Formula 1 Insight

The Insecurity of the F1 Driver

It may be a bit cruel, but I was amused by two stories last week that seemed to give rather different versions of the future. On Monday, 15th January, Autosport related how Trulli was certain that he would win a race for Toyota in 2009. Then, just four days later, came news of a rumor in Japan that Trulli would be replaced by Kamui Kobayashi for next season. Someone is using the cheaper crystal ball, methinks, but which one?

Jarno Trulli
A thoughtful Jarno Trulli

Both premonitions and rumors are suspect, of course, and it remains to be seen whether either story holds the truth. But I could not help reflecting that life as an F1 driver has become rather insecure of late. Poor Trulli obviously had no idea that such rumors were about to start flying around and he might well have kept his mouth shut had he known. It is very similar to Jenson Button's rude awakening from his dreams of a better car next year when Honda announced its withdrawal from the sport.

Now both Button and Barrichello wait upon the whims of the team market to see whether they have drives in the coming season. Rubens was a bit more prepared for a shock, word being that he would be "retired" next year, but it must have been an unpleasant surprise to be put even further into the doubtful brigade so suddenly.

Then one remembers Takuma Sato and Anthony Davidson who were apparently rewarded with drives last year when it was finally decided that Super Aguri would soldier on into 2008. We all know how briefly that was true and how the drivers found themselves out in the cold after all. There are no guarantees for a F1 driver these days, it seems.

In fact, the drivers' position has worsened to the extent that they may well have to take pay cuts in the near future. With so many young drivers clamoring for seats and the credit crunch squeezing the teams' finances, drivers have little bargaining power left. Not even the world champions can expect an easy ride since their salaries form a large part of the budgets.

It is the prospect of sudden manufacturer withdrawal that must worry drivers most, however. Toyota is about to report its first ever loss on car sales and, despite recent assurances that they are committed to F1, the board may decide that their team must go. Renault, too, are always ready to depart when the sport no longer suits them and Toro Rosso has a huge question mark over its future.

Ferrari, McLaren and BMW seem reasonably safe for the moment but I have no doubt that economies on drivers' salaries will be suggested even there. And, to be honest, it is hard to feel sympathetic towards the top drivers in this situation; their pay rates have been beyond the imagination of the common man for many years now. And the old argument that sports players have to make their money while they can holds no water in F1; ex-champions seem to do very well after retirement from the sport, even those who competed when salaries were not astronomical.

It all goes to show that reality has a way of restoring balance when things get out of hand. The recent agreements on cost-cutting measures have not come about through the participants seeing reason at last - it has been the economic realities that have forced such changes upon them. One is tempted to think that change would have come whether there was agreement or not; shortage of money tends to lead to tightening of budgets whatever agreements have been made.

We may be watching the sport adjust to reality in ways that the participants do not expect. Looking at those teams most at risk, it seems that the outfits owned completely by manufacturers and without a long history in the sport are the ones most likely to sell up or disappear. That would leave a few privateers and the teams with manufacturer backing and branding but roots within smaller teams of the past. If Dave Richards succeeds in buying the Honda team, that would be one more privateer and one less manufacturer on the grid.

So the economic downturn may actually be doing F1 a favor. If it results in a form of racing more affordable to the small team, if salaries become more reasonable, if technology becomes less important and driver skill and engineering innovation regain their former ascendancy, it will be better for the sport as a whole. The time may come when we will look upon these few years as the turning point, the age when F1 reformed itself into a new and more exciting (and less political) sport and diversity became a hallmark again.


I'm a firm beliver in an employee going for whatever the market will bear regarding pay levels. So when times are good, go for the big money. When times are not so good, well you just have to get what you can. But I would think that the pure joy of having an F1 ride would be worth taking the short money when necessary.

Date Added: 22/12/2008

I too have been pondering Toyota’s future in F1 competition, for they’ve already accomplished what they needed to do.

Domination over Honda had to have been their primary purpose. Honda’s withdrawal (although I wouldn’t be surprised to see them continue as engine manufacturers - if an attractive opportunity arises) seems to make Toyota’s continuing on rather pointless.

Given their budget and manufacturer status, Toyota’s 2008 5th place in the Constructor standings is not really too impressive, thus we can reason they are some distance behind the leading teams. So, what lies ahead now must look a lot more daunting to them, since Ferrari, McLaren, BMW and Renault are, by example, much more formidable foes.

Yes, we can say Toyota will stay to promote their sales (north American in particular), but Honda, who rely equally on the same markets, do not seem to be particularly concerned. Perhaps they’re right, since Audi and Nissan’s sales increase year upon year and they don’t compete at all. Any way one looks at it, fielding an F1 car is a very expensive form of advertising - and there is always the risk that advertising will turn negative, since there can only be one winner in each category (Drivers & Constructors) leaving the others seen generally as - perhaps not so good?

Date Added: 22/12/2008

The economic downturn isn't doing F1 any favors, Clive. This will be especially true if Honda doesn't get a buyer and other manufacturers pull out without buyers. All the 2009 regs will be useless if we only get 9 teams and they end up getting forced to run 3 cars, meaning things just get all the more expensive.

In that worst-case scenario, the sport would shrink right up and starve, if not die, before it can get any chance to fight back.
Date Added: 22/12/2008

Don: I think all of the drivers would be happy to continue at a lower pay scale - they have taken what they can get but, essentially, they're doing what they love doing and would do it whatever they're paid. It's not good bargaining sense to let the team owners know that, however...
Date Added: 23/12/2008

David: Personally, I think Honda was not the reason for Toyota's entry into F1 - after all, they came into the sport a long time before Honda got involved to the extent of having their own team. The aim at the time was to prove that Toyota make the best cars and I think that remains the principle object, in spite of the lack of results over the years.

Economics may yet force the company to close down the team but it would be a terrible loss of face for them. and I think that counts for more than it did at Honda, which has become accustomed to popping in and out of F1 at will. Toyota seems to regard F1 as a promotional tool that will pay of when they win the championship and they need to stay until that time therefore. That's why they have never worried about the expenditure in the meantime - the philosophy is that enough money spent will bring the prize sooner or later.

I agree with you that F1 is not a great promotional tool, however. Just don't tell the sponsors, okay?
Date Added: 23/12/2008

Journeyer: There are several "ifs" there - just as many as on the optimist's side, in fact. Yes, there is a possibility that more teams will decide enough is enough and the sport reduced below the point of viability as a result. But much more likely is that the teams will adjust to changing economic conditions and the sport will survive. It is happening already and every cost-cutting measure taken makes it more likely that existing teams will stay. As F1 becomes more affordable, it becomes more attractive to new entrants too.

Perhaps the best result of the downturn is that F1 is going to have to take more notice of its followers if it is to retain them. Notice that Mosley has said the fans must decide on Ecclestone's silly medals proposal. Changing such fundamental aspects of the sport can no longer be done on a whim - it makes much more sense to see what others think before introducing such measures.

KERS was the last unnecessary measure introduced as a result of a Mosley brainwave. Already it is a bone of contention, causing far more problems than providing solutions. In future, I think we will see regulations changed only after much more forethought and research.
Date Added: 23/12/2008

yeh, i was waiting for toyota to weigh in on their road car stats. i'm not making any predictions because honestly, they are still in a position to run if it doesn't cost too much. but, the problem of auto manufacturers turning into team owners has always been "what if it all goes south" not to mention how sick i am of branding these days. it's the economy and quite honestly, i think it's what exactly is ahead over the next couple of years, too.

having said that, i would not be a bit surprised to see some teams taking on unproven drivers at reduced cost just to stay in the game.

you know, you did that post about the survival of f1 and i had so many conflicting thoughts at the time. i do think f1 will survive- auto racing is not just some elitest sport that can be replaced by a good computer sim game. it's just sort of caught in a couple of different vortexes at the moment. the global economy, what markets are going to emerge the strongest and really...where the heck is the automobile going at this point. it's sort of just all coming together at approximately the same time. my hope was that f1 would be at the head of the technology-since the manufacturers were so deeply involved but i was also assuming they were further ahead of the game than any of us knew.

my concern is (and for years has been) that the current configuration of the fia and it's dubious leadership has been living in the "what can we milk it for" present and "fig all to the future" future- it's someone else's problem and i personally dont' think (haven't thought for a long tiime ) that they don't care for anything aside from the money making end of the stick. they do not inspire confidence in leadership in me. sorry. they remind me of the people i work for only much more vile.

personally, i love the idea of engine manufacturers supplying to the teams, instead of being the team. and employing regs that even the field a little more on the developement front. call me nostralgic but, i never have liked the depth of involvement of any of the manufacturers that we've seen lately.

Date Added: 23/12/2008

I agree with your thoughts, Vera, especially that motor sport will survive whatever happens. The more expensive forms are most under threat at the moment, however, and it is conceivable that F1 be left without sufficient participants to be viable (not that I think that will happen).

My point is really that it is reality that forces the sport to change and adjust - just as it became obvious that speeds were becoming too high and needed to be limited somehow, it is now the economic climate that demands economies within F1.

I have argued before against relying on manufacturer participation - they have always come and gone as suits them, not the sport. But they are here for the moment and it is in F1's interests to keep them in the game while the sport evolves to the point where it no longer needs them. that might be the painful process that we are witnessing right now...
Date Added: 23/12/2008

Nick Goodspeed
When you look at all the money being thrown around, the driver's salaries aren't that big. Ferrari gets more per year in crooked dividends than any of the drivers. McLaren proved that a million one way or the other has very little bearing on a championship. If you take the money away from the drivers and the teams who's left with money? Ecclestone, presiding over people with less money, therefore less power and less press. If race drivers aren't rich, the glitter goes and with it the cameras and exposure.
Date Added: 23/12/2008

Clive: I have a little difficulty with your assessment of Honda and Toyota’s F1 roles. While your opinion is appreciated, as always, in this case I’ll stay with my assessment that Toyota turned up in F1, primarily to show Honda how it’s done. Honda’s 1983 - 1992 success as the dominant engine supplier (71 wins incorporating 6 constructor titles & 5 driver titles) has been largely forgotten as Toyota have accomplished their ambition in recent years, but not by excelling in the sport itself.


Full car team: 1963 - 1968 and again 2005 - 2008
Engine supplier: 1983 - 1992 and again 2000 - 2008
Engine supplier through their associate Mugen Motorsports: 1993 - 1998

In 1998 Honda prepared to enter F1 as a constructor by producing an engine and hiring Harvey Postlethwaite as technical director/designer. Their RA099 was built and tested successfully during 1999, but the project was shelved after Postlethwaite’s untimely death. Honda supplied engines to BAR from 2000 - 2004, during which time they played an increasing role in the car itself, then bought BAR out and re-established themselves as a full car team again in 2005.


Full car team: 2002 - 2008

Toyota did not announce plans to enter a full car effort till 1999 (the year Honda actually produced their potential contender) and then appeared on the grid in 2002. This being their sole F1 participation.

Date Added: 23/12/2008

Nick Goodspeed
Throughout history heroes have been those who risk there life and limb to conquer overwhelming odds. When they succeed there is fame and fortune. They in turn receive
adulation and admiration for those who deem their endeavours worthy. F1 has evolved to a point where there is little risk involved. As Kubica proved during the 07 Canadian GP,
you can run the cars into a cement wall at incredible speeds and only feel a bit woozy afterwards. I think it was Hemmingway who said the only real sports were mountain climbing and auto racing. I doubt if auto racing would be on this short list today. There are many drivers who would drive for McLaren or Ferrari for nothing. I remember Senna saying he would drive for Williams for nothing. In today’s F1 it is important for the drivers to appear to have risked all for fame and fortune. It is part of the illusion that F1 has become. The problem is when one looks under the surface and finds that what once was a sport has become a TV show and what used to be drivers in many cases are actors, albeit poor ones. As time goes on they take on more and more the demeanour of spoiled Hollywood actors, the result of believing their own press.
Do they deserve the money? Does anyone deserve 10 million a year? I guess anyone who is as replaceable as an F1 driver, with such a huge price tag attached, deserves all the insecurity they muster. In today, trying to balance the big salary vs. being dumped is the
greatest risk.

Date Added: 23/12/2008

Nick, I agree that drivers deserve some or most of the insecurity their position is prone to, but I disagree that F1 no longer fits Hemingway's definition of a sport.

Regardless, Kubica was lucky. When the world feed showed Kubica's car coming to stop on its side with Kubica's helmet lolling lifelessly, I suspect they cut away quickly because it was very probable that he was seriously injured or dead. I think post wreck analysis showed that he endured a 100 G glancing blow.

And look at Kovalainen spearing the tire wall at the Spanish Circuit de Catalunya. As they pulled the car out of the wall (where Heikki was trapped) you can see right through the cockpit to the ground below. Again, he was really lucky. I think the potential is still there to be seriously injured.

These drivers risk a lot, but not much more than their pit crew risks standing in the path of those cars as they approach the pit. For that reason, driver's pay may be disproportional to what they are risking. Then again, maybe it is an accurate measure of what they risk and everybody else is risking life and limb because it is what they love doing.

If I were in their position, I would want as much as I could get. Yet, I would give almost anything to be in their position.
Date Added: 24/12/2008

Nick Goodspeed
Marc: In the first 14 years (54-68) there were 11 deaths. In the second 14 years (68-82) there were 11 deaths. In the last 14 years there have been no deaths. Everytime there is a serious accident the lessons are learned and the solutions are applied globally so they don't happen again. This is very good news for the drivers and the humanists, but none the less changes the game immensely. There are risks, granted, but F1's stats are 0 deaths per mile in the last 14 years which is far better than on public roads during the same period. (If we look at injuries per mile I am certain the stats would be completely reversed yet the survivability is outstanding at 100%)
The risks do not compare. AS the risks have dropped the salaries have grown.
Date Added: 24/12/2008

Virusnyi Marketing
Hi guys. Computer Science is no more about computers than astronomy is about telescopes.
I am from Angola and bad know English, give true I wrote the following sentence: "Org is the worldwide preeminent source of information, education, and certification assessment for the constantly evolving search engine.Search engine optimization is a technique where you make your seo."

THX :o, Ash.
Date Added: 18/05/2009

serafina collier
Lewis Hamilton Will Be Backkkkk...!!!!!!!!
Date Added: 18/06/2009

RSS feed icon RSS comments feed

Back to the main blog

Have your say

You may use some HTML in comments. For bold text use <strong></strong> and for italic text use <em></em>. If you know what you're doing feel free to use more complex mark-up but please no deprecated tags, break tags or JavaScript.

Enter the code shown above:

Name *

Comment *

Email *


Copyright disclaimers XHTML 1.0 CCS2 RSS feed Icon