F1 team bosses say 'pay driver' model is dead

Formula 1 team bosses reckon the ‘pay driver’ model in the championship is now dead.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB19, Lando Norris, McLaren MCL60, Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin AMR23, Alex Albon, Williams FW45, the rest of the field at the start

Previously, drivers with significant private wealth or backing from major sponsors could effectively buy a race seat at teams towards the lower end of the grid who were in need of a cash injection.

But the rollout of the FIA Super Licence - whereby a driver must accrue 40 points based on their finishing position in other categories to be allowed to race in F1 - and the current commercial boom that the series is enjoying has mitigated the need for ‘pay drivers’.

While Williams team principal James Vowles wants an F1 “rethink” over how the calendar, cost cap and sprint weekends with only one FP1 session disincentivises hiring a rookie driver, he said the championship has evolved to no longer lean on wealth over talent.

He said: “In the constructors' championship, the gaps between us are, at times, milliseconds. So, you want to have drivers in the car that are - it's a meritocracy - performing at their utmost.

“So, this is not about just bringing in a few million in order to satisfy the bottom line.

“The few million comes from the constructors' championship by making a step relative to your peers. So, that's been a positive change, I think, for the sport.”

Vowles added that teams had helped F1 move away from the ‘pay driver’ model by investing in the junior single-seater ladder to ensure the lesser-funded drivers have a realistic shot at F1.

Red Bull is among the teams that field drivers such as Dennis Hauger in junior categories

Red Bull is among the teams that field drivers such as Dennis Hauger in junior categories

Photo by: Simon Galloway / Motorsport Images

He continued: “Now, also what you're seeing is individuals, including ourselves, we're investing right down at the level of karting and paying for drivers to come up.

“But the point is the investment is there from teams right at the junior levels in order to bring up and form a meritocracy so that by the time they come to us they're experienced individuals.

“So, it's not that rookie drivers are dead, not by any stretch of the imagination, but I think this concept of taking a few million to put someone in the car is not the way that we can perform these days, otherwise you'll fall back.”

Outgoing AlphaTauri team boss Franz Tost - who has overseen the formative F1 seasons of Sebastian Vettel, Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo - said: “The pay driver is out.

“First of all, most of the time, the pay driver is not the fastest one and the FIA, with the Super Licence, stopped this.”

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Guenther Steiner - the boss of the Haas team that for 2022 cut ties with Nikita Mazepin, whose father’s Uralkali company was the outfit’s title sponsor - added: “In the old days, you had teams which were financially not stable.

“Now we've got 10 very solid teams here so nobody needs to rely on a pay driver right now because Formula 1 is in such a good spot.”

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