Former F1 team owner Gian Carlo Minardi has warned that Formula 1 is descending into a 1990s-style mentality of relying on pay drivers due to the teams’ inability to contain costs.
For much of the Minardi team’s 21-year history, the backmarker outfit was reliant on paying drivers to keep itself afloat, but it also balanced this with the ability to spot young talent, giving the likes of Giancarlo Fisichella, Jarno Trulli, Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber the stepping stone into F1.
“We’re going back to ‘90s, when the grid was composed by 18 squads – mostly private – who had to integrate their budget by choosing rich drivers,” Minardi said.
“If a driver gets the superlsicence, then he deserves to race in F1. [But] the impossibility to get enough money through sponsorship forces a team to choose those drivers who can either rely on the support of multinational companies or on the support of countries which use sport to promote their own products and tourism; their choice is not based on meritocracy.”
The situation is unlikely to improve in the near future, Minardi warns: “The reintroduction of the turbo engine in 2014 will further increase costs.”
The debate over pay drivers has raged in the last week since Marussia announced it had agreed to part with Timo Glock in favour of an as-yet-unnamed better-funded driver.
Glock joins several of his contemporaries on the sidelines whose F1 drivers have been lost to better-funded candidates, who include Jarno Trulli, Rubens Barrichello, Kamui Kobayashi. Heikki Kovalainen is almost certain to join them.
Despite the sport’s attempt to contain costs through resource restriction agreements and reduced in-season testing, Minardi believes that this has just seen teams allocate their budgets to other programmes.
“[The] private testing restriction has forced teams to concentrate their resources on new sectors, such as virtual simulation. Moreover, [the] top teams can rely on an in-house team who supports technicians in managing the race.
“To reduce costs, it should be necessary to have less-sophisticated cars, reduce the [reliance] of electronics and aerodynamics and set rules which will help the development of material and technology to be applied on the series’ production.”
Minardi fired a warning shot over family investment in a drivers’ career, a perhaps veiled criticism of the likes of Charles Pic and Marussia new boy Max Chilton, whose passages to F1 have both been assisted with substantial support of companies owned by their immediate families.
“There is another particular circumstance that should be taken under control: many parents are either buying or becoming part of racing teams to assist their sons’ professional development. No doubt this means certainty to some teams, but, if results didn’t come, they could give up,” he warned.
“That is what happened when car companies got into F1. As soon as the crisis started to affect the world of car racing, car companies left the scene, causing problems for the entire system.
“[Formula 1] must have the courage to make some steps backwards, even if it’s not easy.”
“We must have the courage to make some steps backwards, even if it’s not easy.