Friday, 25 January 2013

Formula's One War With Wealth: Driver Managers

It is the final Saturday of the 2010 Formula One season.    Qualifying for the Brazilian Grand Prix sees Nico Hulkenberg clinching Pole position for Williams, revealing an important  glimpse into the talent he has continued to show since.  The reward for his efforts; being dropped in favour of Venezuelan ‘pay’ driver, Pastor Maldonado.  I first wrote about how detrimental the growing trend of money over talent was becoming for the sport following that race in 2010.  Since then, this growing trend has become a worrying escalation. 

Hulkenberg celebrates his Pole in 2010 at Interlagos

Timo Glock has become the latest driver to befall the perils of this engulfing money monster.  Admitting the reason for the German leaving the team was financial, John Booth, Team Principal of Marussia commented,

“The ongoing challenges facing the industry mean that we have had to take steps to secure our long term future.  Tough economic conditions prevail and commercial landscape is difficult, for everyone, Formula 1 teams included.”

Drivers and teams are obviously affected by the economic climate, but the capital cannibal has further reaching implications.  Earlier this month, prior to the announcement that he would fill the hole left by Norbert Haug at Mercedes, Toto Wolff cited the increasing need to have significant funding in order to enter F1 as the reason why he will not be managing another driver.  Talking to Switzerland’s Motorsport Aktuell he described his success with Valterri Bottas as, “More of exception rather than a rule.”  He added,

“If you have to put 2 million on the table for GP2, then driver management makes little sense.”

Wolff and Bottas at Williams

Other drivers managed by Toto Wolff include Bruno Spengler, winner of the 2012 DTM Championship.  Talk regarding a possibility of a Formula One seat was prevalent due to the talent shown over the course of the 2012 season;  an idea not made tangible due to lack of funding.
Wolff is not the only manager to be enveloped by the cash cloud.  Nicholas Todt, son of FIA President Jean Todt and manager of Felipe Massa, currently has Frenchman, Jules Bianchi on his books.  Bianchi, who showed promise as reserve driver for Force India during the 2012 season, is also a Ferrari Young driver and has the team supporting him in his quest for an F1 drive.  Despite having the most famous team in the sport behind him, he is still yet to secure a seat for 2013.  If Bianchi could supply the capital Force India seek, Nicholas Todt’s job would no doubt be made a lot easier.  

Nicholas Todt and Jules Bianchi

Although currently hitting its absolute heights, money and the concept of paying for a drive in Formula One is not a new one.  In 1971, seeking victory in the European F2 series,  Niki Lauda rented a drive in a semi works March 712m; a rental that was followed by another to the tune of £35,000 in order to delve into the world of Formula One.  Following a successful test for Jordan at Silverstone In 1991, seven times World Champion Michael Schumacher shelled out £150,000 for the privilege of driving the car at the Belgian Grand Prix.  Michael Schumacher’s subsequent eclipse of Formula One can be attributed in part to Willi Weber, the manager who negotiated these early moves and continued to guide and nurture his career in an astute and discerning manner.

Schumacher and Willi Weber

Money may have been used as a stepping stone to Formula One stardom by two of the most successful drivers in the history of the sport, but as soon as their talent was made apparent, payment for a drive was no longer needed or considered.  Pastor Maldonado has shown, on occasions, that he is a driver of worth in terms of talent, but his substantial funding remains a dominant reason for his secure seat at Williams. 

Regretfully, possessing talent, together with smart management is no longer the key to a career at the pinnacle of motorsport.   Managers being unable to make a significant impact on the career of the drivers they are representing, is becoming increasingly normal in Formula One.   If drivers present themselves to a team with the required funds, they can buy their seat regardless of management.  Formula One’s war with wealth continues, and together with the teams and drivers, managers are swiftly losing the battle.

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