The New Era of Pay Drivers!

Ravikumar RajagopalCorrespondent IMarch 5, 2010

JEREZ DE LA FRONTERA, SPAIN - DECEMBER 02:  Nico Huelkenberg of Germany and team Williams prepares to drive at the Circuito De Jerez on December 2, 2009 in Jerez de la Frontera, Spain.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
Mark Thompson/Getty Images

The one real thing that happened in the 90s was that the entry of manufacturers insanely hiked the budgets of various teams.

But with the likes of Mercedes, BMW, Honda, Toyota, Renault, and Ford all either starting teams or closely aligning with constructors, the likes of Jordan, Sauber, and Minardi are the last set of independent teams. Williams, after a bad marriage with BMW which finally ended in 2005, was at one stage the only independent team in the grid.

With the global financial downturn, big names like BMW, Honda, and Toyota have all left the sport. Renault only exists in its name, while teams like Red Bull, Toro Rosso, and Force India are financed by billionaire entrepreneurs.

Also, the FIA had such a dicey selection process where known names like Prodrive and Lola missed out while teams like Manor, Campos, and USF1 made the grid.

Off the three, Manor, due to Virgin’s backing, did not have any problem launching while Campos is now taken over by Jose Ramon Carabante and has been renamed to Hispania Racing F1 Team. USF1 has shut up shop.

The influx of new teams and the high cost of the sport have forced even established teams Sauber and Renault to look for drivers with some money, otherwise Nick Heidfeld would have still made it to the grid.

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The issue with under funded teams entering the sport is that it is a huge risk as their cars are five seconds slower than most of the grid, and Hispania Racing is going to start the grid in Bahrain with two rookie drivers with no testing.

The teams would not have any qualms about overtaking a slow car, but then again a car which can potentially drop parts is highly dangerous and looking at what happened to Massa, this will be a concern for all the teams.

There are five new boys: Nico Hulkenberg, Vitaly Petrov, Karun Chandhok, Bruno Senna, and Lucas di Grassi.

Of the lot, Nico Hulkenberg has proven himself at all the previous levels of racing while Lucas di Grassi has been a test driver with Renault and does deserve a spot on the grid.

Vitaly Petrov is a decent driver who did finish runner-up to Hulkenberg in GP2, but without his money he may not have made it to the grid. Bruno Senna is decently talented but got his break due to his last name while Chandhok is purely in because of the money he managed to bring in for the team.

There is an argument that GP2 or any other lower formulas is an indication on the talent, as we had Kimi, who came through after just a handful races at open wheel racing.

Kamui Kobayashi did not exactly set the world on fire in GP2, but has shown that he is an extremely quick driver and with a fast car can go wheel-to-wheel with anyone.

Guys like Hamilton, Rosberg, Kubica, and Vettel, who have come through the ranks of lower formula, have all done consistently well at those levels.

Of course, for every Hamilton you will have a Nelson Piquet who despite good credentials at junior formulas is failing at the highest level.

F1 is an expensive sport, but the era of pay drivers is something which should be avoided as guys like Chandhok, who apart from a few wins in GP2 in three years has not exactly set the world on fire, is racing ahead of a talented youngster like Paul di Resta or a veteran like Heidfeld.

This is just bringing the standard of the grid down.

2010 is one of the strongest grids ever with the likes of Schumacher, Alonso, Hamilton, Button, Vettel, Massa, and Webber all eying for the championship along with the likes of proven drivers like Rosberg, Barrichello, Kubica, Sutil, Trulli, and Glock. 

Exciting youngsters like Kobayashi and Hulkenberg are just amazing for the sport.

You will always have the likes of failed drivers like Heikki Kovalainen and guys making comebacks like Vitantonio Liuzzi, but the grid should not be weakened by the era of drivers coming in due to their money.

These names will come and go, but as is the case of established teams Jordan and Sauber at times, due to financial constraints they have to employ pay drivers as a one off basis.

This should not become the norm, like how Minardi used to run it, but then again Minardi also gave us the likes of Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber from time to time.

It would be great if the new teams could provide talented drivers at the start in F1, but then again giving it to the guys with the most money is just not the right thing to do.

Of the rookies, the most likely to impress will be Nico Hulkenberg while Vitaly Petrov may just prove everyone wrong and prove that he too deserves his seat.

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