I put a post out yesterday comparing the salaries of F1 drivers and footballers and it got a really good response and some very interesting comments.
Several of the comments made the point that the investment required to get to F1 for an individual and his family is far greater than for a footballer. Valid point and this gives rise to a little theory about drivers I picked up through conversations with some senior engineers in the sport recently. So to move the discussion on a little I thought I would share it with you.
When interviewing Ross Brawn for the Schumacher biography I wrote in 2007, he made the observation that you can really tell with today’s young drivers that they have grown up playing computer games, Sony Playstations and so on. He said they have an intuitive feel for technology and computers and are at ease with them, noticeably more than the previous generations of drivers. This process accelerates with each new generation of children enjoying ever more sophisticated gaming experiences.
As the father to two young sons, seeing how capable they are on the Wii (FIFA 09 is currently the big hit in the Allen household) and on the PC, I can tell that kids are only going to get more adept with time. So what implications does this have for young F1 drivers?
Well clearly the star drivers of the future are likely to be far better trained and therefore more able than today’s stars and the pool of talent from which to choose the best will not be limited to the rich. Tony Purnell, the FIA’s technical consultant who is behind the proposals for cutting costs, argues that if you have £4 million and a son with some talent, you have a one in three chance of getting him into F1 by buying his way through the junior formulae in the best cars. For most it is very hard even to get past the first hurdle which is karting.
Drivers like Schumacher, Raikkonen and Hamilton came from ordinary working class families, but through unbelievable determination they were able to find backers to fund their dreams. They are the exception. Most kids whose dads are not loaded never get past the first few stages. So the drivers we get in F1 are not necessarily the best we could have had, they are just the privileged few.
Thanks to the sophistication of simulators, like the one at McLaren, and computer gaming this is all about to change. In the next few years it will be possible to evaluate and train young drivers, using gaming and simulations and this can only mean that it will make the sport much less elitist. Those who make it to the top then will truly be the best of the best. If you compare it to athletics, the standard is far higher today than 40 years ago because there is a bigger pool of talent to choose from and far more sophisticated training techniques and funds available. The same cannot be said for F1 drivers, many of whom are still the sons of wealthy men.
I’m sure you are with me so far. So then what you need to do is smooth the path by introducing more affordable, competitive racing series for them to compete in. It’s nonsense that F3 costs £600,000 a season, who can afford that? And GP2 at £1.4 million.. well you know what kind of drivers you’ll get at that price. With more low-cost racing series leading right up to F1 and the rise in simulation and gaming, it with be the wealthy also rans who drop out and the talented kids from all backgrounds who come through. We will soon be producing a whole field of Schumachers and Raikkonens and Hamiltons, not just one or two per generation.
Gaming recently overtook the Hollywood movie industry in terms of turnover as a business and this will only increase. And I reckon that from it will come a new generation of super-drivers.