August 17th, 2013 (F1plus/Paul Godley).- No phrase has irked, frustrated and positively had me spitting feathers over the past 12 months more so than 'pay driver'. A term. A label. A tag. Hear those two words together and it'll immediately generate thoughts within many that sit uneasy in certain quarters.
I'll get straight into it. My main gripe with the term is that quite simply, it's a non-term. Meaningless. Pointless. It seems that having financial backing now brings about it some kind of bad, unwanted label. That it's suddenly a bad thing. Bad for the sport, and bad for other drivers. To an extent yes, money over talent is never desirable, but in a sport where money matters, the money is - whether we like it or not - essential.
I've just used the phrase 'money over talent', something else that riles me. Money over talent? I may be being a tad naive here, but unless you have the talent (or the potential), the money won't arrive? In times of struggle, where even sponsorship from once highly associated and connected companies is hard to come by, why would a company invest in a driver or team unless they thought there was a significant level of talent there now, or closely down the line?
Connections and contacts, as in any walk of life, can be vital to which path your life takes. We're currently in a climate where - particularly in the motorsport - talent alone is unlikely to be enough.
Marketability is key.
The knowledge and awareness of how to make yourself desirable, courted by sponsors and how to deal with PR and the media. If it's not already an integral part, it should soon be.
Whether it happens in the current academies or young driver programmes I couldn't say, but I strongly believe that if not, it needs to be.
The best example I have of this can be found in British Touring Car Championship with the KX Academy. KX - a leading team sponsor - with the help of veteran tin-top racer Jason Plato, have set up the KX Academy.
It's a place where young drivers from junior formulae are selected to not only receive some kind of financial backing, but training in PR, the media and how to market themselves to sustain and secure long term involvement in racing.
As the project is so young, it's difficult to judge success so far. I can only think though, that if we had such training in place across the whole motorsport board, that some drivers recently out of a drive through a lack of funds, would have had a greater chance of remaining in a race seat. That's not to say it's a guarantee, far from it. Something to think about?
Back to that 'tag' I mentioned at the start. It seems in some sections that arriving into the sport with money somehow warrants you undeserving, unworthy or in some cases, 'the worst driver to ever compete in the sport'. Hmm. I beg to differ. Yes, some drivers have got as far in their careers more because of money than talent, but they have quickly been wiped from F1's memory. This is a ruthless sport. It's also a ruthless business. You don't deliver, your sponsors won't supply.
But there have been, and will continue to be, many drivers who have progressed because they have both money and talent supporting them. Race winners, podium finishers, heck even the odd ex-World Champion. Financial backing in a sport where the numbers can only make your mind boggle, has always been there. Maybe not always as glaringly apparent as it is today, but lurking around nonetheless.
I do feel for the drivers who undeservedly lose their seats because of money; especially those ones who continue to win races and Championships year-on-year. Motorsport, particularly at this level, involves astronomical amounts of money that quite simply cannot be attained or sustained.
We have a fundamental problem, and one that needs addressing sharp-ish. Losing high-end, quality drivers that are more than ready to make that step up (or who had made the step up and have since been booted) is something no-one wants to see. Not ever. But it will continue to happen unless changes are made. Changes to cost, to prize money, to marketing, to young driver programmes etc. The list goes on. And on.
The levels of money required is far from ideal, but for now, it's something we must learn to deal with. If a driver does bring money with them, it should not detract from the talent they have. As I've stated, it would seem unthinkable that a business in these times would support - or continue to support - a driver that fails to display talent.
Those who do fail will be quickly flushed out, and those who impress will stay. Is it unfair that talent alone is not enough? Of course it is. But this is a competitive, unforgiving arena. Fairness is not guaranteed. I wish that wasn't the case sometimes, but ultimately it is. Sport is ruthless, and results alone are sometimes not enough.
Money brings about stability, security and safety. But become complacent and the supply will soon stop. Talent - in an ideal world - should be the first priority. Are we in ideal times? Have we ever been? Will we ever be? Until steps are taken by those in power, talent will continue to pass by. Of course, we often think in an F1 bubble, where nothing else exists. It does. It's cheaper and can be just as, if not more, exciting than 'the pinnacle of motorsport'. But being greedy, we want to see those drivers here, not there. Money is here to stay. But talent should never be left behind.