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Drivers protest over licence fee hike
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Drivers protest over licence fee hike
Posted By:   |  23 Jan 2009   |  4:26 pm GMT  |  16 comments

It’s been a quiet day today, BMW are still hammering around in Valencia, but the teams who were all in Portugal are back at base shaking their heads over what a waste of time it was. There was basically only a brief window of a few hours without rain on one day to get any meaningful running done and Toyota had a technical problem at that time anyway, so missed it.

Anyway, the most interesting story I’ve seen today is one on Autosport.com about the drivers getting shirty over a further rise in the cost of their superlicences. Last season the FIA raised the cost of the licences dramatically, some 500%, because it said the cost of the work it has done on safety is mostly for the drivers’ benefit so they should cover some of the costs. A licence went up to 10,000 euros plus 2000 euros per point scored.

This year the rate of increase is much less, only 4% on the basic licence and 5% per point scored, possibly reflecting the credit crunch, but it’s still got the drivers upset and they are refusing to sign their new licence forms. The champion will have to pay just under €220,000, which is actually £220,000 now that the pound has collapsed. I’m sure Hamilton is paid in euros anyway, so it’s probably not the end of the world, but if he was paid in pounds, that makes it another 25-30% more expensive than it was last year.

As a protest chant, “What do we want? Cheaper superlicences..when do we want then NOW!” Is hardly the most dynamic of political statements. And as far as public sympathy is concerned, multi-millionaire drivers seeking support over the cost of their licences at a time when most people fear for their livelihoods will be a hard sell. But the drivers are serious and it seems that the matter will be brought up at the next meeting of the F1 teams’ body, FOTA in the first week of February.

Now FOTA has done some impressive things in its short existence and it’s making good progress in other areas. It has made huge cost savings, found a level on which to talk to Max Mosley and Bernie Ecclestone and both are taking it very seriously. A spat like this one over drivers’ licences is not something they would ideally like to get embroiled in at this time, it’s a distraction they could do without, but if the teams don’t show support for their drivers, who will?

Mosley says he is prepared to talk to aggrieved drivers, apparently, as long as they reveal their income first!

This is one way of gently highlighting the fact that at present we do not have budget caps in F1, which Mosley and some teams would like, and even when they have been discussed, drivers salaries and marketing budgets have been left out. There has been talk of a wage cap in recent months as the industry faces up to the recession. I was in America a lot in the early 1990s when baseball and and basketball tried to impose a wage cap on players and the players went on strike, as I recall for most of a season, which caused a lot of damage.

No-one is suggesting that a wage cap or a drivers strike are around the corner in F1, but if you wanted to highlight the fact that the salaries of the top drivers are out of alignment with the cost-savings going on elsewhere in the sport and with team employees starting to be laid off, where would you start in raising the issue?

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16 Comments
  1. Daniel Hoyes says:

    Hmmmm, this will be atrocious PR for F1… and I just can’t shake the feeling that a certain Mr Alonso is the chief whinger…

  2. James says:

    I will have to say that I am one of those people that have no sympathy on this one, James.

    These drivers receive 7 and 8 figure salaries, and they CANNOT complain about this especially, as you have said, when many are feeling the pinch of the credit crunch.

    Incidentally, who is likely to be hardest hit by this hike in fees? I would assume Sebastian Vettel and Timo Glock? Both are on relatively low salaries and scored well last year.

  3. Muckymuck says:

    It’s interesting that the drivers are even bringing this up and painting a target on their own foreheads. At a significant time like this where the financial burden is heavy and there are wholesale cost cutting initiatives, the drivers need to remember that their salary is still a huge cost to the team. If they want to avoid having their salaries capped, they need to avoid highlighting the subject of their salaries. If I were them, I would keep as quiet as possible.

    Even a 1% cut in their salary would be much worse than paying the fee hike (which is only 5% more than last year, at most $10,000). If they wanted to take a hard stance they should’ve done it last year, not this year especially in the midst of a financial crisis. Plus it looks real bad while people are losing their jobs.

    I’m sure it’s not all the drivers doing this, but to the ones who are heading this up, shut up and let it go for your own sake!

  4. john g says:

    Whilst i don’t disagree with the drivers paying high superlicense fee’s, firstly i don’t think it should be more per point, if the money really does go towards safety as claimed. Secondly, i can see it from their side. I’d hate to be told to pay more to be able to race, by someone who takes so much money out of F1 and puts so little back. (i would even go so far as to say someone who is slowly killing F1 but that’s for another day)

    i expect if you asked premiereship footballers to pay a license to play professional football, with extra payment for the number of goals they scored, i’m pretty sure they’d be unhappy about it too, despite their (quite frankly ridiculous) wages.

  5. rpaco says:

    Good point by James re the low paid back end drivers. It would be much fairer if it were small percentage of the driver salary. But I suppose several years would be spent trying to find out what the salaries really were.

  6. Lady Snowcat says:

    James surely this is a non story…

    It’s not long ago that we were opining on the toothless nature of the GPDA because none of the big names took any part…

    Isn’t the organisation led by Pedro de la Rosa so the points element of this just doesn’t affect him…. (I rather think he wishes it did)…..

    It just looks like a slightly desperate bid to say to the drivers “Look here guys we can represent you on all sorts of issues! We could even save you money”… but I don’t expect the serious players to take much note or indeed action on this…

    (and as you say it’s a slow news day) …

  7. krad says:

    Hmm, jealously is a bad thing.

    If the company you worked for said they were going to take x% of your salary because they want to make the building you work in more safe would you be happy?

    I cant see many people being truly happy with that if they are honest with themselves.

    f1 drivers are people to and are driven by the same things the average man is. Therefore why do people find it so shocking they are annoyed.

    We live in a democratic society where everyone is judged the same no matter how much they are paid. People who aren’t sympathetic really should look at themselves and what is motivating them

  8. jose says:

    [ comment moderated ]

  9. Karl says:

    FIA already take 50% of profits on races. Ecclestone and co. should have some sense knocked into them if they think that’s a fair cut to take. [ comment moderated ]

  10. Al27 says:

    Surely this will just harm the teams? With the FIA increasing their slice, there’s less chance of the teams cutting driver salaries as well?

  11. Duncan says:

    What will happen if Bernie gets his way and introduces the medal system – how would they work out the amounts then?

    BTW, does anyone know what happened at the Arctic Rally which Raikkonen and Hakkinen took part in at the weekend? I can’t seem to find any information about in on the internet.

  12. Marly says:

    Duncan- check grandprix.com, apparently Raikkonen came 9th

  13. rpaco says:

    What will happen if Bernie gets his way and introduces the medal system – how would they work out the amounts then?

    It will be the same as with huge metal cups, gold steering wheels, Glass bowls etc. In fact if you think about it, surely an outsize gold or silver cup is better than a small medal.

    What was Bernie thinking? He was going in the wrong direction; since many of the trophies are ridiculously large maybe we should go into furniture instead. The winner gets Dining table and 8 chairs the 2nd place a three piece suite, 3rd a dressing table and so on down to a nest of tables for 10th.

    My licence system would involve charging the driver an extra 1% for every time he uses the phrase “For sure” in any interview on any tv channel :-)

  14. Jonny S says:

    I’m glad its not just me who’s noticed how often the drivers say ‘for sure’ in interviews. I’m sure it’s just an F1 thing, I never hear other foreign sportsmen say it. Even some of the British drivers are starting to use it in their interviews now!

  15. krad says:

    For sure the medal idea is rubbish, and for sure bernie and max should retire. New F1, new leadership, new excitement. For sure!!

  16. rpaco says:

    KRAD You are now on the same For sure score as that new fellow Buemi.

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