Analysis: F1 Squeezes Out the Pay Drivers

Formula One 'pay drivers' are becoming an endangered species

Analysis: F1 Squeezes Out the Pay Drivers

Red Bull's takeover of struggling Minardi at the end of the season will make it harder for those with financial clout but comparatively modest talents behind the wheel to enter the glamour sport.

Already active in America with a U.S. driver search programme, Red Bull can now offer youngsters a career path right the way through to the pinnacle of motor sport with their own 'rookie team'.

With two teams, after buying Jaguar in November and renaming it, they control four of the 20 race seats and have a long list of drivers under contract in various categories of motor racing.

"It (the Minardi purchase) will get rid of 'rent-a-drives', the drivers will be there on merit," Red Bull team boss Christian Horner told Reuters.

"The Red Bull driver search is pulling out drivers based on ability," he added. "Scott Speed is clearly on that programme because of his obvious talent, the same with Vitantonio Liuzzi."

American Speed, brought to Europe by Red Bull through that search programme, could well end up at Minardi next year alongside the highly-rated Liuzzi. Neither will be paying for the privilege.

"They are all very talented drivers that without the support of Red Bull would never have the opportunities in motor sport that they currently have," said Horner.

Limited Chances

The only immediate hope for old-style 'pay drivers' is Jordan, to be renamed Midland next year, who have two seats still open for 2006 and have made no secret this season of the need for sponsorship.

While Minardi have embraced some drivers for clear commercial reasons, their cash vital to the team's survival, they have however also served as a springboard for others with obvious potential.

Renault boss Flavio Briatore parked his current title favourite Fernando Alonso of Spain there in 2001, while Australian Mark Webber, another Briatore protege, made his debut in 2002.

Promising Finn Heikki Kovalainen, a member of Renault's development squad, might have hoped to be at Minardi next year but that door now looks closed to anyone outside the Red Bull umbrella.

"At the moment it will be very difficult to get a look-in unless you are a Red Bull young driver," said BAR boss Nick Fry.

"They (Red Bull) are not going to be taking a driver from another team, why should they unless he's going to sign up with them for the long run? So (the Minardi sale) probably has closed down the opportunities one step further at the moment."

The major carmakers own or are involved in six of the 10 teams, with only Red Bull, Minardi, Jordan and Williams classified as independents.

While there is a core of 'A' list drivers who are earning high salaries, there are plenty of young prospects with little opportunity to show their potential.

"The expense of Formula One and the competitiveness means you cannot afford to take any risks," said Fry.

"To put a young driver in the car is a huge risk...ideally a younger driver needs 20,000 km. Now that's two thirds of the maximum amount of testing that we've done so far this year.

"We have a genuine concern, which we've voiced at a number of the team meetings, that we really need to start thinking about how we provide for dedicated training for younger drivers."

Fry suggested this could be extra days of testing where teams could only run young drivers, possibly at the beginning of the season, but the real solution has to be more teams.

That could happen after 2007, with the sport's governing body eager to cut costs and encourage fresh blood into the sport by rewriting the rules.

"I think there's a desperate lack of teams," agreed Horner. "In a perfect world there would be two more."

Red Bull's solution has been to buy another.

Webber, now at Williams, agreed some would benefit while others would not. But he remained hopeful about the situation: "It's always been tough but I still think the cream will come through and the good young guys will get a chance."

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