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F1 Opinion 9

Financial times

From pneumatic tyres to double DRS via drilled throttle pedals, knock-off hubs, turbocharging, sliding skirts, X-wings, carbon monocoques, blown diffusers and mass dampers, motor racing is rarely short of buzz phrases. At present, ‘pay driver’ is one of the most likely to be heard – and in a Formula 1 context the term is uniquely pejorative.

Of the current crop, though, all have decent track records – and it would be ludicrous to bracket any with some of their worst forebears. Yes, Pastor Maldonado’s Venezuelan backing is a boon for Williams – but his performances are often as mighty as his sponsorship cheques. Max Chilton might not have progressed so easily without his family’s wealth, but he has matured into a canny racer and last year’s two GP2 victories were beautifully judged. Marussia team-mate Luiz Razia has also made impressive progress. It took him four seasons to emerge as a consistent GP2 front-runner, but that’s because he had previously been pushed too far, too swiftly.

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Caterham recruit Charles Pic looked good in GP2 and performed strongly for Marussia last season against the admirable Timo Glock, but his 2013 team-mate Giedo van der Garde has the most curious background of the fresh intake. He was a contemporary of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg as long ago as 2004, in the F3 Euroseries, but has taken rather longer to reach the sport’s summit. He has since specialised in finishing somewhere between fifth and eighth in various mainstream junior categories, the obvious blip occurring in 2008, when he was crowned champion in the World Series by Renault (less strong then than it has since become). There are more deserving candidates for race seats, but he is not without form.

It is unthinkable, of course, that anybody would ever to be allowed to pay for the privilege of opening the bowling for England on the first morning of an Ashes series, or to spearhead Manchester United’s forward line, but ours is not like other sports because wealthy amateurs have long been part of its fabric. The species faded from Grand Prix racing during the 1970s, but the affluent and ambitious have remained eligible to compete in such as the Le Mans 24 Hours and world championship rallies. In recent times, F1 has allowed quality control standards to drop only rarely. Giovanni Lavaggi (Pacific/1995, Minardi/1996) had little business on an F1 grid – and Taki Inoue (Simtek/1994, Footwork/1995) none at all, as he nowadays cheerfully admits – but there have been more extreme cases.

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Channoch Nissany lives in Budapest, hails from Israel and earned the sobriquet ‘Stirling Mossad’ when he pitched up to drive a Minardi during Friday practice at the Hungaroring in 2005 – a nickname that evolved rather more quickly than he drove. He had precious little single-seater pedigree and was so pedestrian in the first session that the team concocted an imaginary problem to ensure he stayed out of harm’s way in the second.

Last season, Ma Qing Hua sprang from the 1.6-litre division of the Chinese touring car championship to serve as an occasional Friday driver for HRT: he wasn’t as far out of his depth as some, but that’s not the same thing as being adequately qualified.

His acceptance contrasted with the sport’s attitude during the mid 1970s, when things became a little more selective. You could tell the tide was turning when Karl Oppitzhauser and Otto Stuppacher were allowed to enter the 1976 Austrian Grand Prix, but then barred from participation on the grounds of inexperience. Stuppacher later reappeared for a few races, when he was allowed to practise, but he was 13.87sec off the pace at Monza, 12.695sec at Mosport Park and a remarkable 27.448sec at Watkins Glen. You could understand the objections, but somehow the sport felt richer for the presence of such clueless optimism.

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Add your comments

9 comments on Financial times

  1. David, 8 February 2013 14:21

    I believe Nissany was already in his 40s when he embarked on his F3000 ‘career’ with apparently no previous seasons in a single seater.

    From a race licence point of view ,how and why was that even allowed? One assumes/hopes the FIA have long since tughtened up their licensing requirements.

  2. Listerine, 8 February 2013 17:19

    Wait till Todt’s Arab puppetmasters start placing their rich kids in F1. They have big stakes in McLaren, Ferrari etc. They’re on the GP calendar and are hungry for more, e.g. Dubai. Emirates Airlines is now an F1 “global partner”. It’s time the growing power of Mohammed Ben Sulayem came under scrutiny. He bullied Middle East clubs to vote for Todt in 2009. Re-installed as FIA Vice-President, he got the indebted Todt to give him his own FIA fiefdom, the new MENA sub-region (Middle East – North Africa) in 2011. This week MENA met in Doha to receive a report ordered by Sulayem to increase the region’s competitors, officials and motorsports events by 20% by 2015, with “a firm commitment… to work together to create a new generation of national heroes, backed by funding from the FIA”. Western motorsport media has largely overlooked the meeting, but Sulayem’s comments were extraordinary: MENA “will play an increasingly important role in the FIA”, because “the traditional base of the FIA, Europe, will decline in terms of overall population”, giving “a tremendous opportunity for growth, in particular from (countries) such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and” – wait for it – “Iran.” At least he didn’t mention Syria, although it had a rep at the meeting. Also present was one J Todt. Look no further if you want to know why Todt says nothing as Ecclestone persists with the PR disaster of a GP in Bahrain, whose royals also backed Todt’s election – and who also co-own the ART GP2 team with Todt’s son Nicolas. And look no further if you want to see why F1 is being drained away from Europe.

  3. Listerine, 8 February 2013 17:28

    Two links for the above info.

    One from MENA-s own website:

    And one from the website of MENA’s compliant puppet the FIA, where you can see Mr Todt cooing approvingly and impotently at the feet of his controllers. It even quotes their open brags about how they intend to move in on its organisation:

  4. John B, 8 February 2013 18:25

    Can I have a drive?
    Ill just check down the back of the couch…

  5. Rob Marsh, 9 February 2013 09:37

    Niki Lauda started off as a pay friver for March

  6. James, 9 February 2013 17:38

    It has always been the way….

    Michael Schumacher, Niki Lauda, Rubens Barrichello all had to bring money to get into F1.

    At least the recent intake of payers; Chilton,Pic,Garde,Grosjean,Maldonado,Senna were all GP2 level race winners. They are hardly in the Lavaggi and Inoue category.

    I’m sorry we have lost proven race winners and F1 podium finishers such as Glock, Kovalainen, Trulli and De La Rosa from the back of the F1 grid. But if they really were that good, they’d have been on the shortlist for the McLaren or Mercedes vacancies this season. They had their oppportunity, and I hope that one of the new bunch can prove themselves worthy of a move up the grid.

  7. Steve W, 10 February 2013 23:23

    And there’s Rodger Ward, 1959 Indianapolis 500 winner, running the 1959 USGP at Sebring in a front-engine upright Kurtis Kraft -Offy. He qualified “only” 43.8 seconds away from Stirling Moss’ pole time…

  8. harvey, 13 February 2013 00:12

    clueless optimist = cash cow

  9. harvey, 13 February 2013 00:25

    maybe thats how “the sport” felt richer. mieoww!

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