major problem? I think not.

To Bobster: Again, everyone has some talent. The question is, does the present system pick to best? Answer: NO because drivers are chosen not for their performance but their sponsors money. This has many consequences that affect other better drivers. Let's take Crashdenado and Grosjean: How many drivers did these guys take out in races the last two seasons? And the guys they took out were from the lower teams by and large who did not complete their race which effected their future employ on other teams. Yes, there will always be crashes, that is motorsports but % will be higher when the drivers are of a lower caliber.

To both: We need some major changes in F1 analogous to the NFL system that allows for the smaller, less financed teams to be competitive. First, there is selection process for picking players with the best talent, totally opposite in F1. Second, the draft system enables the teams with the worst record to be competitive over time, totally opposite in the F1, rather if you sink, then drown.
With the current system in F1, all of us can pick the probable winners for 2014...it will be last years top four out of 11 teams...none of the lower teams will outperform this group. Is this what we want? Total predictability? If, yes, then there is no need to have 7 other teams on the grid. Just tell them that unless they have the same amount of funding as the top four teams they cannot compete. In fact , that is the way it is now...they are not competitive and only act as moving obstacles on track that some times impede their progress. Now if we want to have a grid with more than 4 teams that are competitive, then we need to do something that levels the playing field. I have news: putting DRS, EMS, restricted fuel loads, etc., ain't doen the trick...it only reduces the driving spectacle the fans want and keeps the top four where they are forever. This is not motor racing but a controlled, predictable event...something I, for one, am not very interested in watching. "

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4. Posted by Bobster, 27/02/2014 7:59

"What if di Resta stayed on the list by virtue of having finished in the top 12 and nobody wanted him?

Ken, I'm trying to think of other drivers who looked wild and accident prone early on and then turned out to be decent F1 drivers. The most obvious example is Jody Scheckter, though there's a bell ringing in my head that says there was somebody else a bit later. Though Maldonado is running out of time to show us any potential WDC that might be lurking inside him."

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5. Posted by Damnsborne, 26/02/2014 14:12

"Very good in principal but a number of stumbling points. The main one would be the teams bidding against each other for a very limited supply of FIA approved drivers. I think they want a lot less FIA interference not more.
Pay drivers are a necessary evil for the less well funded teams and blocking them might be pulling the rug out. You would need to set up replacement income or kiss them goodbye. Commercial sponsorship doesn't just put some bums in seats it funds the whole sport. As a rule nobody says no to money.
On another point, if the new teams don't make it to being mildly competitive in a given period the slot should go to another start up team. Why wasn't the twelth team replaced? Lets hope they jump up a bit this year."

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6. Posted by Ken, 26/02/2014 13:19

"Stoner in this forum states: "Until you can resolve the paradox of keeping the incentive for teams to always choose better performance drivers rather than drivers with money, whilst at the same time not penalising the minnow teams, I don't see this changing." This is very true. As to Eppster's comment being unfair to CrashDenado, I feel he is missing the point. Just because he won a few events or placed well here or there does not detract from his major mistakes, taking people out at the start, making moves that can't be made, etc. The question one has to ask is what other potentially superior drivers were overlooked because Maldonado, Grojean and others had more cash, resulting in him making the team. F1, supposedly being the pinnacle of motorsport, should have the best drivers based upon their driving skills and not the money they carry with them. The fact that this is occurring is a symptom of what is wrong in F1: Most of the teams do not have enough money to be competitive; they are desperate for cash and, as a result, will lower their standards for driving performance in return for the $$. The FIA needs to show some leadership and vision by correcting this problem. Perhaps a fixed salary for all the drivers that meet some performance standards with bonuses for their race results.
Another example of the FIA failing to recognize the significance of a drivers skills is taking away major elements of driving. For example, passing. What do we fans see: DRS zones which require no skill in passing...just push a button. We fans enjoy watching all aspects of driving, not those the FIA deems important. So in short, F1 is broken because the costs for being competitive has escalated to where only a few well financed teams are actually racing; the others shouldn't even bother to get on the start line...the semblance of a race of many when, in fact, it is but a few. "

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7. Posted by Bobster, 26/02/2014 6:04

"What's so bad about Max Chilton?

Really.

Standards in F1 are set and the rubbish is weeded out. This started in the 90s when there were some truly dire teams and some drivers who were really not up to the job (Phillipe Adams anyone?). The 107% rule was introduced - you had to qualify within 107% of the pole time otherwise you didn't race.

That rule, or variations of it, has been around ever since. Last season the rule was that in Q1 you had to get within 107% of the fastest lap in that session or you didn't start (unless you could show that something exceptional had occurred that thwarted your efforts).

In Spain last year the slowest qualifier was not even Chilton but Pic. Pic's best time was 1:25.070, well inside the 107% cut off for Q1. Indeed he was just a hair over 4% off of the fastest Q1 time. OK... the fast guys don't use the sticky tyres in Q1. 107% of pole (and pole was the fastest lap in any session) was 1:26.368. Pic was still inside 107% after all was done and dusted. In the race the last finished was Chilton - 2 laps down from the leader.

Contrast this to 1991. Forget about pre-qualifying and the fact that 30 cars got a shot at the 26 starting places, the last starter (Boutsen) was 6% off of pole (the slowest car in qualifying was 11.11% off) and at the end of the race Nakajima was 3 laps off the lead.

1993... Barbazza was the slowest on the grid, 6.59 seconds and 8.46% off of pole (Alboretto's performance in qualifying was worse and he was not allowed to start), only 3 cars finished on the lead lap and the last three running when the flag fell (2 Jordans and an Arrows) were 3 laps behind.

1994.... Belmondo was the slowest car to actually start, and he qualified at 110.68% of pole (8.749 seconds slower). David Brabham was 4 laps off of the lead when the flag fell, Zanardi and Bernard were 3 laps off.

Standards haven't dropped. They've improved. And with the rule that mandates a certain qualifying performance relative to the fastest guys it doesn't matter how big your budget is, you have to be able to deliver at a certain level.

You can't just buy speed and you can't just buy a race seat."

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8. Posted by Hardliner, 23/02/2014 14:38

"love it!"

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9. Posted by Wayne DR, 18/02/2014 22:05

"It would be great to see a higher quality driver line up, but doubt FIA will do anything.

My suggestion would be to bring back customer cars. We have engine manufacturers, why not take it to the next level? The larger teams will still develop the cars through the season, but they have the budget to do this. The Minnows don't need massive design teams to produce and develop cars that are 2-4 seconds a lap off the pace, and can spend this money on blooding rookie drivers.

An engine Contract for 2014, is around EU 20 million for ten engines, with technical support. Two complete cars for a season would go for what, EU 40-50 million?

We might even see the return of privateers!

The dream would be to have more that 28-30 cars/drivers, but only 26 qualifiers, so we then weed out the also-rans. Sponsors are not going to support a driver that does not qualify, and provide visibility to their product!

(Who knows, it could even lead to successful implementation of a budget cap...)"

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10. Posted by jasman, 18/02/2014 3:11

"How about a simple up/down vote by pitpass readers. A tie will be broken by a vote from Professor Lawrence!"

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11. Posted by David WR, 17/02/2014 20:03

"I do agree that something has to be done, but this suggestion is a bit silly, actually. Just one example: before getting his super license, Vettel had only won one championship: the (relatively insignificant) 2004 Formula BMW ADAC. Would he have been singled out to get a super license under these rules? Highly unlikely. Heidfeld, on the other hand, destroyed the competition in the feeder series, but never even got a win in F1 (admittedly, also due to always being in the wrong car). Regarding the pay driver question, it's the sign of the times: F1 teams are short of cash (Williams, for God's sake!) and drivers bringing the cash will get a drive (and super license).
And let's not forget Raikkonen, who got a super license with only 23 races under his belt. Sure: there have been bad calls in giving super licenses, but there have also been quite a few successful drivers, who most likely wouldn't have gotten a break under these rules."

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12. Posted by ape, 17/02/2014 18:32

"-YAWN - "

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13. Posted by Eppster, 17/02/2014 17:50

"Agree in principal about the unwelcome number of pay drivers currently in F1 - and was quite enjoying and quietly nodding at your ideas to change that - right up till where it became a rather obvious, ugly and personal issue regarding Pastor Maldonado - which then, for me, made your article lose credibility.

Yes, Maldonado IS a pay driver and it is more than likely he would not be in F1 if it was not for PDVSA's money. However, he did win the GP2 championship in 2010 and is also an F1 GP winner (Spain 2012) so he's not exactly a run-if-the-mill pay-drive monkey making up the numbers - and is undeserving of such a focused and personal attack which not only belittles him - but also your argument."

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14. Posted by Rock Doc, 17/02/2014 17:23

"I love the idea. If only the FIA would listen to the true fans and introduce rules that make sense. Drivers need to earn their place in F1.

But don't forget that some the best drivers have got in early because of the rules we have. Kimi for one had only a handful of races before he was noticed and fast tracked in.

I'm sure that must be a happy medium here, but don't send it to a committee. We all know what happens when a committee gets involved. That's when your Gran would be just given a licence because she's a nice old lady. "

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15. Posted by stagecoach66, 17/02/2014 15:17

"You would need to select more than 22 drivers - maybe 33 - so that the teams (and not the FIA) make the final selection of drivers. And drop the minimum salary bit."

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