Le Grand Retour
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A closer look at the back of the F1 grid
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Posted By: James Allen  |  06 Feb 2013   |  1:29 pm GMT  |  67 comments

The announcement of Luis Razia as second driver at Marussia means that the two halves of the 2013 F1 grid have a very different character; with stability in the front half and wholesale change in the second half of the grid, which features five drivers who have never started a Grand Prix before.

Whereas among Red Bull, Ferrari, McLaren, Lotus, Mercedes and Force India there are currently only two driver changes; Hamilton to Mercedes, replaced at McLaren by Perez and a new driver at Force India.

The other five teams have seen enormous change.

Sauber has two new drivers, Hulkenberg has started 39 races and Gutierrez 0
Toro Rosso Retains the same drivers – Ricciardo has just 31 starts and Vergne 20
Williams has Maldonado with 39 starts and Bottas with 0
Caterham has Pic with 20 starts and Van der Garde with 0
and Marussia has Chilton and Razia who have no GP experience.

This in itself is interesting, but of course new blood has to come in and they have to start somewhere.

But, going deeper, this year’s grid, especially the bottom half, is a sign of the changing times, particularly with experienced fee-earning drivers like Kovalainen, Glock and Kobayashi making way for less experienced drivers with budget; this is partly forced by the recession of the last four years, but also by the costs the teams are incurring with a massive set of rule changes for 2014.

Many teams have been forced to take drivers with budget ahead of drivers who need to be paid, in order to build up a war chest to make a 2014 car and buy a supply of the expensive new 1.6 litre V6 turbo engines.

It could be avoided if the teams could get their act together and agree a cost control mechanism, which meant that the teams could survive on their share of the sport’s commercial revenues plus some sponsorship and could work with the sport to ensure that the best drivers available are coming through the junior categories and into their cars.

Sadly F1 does not work like that.

What will all of this do to the racing? Time will tell.

However, as we posted here a few months ago, where F1 must be very careful over the next few years, is that it continues to have a conveyor belt of superstar drivers, drivers with international box office appeal, for the future.

Vettel, Alonso, Button, Raikkonen, Schumacher – all made their debuts with the teams listed above (or antecedents of them e.g. Minardi/Toro Rosso)

How many of the drivers outlined above in the lower half of the grid can be considered possible stars of the future? Drivers who inspire the public (like in the photo above) driver whom the public will pay good money to watch, both in the grandstands and on their Pay TV services?

Possibly Bottas, but beyond that?

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1

Narain in the fray for Force India … that is what the local media suggests here… why is FI taking so much time to decide on Bianchi/Sutil/

2
Franklin Schumacher

I think this year there will be a direct relation between the number of rookies on the grid and the increment of safety cars per race.

Ja

3

The F1 grid could now really be considered a 9 team entry list, with Williams teetering on the edge of leaving that list. With Eccelstones penchant for distant third world country races and now pay drivers added into the mix, it doesnt bode well for the next few years. Where will B.E be in a few years – retired possibly – and a sport in unchartered waters left behind needing to get back to reality. The reality is that third world countries love of football will never change and their F1 interest is likely to fade pretty quickly, as is their understanding of the costs of F1 in relation to their social standing in their respective countries. Harsh and perhaps contraversial statment but another reality in my non-expert F1 fan 1970’s circa opinion.

4

“Five have never started a grand prix” .. plus Grosjean, Maldonado, and slow starter Webber.

I hope they all get away OK in melbourne. Or maybe they should start under the safety car

5

What no one seems to mention is the utterly pointless waste of money the change of engine regs is. Every time change is made it costs money. This happens every time where something is manufactured. Caual viewers couldn’t care less what the engine is. It would be better to oncentrate on the chassis and other ancillaries which change every year anyway. There are still too many pointless rules. Bring back customer cars I say. Then we could have two official cars and two customer cars from each manufacturer. This would almost certainly avoid the HRT malaise.

6

It’s not just at F1 level, though. Many of the junior formulae appear to be in their death throes at the minute (one glance at the proposed four-round British F3 championship is a good indicator of that), and the ones with decent grids seem to me to have a growing number of well-off journeymen populating them. Who, among the junior drivers, is really talked about? da Costa and Frijns look like exciting talents but it’s very mediocre beyond that IMO. Financing a motorsport career has never been more difficult since the 1950s.

7

We’ve still got more top rate drivers than I can ever remember. So what if the second rate ‘almost there’ drivers now *pay* for their seats, when before they were being paid.

Last season I re-watched was 2003. Star drivers Räikkönen, Schumacher, Montoya. Drivers making a name for themselves to watch out for the future: Webber, Alonso and Button

This year. Star Drivers: Alonso, Hamilton, Vettel, Räikkönen arguably Button and Webber Names to watch for: Perez, Grosjean, Hulkenberg and Maldonardo.

I don’t think things are really that bad at all..

8

If anyone’s interested I wrote an article about Razia’s chances here http://fiveredlights.co.uk/2013/02/01/stay-strong-luiz/

and about how good I think Glock is here

http://fiveredlights.co.uk/2013/02/04/the-could-have-been-champions-timo-glock/

9

Peter Windsor talks about the waste of talent and money in the last F1 Racing magazine. I agree that drivers like Bruno Senna, Kamui Kobayashi, Heikki Kovalainen, Timo Glock, Adrian Sutil, Jaime Alguersuari, Sebastien Buemi or Vitaly Petrov should have an alternative series outside F1 (it could be named GP1) to exploit their potential. At a time most of F1 teams struggle to find sponsors, money drivers can bring is what keeps F1 alive and it is a shame there are so many (all talented and most of them with big budgets) without a drive in F1. Windsor may be wrong about numbers (ex: he said Van Der Garde had about four times more sponsorship than Bruno Senna) but he is right when he suggests WEC or DTM are not the right series for so many talented, young and healthy drivers coming out of F1.

10

When we look at the wide range of driver ages, is it not safe to say the drivers are made and not born into the role? Most athletes spend a great deal of there careers in the development phase. Experience is everything and it must be acquired on route to the top.

Rookie drivers will always be under scrutiny until some success comes there way. This is part of the learning curve. Dealing with media and fan pressure is part of the game. These young guns are under extreme pressure to perform from day one.

Not just anyone can jump in a F1 car and keep it on the track. Training and preparation must be intense and should not be taken lightly.

11

I think some true racers will find their way through the financial maze to the forefront of racing which is F1.

Imagine a mountain which is never climbed because of cash restraints??

12

Really hope force India take a good experienced payed driver. They are a good team that needs a solid platform to build on. Hieki would be my preferred driver. He deserves to stay in F1 as he is too good a driver not to be in F1.

13

I see your point James but as an F1 fan first, i think I would still follow F1 (sadly) even if we were going through a dark period of lacking megastars. I just hope that the top teams would continue to attract talent.

14

Nature hates a vacuum. If the current crop of superstars all left then new ones would be created to fill the void. It becomes an opportunity for a young, confident driver to stand out, gain some publicity and a new star is born. The F1 machine would create its stars – maube not in the same mould as Senna, Mansell or Webber (i.e. confident, outspoken, straight talking) but more corporate like Vettel, Alonso, Button (yes, Jenson was a brash, young, confident, possibly even arrogant driver at one stage of his career until Honda started taking the rough edges off and mcLaren polished him up).

15

Worth remembering that a certain Damon Hill acheieved a lot less in 3 years in F3000 than Max Chilton has in 3 years of GP2. Though I will happily accept I know nothing of the details behind Damons F3000 campaign.

16

How much is it actually about the driver any more? Just like in the Olympics, each ‘Sportsperson’ has a massive team behind them essentially optimising them to the best they can be. The person with the best team behind them, wins. Granted, it did used to be about grit and determination, but now it is about interpreting the data and changing to suit. The only difference between Track & Field athletes and F1 drivers is that that F1 drivers will not win unless they have the best car. And we can clearly see this from the timesheets. Pick any two drivers from the grid for comparison and the difference between them is not going to be more than one second. Whereas the difference between the best and worst car on the grid can be upto seven seconds. So we know that Hamilton is on £20million/yr. Let’s say a ‘pay’ driver brings £10million. Well, that’s a net difference of £30million which is probably in the region of 30-50% of the total yearly operating cost of Marussia. On that basis, why wouldn’t you have a pay driver?!

17

Hamilton is on a mid-field team,now we are going to have another season of children taking out the front runners, that is not exciting racing.

18

James, how likely is it that the 2014 engine design regulations will be used? I believe the FIA have not yet said the teams have to use 1.6L V6 turbo engines yet.

19

It’s too late to turn back now, even though there are some who would like to

20

If Marussia are still on the grid in 2014 what engine supplier would they use? Surely Cosworth would not build an engine for one team a team who would surely be at the back anyway, or would they?

21

Cosworth will build engines for one team if they pay them for it. What Cosworth won’t do it subsidise one team to make engines for them.

Why two or three small teams don’t band together and share engine costs in order to stay in F1 is anyone’s guess.

F1 might be the pinnacle of motor sport (debatable) but it certainly isn;t the pinnacle of rational business sense.

22

5 rookies and 5 World Champions make up half the field. Does the 107% rule apply for 2013?

I can see some drivers/teams having some trouble qualifying if that’s the case. For a rookie in a ‘back of the field’ car to consistently get within 7% of say Vettels time will be a masterstroke.

23

The new regulations on DRS in qualifying might tighten the field up a little in that respect I think. The improved aero and hence more liberal use of the DRS during qualifying was a definite benfit to the front running teams compared with the backmarkers.

24

Fair comment Greg. I do hope that’s the case. I have always been against free DRS during qualifying. It just didnt make sense.

25

From the group above I would say Hulkenberg and Bottas (as far as is possible to know; he hasn’t even started a race yet) stand out as potential stars.

As for the likes of Ricciardo and Vergne, I can’t see them being anything more than Mark Webber types. Good, solid drivers, but probably lacking the last little spark that would see them win a championship.

I fear that once the likes of Alonso, Raikkonen, Webber and Button retire it will be a few years of seeing who can stay on the same racing lap as Vettel (and possibly Hamilton) for the longest.

26

Rosberg, Hulkenberg, Grosjean, Perez, Maldonado, Bottas…

I think there will be a lot of very good ones to give Hamilton or Vettel a hard time once Raikkonen, Alonso and Button retire. And maybe Kubica can still be back, who knows?

27

Do teams ever measure the costs of paying drivers versus the costs of replacing cars destroyed by petulance and inexperience?

28

I haven’t seen such things the last few years, big errors because of inexperience…only Maldonado and Grosjean took a lot of damage, but those are also two guys which have shone potential..

But it is an interesting way to look at it 😉

29

I wish the drivers well, they have to start somewhere, but I really can’t see Marussia being competitive with their line up, and in terms of development, I don’t think there is enough experience to carry the team forward.

Bottas looks like a talent, as does Gutierrez, I think Williams and Sauber will do fine.

I expect more of the same from Torro Rosso, but now is the time for their drivers to step up as there could be a move to Red Bull on the cards. I don’t know how much longer Webber will want to stick around.

Caterham have taken a step back. Pic didn’t really impress me and Van der Garde has been on the fringes for so long, you have to wonder why no one wanted to take him on.

30

it’s a big come down after having one of the most competitive driver field ever in 2012.

buget cap is the only true way to solve big costs, but the teams with massive pockets won’t let it happen, it seems like they only care for themselves not f1 on the whole in cases like this. self inportance comes with compitition though.

31

It’ll still be competitive I think, it’s just – like the economy – the gap between the great and the not so great is a bit wider

32

..or make it possible to run “customer cars” like Motogp does with customer bikes. That will ensure teams, and real teams with enthusiasm like the now dear-departed Super “friend” Aguri can survive giving chance to deserving drivers like Glock or Kovi.

Another option is to have 2 varieties of cars run in the pack using 2 different set of rules.Like introducing a fully electric cars in the regular F1 pack.

33

No no no to a two tier formula. Whenever I watch races in a series that has multiple tiers I get totally confused. The person who came in tenth being the top of his category, the person in 11th the bottom of his….

anything but that

34

It’s misleading to think that the best drivers end up in Formula One. They have to be good at car handling, but also photogenic, well spoken, fit, the right size, and able to fit in modestly to a sponsor polluted schedule.

Ugly, gruff, and incoherent Essex boys need not apply. Even if their dad owns a supermarket chain.

35

I’m always a bit suspicious when people wonder if paydriver mean there won’t be any real stars to replace the top drivers when they call it a day. The truth is, of course, that drivers only become stars when they start running consistently at the front or winning races. I doubt very much that the casual (i.e. watches now and then, but doesn’t really ‘follow’ the sport) fan knows much about Sergio Perez, for example, or even Romain Grosjean. If and when they win a race then they’ll become big name ‘stars’.

At the same time, if we suppose that Alonso, Vettel, Hamilton, Button, Webber, Kimi and Massa decide to retire tomorrow and McLaren, Ferrari, Lotus and Red Bull are forced to hire the ‘back of the grid’ drivers mentioned to replace them then we might say the overall quality of the field will be lessened. But would even a real follower of the sport know the difference? The drivers who are doing the winning are regarded as the best and really there’s no objective measure to compare like for like.

36

I disagree.

Schumacher started his first race for Jordan, and his quality was immediately evident. Enough for Benetton and Briatore to snap him up. Two WDC with Michael after 3 years.

Alonso made his debut in a Minardi – again, his quality stood out very early, and was then with Renault. Of course, Briatore was Alonso’s manager, and had identified that very early on. Alonso joined Renault in 2003. Two more WDCs to follow in 2005 and 2006.

Webber started out in Minardi as well, and went through Williams/Renault/Jaguar drives before landing back in Red Bull. Again, he competed very well against all team mates – until he ran up against the wunderkind.

Remember the furore when Kimi made his debut at Sauber after only a handful of races? Remember how his quality stood out?

And even though Vettel and Hamilton came through their respective programs and started out with top teams (Vettel in the RBR clone in STR), their ability was pretty evident early on, I think.

So, to follow your argument, I don’t think a driver needs to win before they become a star, someone to watch.

Of the current drivers outside of the listed stars, I think there are a handful of drivers that have shone some quality. Some “rough diamonds” that could really shine with some (or a lot) of polish.

Maldonado has shone that he has the speed and the temperament. Now he needs to marry that with consistency, which I think was starting to happen towards the end of the season. Hulkenberg is coming along nicely. Grosjean has the speed, and now needs to learn to make the right decisions – when to push, when to hold, when to go for the pass.

McLaren obviously see something in Perez – something more than Maldonado. I mean, if you were sponsoring Williams, and McLaren came knocking, surely you would have a long and hard think about switching camps, no?

37

Point is:

1) the driver had more chance to excell due to nature of F1. The difference a driver can make is greatly reduced nowadays.

2) all the now greats came from religious testing in F1 cars. Which driver since the testing ban has broke really through? Perhaps Perez, but after his McLaren signing he wasn’t very impressive in the Sauber.

Remember testing ban is in place since 2009, so we are entering the fourth year of no testing for young guns. I really want to know what a guy like Frijns could do, but as a Sauber test driver, he has no opportunity to test.

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