Alonso chasing Kimi in 2003
I compare the current trend toward pay drivers to a conflict between big, tough guys and slightly built intellectuals. Let's say there's a discussion among a few guys around a poker table. One guy, a huge slugger, mutters, “War and famine are good for all of society.” A lean, diminutive man on the other side of the table responds, “War is a terrible thing, and only peace and prosperity are good for all of society.”
The slugger beats the crap out of the little guy and says, “Anybody else got that stupid idea?”
In the same way, you could have, let's say, the next Fernando Alonso or Sebastian Vettel vying for an F1 cockpit, but times are tight, and a Sebastien Bourdais comes along with a sack of money behind him. Business is business, so you go for the dough, and lose out on the sport, the victories, the honour.
Meanwhile, the future Alonso and Vettel scrape along as test drivers for a team or a tire company. Any sport that refers to itself as the “top flight” is going to have to do better than that.
In this silly scenario, the Alonso character and the Vettel character should be fearsome giants, but they are forced to be an F1 version of slight and intellectual. They would be rich with skill, talent and courage, but impoverished economically.
The Bourdais character, on the other hand, is impoverished in ability, but plump with wealth.
In the end, a sport that professes to be the ultimate example of skill, talent and courage would instead be populated by second- or third-tier talents while the real giants might languish backstage. For the love of Formula One, some solution must be found.
It would be interesting, would it not, if all qualified hopeful candidates were given opportunities to test for the various teams?
A week of testing, during which all seat-seekers are disguised under numbered helmets and suits, and go from car to car, with an appropriate number of hours of testing in each car. The result might be teams finding drivers best suited to their equipment, equipment most suitable for drivers, and only after selections are made are helmets removed to reveal identities.
In this scenario, only after the revelations are the pay and non-pay drivers identified. Then, a legal agreement would come into play, where pay-driver teams surrender a percentage of the payoffs to the talented but impoverished drivers to keep things somewhat in balance.
Insane, I know, but fans would buy tickets to watch the tests, and it would be a wonderful broadcasting opportunity, with millions of fans guessing who was hidden in each helmet. Interesting.