Part two: Money talks.
More than meets the eye
How much would it actually cost to get in Formula One these days? We all see the reports of how much some drivers, allegedly, bring as backing once they’re on the verge of becoming a Formula One driver. And for some we see a number alongside their name for the rest of their career. But what’s hardly ever talked about is how much they’ve already spent before making it to their dream destination.
We, the armchair or keyboard warriors, are quick to start arguments for and against drivers because we like or dislike them, but the fact is that we don’t see half the struggles they had to overcome. It starts in the lowest of the race classes. In the various karting series costs quickly total $1 million to do it properly! If you can advance to the next levels, Formula 4, Formula BMW or Formula Renault, one single season costs about $365,000.
Most of the talented guys out there can advance through these classes in their first year, but once in Formula 3 they come up against drivers who are as good or better than them, perhaps for the first time. So the first season costs around $680,000. Let’s say, in a pretty ideal life, you only need two seasons in F3. Bringing the F3 total to $1.36 million. That’s a total of $2.77 million already! And you have to be an exceptional talent for that. Let’s say most will need $3 to $3.5 million to advance to the same stage. And the higher classes of racing still have to come.
If you “graduate” to GP2 or the world series, it is even more expensive. GP2 is easily $1.5 million for one season. So let’s say you are that talent that comes in and wins the trophy, making F1 teams interested in you, you’re already down $5 million. And, as we established by now, F1 teams want some dough too. We’ll be leaving the Maldonado and Stroll figures out of this, because they’re the exception not the rule.
On average the prices I can find online go from $3 million to $5 million these last couple of years. So let’s say $4 million, on average, which brings the total cost to get to your first F1 season to $9 million. Now, show me one young man (or woman) (18 to 22 years old) who has $9 million to spare, without either a financial input by his or her family or some sponsor(s). I bet you a month’s paycheck you won’t find one! -As a good gambler would say: it’s enough to make it interesting, haha.-
That’s where the bigger teams come in. Or at least their training schemes, which have various names. Ferrari has its Young Driver Academy, Red Bull does it under the name of Red Bull Junior team and McLaren calls it the McLaren Performance Academy. And it’s said that Mercedes is looking to restart its youth programme from the late 80’s and early 90’s. Of course it’s not that Mercedes doesn’t have its ways of getting youth to where they want them: look at Werhlein and Ocon as an example.
But the main downside of these schemes is fairly straightforward: they, roughly, cost the same as what’s been calculated one paragraph above. Plus those seats offered are limited, which makes it an even harder place to be. Predator style, kill or be killed (off). As ever, you need the coming together of all elements to make it through: talent, support, luck,…
And here’s the thing, the support doesn’t come from the main team alone. No, many young drivers have commented that even when they were offered a place in an academy, or when they already were committed to one, they had to bring in money. Whether it is family money like Daniel Ricciardo, who’s dad is Joe Ricciardo, founder of Ricciardo Earthmoving. And Carlos Sainz Jr, who’s dad we all know. Or Sebastian Vettel, who comes from a family which wasn’t considered rich and had to find sponsors for their racing son in order to be able to give him an opportunity. How else would you call it if a 13 year old drives around with a Wodka brand on his overalls? Or Räikkönen’s dad working multiple shifts in order to let his two sons race, instead of building a bathroom inside(!) the family home.
An other example is Sergio Perez, considered by most as a good driver. But what’s more important is that he is a good driver who also brings $15 million to the table. Besides that he has something more to offer, something which can be of a greater value to some of the teams: namely the Mexican market. I believe this was a big reason why McLaren decided to give him a drive and not Nico Hülkenberg. I know that there are many who consider Perez to be much better than the Hulk, but I’m not one of them. I’m a Hülkenberg fan, I‘ve got to be honest about that. His Le Mans win alone deserves massive respect, but I’m not here to discuss that. This is about F1, so I’ll be talking about those numbers.
As we know Hülkenberg came in to F1 in the 2010 season and Perez in 2011. Unfortunately Hulk was forced to take a step back for 2011 so the numbers aren’t really comparable for those two seasons. But to be complete I’ll give them anyway. 2010 saw Hulk finish on p14 with 22 points, and 4 DNF. Not too bad for a first season. 2011 had Perez on p16 with 14 points, 1 DSQ, 3 DNF and one DNS (remember Monaco after his big shunt?). Again also not a bad first season. But from 2012 onwards they both competed in every season. Sometimes in different cars, sometimes in the same. So here we go:
p10 Perez [Sauber] (66 points, 6 DNF, 3 podiums)
p11 Hülkenberg [Force India] (63 points, 2 DNF)
p11 Perez [Mclaren] (49 points)
p10 Hülkenberg [Sauber] (51 points, 1 DNF, 1 DNS)
p10 Perez [Force India] (59 points, 1 DNF, 1 DNS, 1 podium)
p9 Hülkenberg [Force India] (96 points, 2 DNF)
p9 Perez [Force India] (78 points, 1 DNF, 1 podium)
p10 Hülkenberg [Force India] (58 points, 5 DNF)
p7 Perez [Force India] (101 points, 2 podiums)
p9 Hülkenberg [Force India] (72 points, 4 DNF)
Total points: Perez = 353; Hulk = 340
Total podiums: Perez = 7; Hulk = 0
Total DNF: Perez = 10; Hulk = 14
Total DNS: Perez = 1; Hulk = 1
Average championship position: Perez = 9,4; Hulk = 9,8
They are extremely close to each other, the biggest difference being that Perez has 7 podium finishes, and Hülkenberg has more DNF’S. Some of those were after losing a virtual podium, but still Perez would win that category. 7 is a massive number in a midfield car, a number which is certainly to his credit, but you‘ve got to admit the rest is really close -And, as a fan I should clutch the only straw I’ve got: Hulk was on pole once, so he beat Checo at that. You may insert an awkward laugh here.-
So why did Perez get a drive at McLaren? And why is Perez a member of the Ferrari young driver academy? Does his ($15 million) backing have something to do with it? Does the possibility he brings to advertise in Mexico give him the upper hand? Of course there is the fact that the Hulk is a giant, in terms of height, something designers and teams don’t like (remember Gavin from part one?). But is that the only thing that stops top teams from hiring him? We now know that Renault have hired Nico, but they’re not a top team at this moment. And after the shock retirement of the other Nico, we had reports suggesting Mercedes tried to buy his contract from Renault. So he might have missed a chance there, (story of his F1 life?) but that was impossible to foresee. A friend suggested he might be another Chris Amon.
So is the fight of the pay-drivers v. the fans a justified one? As I see it it all comes down to the struggle of teams trying to survive. Because that’s what it is. Money is a good servant but a bad master. And while I do find the main problem lies with F1 itself and the way it distributes money to it’s contenders, it doesn’t make the problem go away. I can think of it what I will, and so can you, but the fact remains; teams need money!
Figures suggest a corporation like Red Bull Racing had a budget, in 2015, of $490 million. And that number doesn’t guarantee them a thing. Most of us remember how Toyota came in to the sport, out-spending everyone, even buying Schumacher! -The wrong one of course but hey, can’t expect everyone to research everything properly.- They went on throwing big bucks at the whole project for a couple of years only to realise that doesn’t guarantee success.
But then there are teams like Manor today. A budget of $87 million, if they’re lucky, and really struggling to survive.-Sadly today the news came that Manor won’t be able to keep competing in F1. But I’ll keep all of this in because it only gives more strength to my argument.- Of course they’ll welcome a driver who brings a massive bundle of cash with him. If a Maldonado can bring half of their budget the choice is obvious! In essence that’s what we saw them do when they agreed to let Rio Haryanto drive for them, after a deal had been made for $16.35 million. The only reason Pastor Maldonado isn’t driving for them is that it seems he lost his big-shot backers, or at least the ones who made him king of the pay-drivers. Plus there is the incidental cost he brought with him when he drove under his alter ego “Crashtor”.
For some teams paydrivers equal survival. It’s as simple as that.
These are the complete budgets of the teams in 2015, the sums are made out of sponsorship, partner/paydriver money and FOM input:
1. Red Bull Racing = $490m
2. Mercedes = $489m
3. McLaren Honda = $487m
4. Ferrari = $438m
5. Williams = $195m
6. Lotus = $145m
7. Toro Rosso = $144m
8. Force India = $135m
9. Sauber = $109m
10. Manor = $87m
Stay tuned, this will come to a conclusion tomorrow!