A not-so-super licence


In recent weeks a hot topic of debate has been the cost of the Formula 1 superlicence, which has been greatly – massively – increased for 2009, to the considerable displeasure of the drivers.

Difficult to know what to say about this. On the one hand, one might suggest that at a time when the majority of the population is suffering greatly at the hand of G Brown and Bankers Inc, it isn’t necessarily the easiest moment in which to find much sympathy for a profession in which most folk are, let’s say, well rewarded. It’s one thing, after all, for the hierarchy of RBS, HBOS and the rest to point out that they personally have lost money on the value of their shares, leaving them with fewer millions to see them through; quite another for Mr and Mrs Average to have lost everything.

There are exceptions to the rule, of course, but it is a standing joke in racing circles that if F1 drivers are adept at demanding huge sums of money, they are even better at keeping it; ’twas ever thus.

That said, however, the rise in the price of a superlicence proposed by the FIA is simply staggering. In 2008 it cost 1725 euros, plus 456 euros per point scored the previous year. Thus Kimi Räikkönen, the ’07 World Champion with 110 points, will have paid 51,885 euros for his ’08 licence, a not inconsiderable sum to most people, but one which will have made little dent in Kimi’s rumoured Ferrari retainer of $40m.

Last year Räikkönen scored but 75 points – but the bill for his 2009 licence will be rather greater: 160,000 euros. Max Mosley has decided that the price of a licence should now be 10,000 euros, plus 2000 euros per point. Lewis Hamilton’s will come out at a cool 206,000 euros…

In absolute terms, these sums are small change to such as Hamilton and Räikkönen, but not all Grand Prix drivers are paid like city traders. Felipe Massa, for example, earns a smallish fraction of Räikkönen’s retainer, yet his licence will cost him a great deal more than Kimi, because he scored many more points last year.
Let’s not worry too much for Felipe, however, for he is still very well rewarded by Ferrari. A driver like Timo Glock is a different matter, however. He was an F1 rookie last year, and is not in the big money league, yet he scored 25 points, and will thus have to fork out 60,000 euros if he wants to go racing this year. No surprise that Timo is not too thrilled.

As I say, at a time like this I’m not suggesting we should waste too many tears on the drivers’ Superlicence fees, but the scale of the increase does seem a touch extreme, even by Mosley standards. Max justifies it by pointing out that the FIA ‘spends a fortune on safety, and it is for the benefit of the drivers’. True enough, but this has been the case for countless years (as is also true of telephone-number retainers), so why the sudden leap in licence fees now? A portion of the $100,000,000 fine meted out to McLaren in 2007 must surely, after all, have gone some way towards improving safety.

Still, private jets etc are pricey, and the governing body is expensive to run. The drivers have duly voiced their dissatisfaction with the increase in fees, and Mosley has reacted in the conciliatory manner which has marked his whole career: anyone who hasn’t forked out for his new licence by the time of the Australian Grand Prix will not be on the grid.

Some have cynically suggested that safety costs may indeed go up this year, thanks to the advent of KERS. “That’s something else,” one driver murmured, “that only Max is in favour of…”

Happy days in Formula 1, then. In NASCAR, where many drivers make mega-bucks, the cost of a licence comes out at $4000…

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