In Forbes' ranking of the world's highest paid athletes, four Formula One drivers appear in the top 32. World champions Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel, Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen all command salaries in line with the best athletes in other sports—probably not a surprise, given the biggest teams have budgets of several hundred million dollars.
But despite the exclusivity of F1—only 21 different drivers started grands prix in 2015—there is a huge gap between the highest- and lowest-paid drivers. According to Business Book GP's salary estimates, published in the Spanish newspaper El Mundo Deportivo (h/t Crash.net), Manor's Roberto Merhi made just €50,000 this year. He also had to share his car with American rookie Alexander Rossi for five races, per ESPN's Laurence Edmonson.
|Euros Per Point Scored|
|Driver||Salary (€)||Points||€ per point|
|Carlos Sainz Jr.||250,000||18||13,889|
|Business Book GP (via Crash.net)|
The order of the rankings did not change very much from the August version. Toro Rosso rookie Max Verstappen remains at the top of the list with €250,000, having made slightly more than €5,000 for each of the 49 points he scored.
Verstappen was even more impressive at the end of the year. He scored points in seven of nine races after the summer break, compared to just 3-of-10 before.
Fellow youngsters Felipe Nasr and Daniil Kvyat were the only other drivers to make less than €10,000 per point, with Valtteri Bottas, Carlos Sainz Jr. and Daniel Ricciardo following closely behind. The four Red Bull Racing-backed drivers' spots in the top six highlights the team's preferred strategy of developing and promoting their own drivers, rather than signing the best (and most expensive) drivers available on the open market.
Of course, our ranking does not take into account all of the value that each driver brings to his team.
Hamilton may be in the middle of the pack here, but Mercedes are no doubt happy to sign the cheques for his estimated €25 million salary as long as he keeps winning world championships for the Silver Arrows. The team will pull in more than $100 million in prize money for 2015 (see Dieter Rencken and Lawrence Barretto's breakdown of the 2014 payouts for Autosport), but the exposure of having their drivers on the podium after nearly every race is worth even more.
After Red Bull won their fourth-straight championship in 2013, research firm Repucom estimated the advertising value to their title sponsor, Infiniti, at more than $1 billion.
Likewise, Vettel made more than €100,000 for each point he scored in 2015, but that represents good value for Ferrari, who were thrilled to win three races this year after getting shut out last year.
McLaren-Honda drivers Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso are near the bottom of the list, but this is the consequence of having two highly paid champions in a car that often struggled to get through the first round of qualifying.
Pastor Maldonado (Lotus F1 Team) and Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) are the only other drivers who were paid more than €100,000 per point, reflecting the disappointing seasons each of them experienced. Maldonado's team-mate, Romain Grosjean, made the same €4 million, but he scored 51 points to Maldonado's 27. Likewise, Raikkonen was thoroughly outpaced by Vettel at Ferrari, although Vettel made an estimated €10 million more.
Looking ahead to 2016, it will be interesting to see whether Grosjean receives a raise for his move to the new Haas F1 Team. If so, he could be the highest paid driver without a victory on his F1 resume. Or maybe he was just happy to leave a Lotus team that was in limbo, waiting for a long-promised Renault Group buyout.
Verstappen will also be in line for a raise, with rumours already swirling, per Sky Sports' William Esler, about him moving to Ferrari or Mercedes—or being promoted to Red Bull—in the near future. If Red Bull want to keep him, it will likely require a significant investment on their part—especially considering their car is lagging well behind their rivals' cars and Verstappen does not have the same deep roots with the company as many of their young drivers.
One thing is certain: The 2017 driver market should be significantly more interesting than the one for 2016, which has seen few changes. Only Manor has yet to confirm who will be in their race seats.
The drivers at the top of this ranking should be major players in whatever moves do happen.
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