Nick Heidfeld, ever the pragmatist, is quoted today saying that if drivers are to be asked to take a pay cut, so be it, ” We have to adjust ourselves just like everyone else.” Actually Nick is pretty good value at approximately £2.8 million per season. It’s the £30 odd million Raikkonen gets or the £20 million Alonso scoops up, which give the eye catching numbers. The average, according to Formula Money, is £5.5 million. So what are the drivers worth in the current economic climate?
I wrote a post here on Friday about the cost of superlicences and the drivers complaining about the increase in price again this season. To some this is a non-story, but if you look at the comment which is coming out of the drivers and also from Bernie Ecclestone about salaries, there’s no doubt in my mind that this is all starting to come to a head. The licence furore serves to highlight the fact that they are extremely well paid, that puts it on the news agenda and a debate about driver salary caps ensues, as it does from the ongoing debate about cost reduction. The drivers are starting to be caught in a pincer movement.
With teams slashing costs, cutting testing, going for long life engines and gearboxes, the savings already made are significant and yet sitting there on the balance sheet is this whopping great cost – the drivers’ salary. The lucky drivers are contracted forwards for a few years yet, like Lewis Hamilton who is only a year into a five year deal. Kimi Raikkonen is sitting on a contract which was extended last season to the end of 2010. They would have to agree to accept a pay cut, I cannot see how they could have one forced on them as they surely have a contract with payment schedules.
It’s not hard to see why the teams would love to get the costs of drivers down, but the irony is that the more they change the rules to standardise things and cut costs out of making and running the cars, the more important the faster driver becomes…and therefore the more valuable. And now with more things for the driver to do in the car, thanks to adjustible front wings and KERS, the premium on drivers becomes even higher.
But as ever with F1 it’s not as simple as that. Many argue that the most important part of a car is ‘the nut who holds the wheel’ and that is why driver salaries are high – for the best drivers at least. But nowadays a large part of the driver’s salary also reflects his image rights and his use as a marketing face for the brands which associate with his team.
Lewis Hamilton was up in the Midlands last week at a branch of Alliance and Leicester, now owned by Santander/Abbey, helping to draw attention to that fact.
Expect a lot more on this salary story as the season goes on.