Rodolfo Gonzalez, Lotus, Abu Dhabi, 2011

Money before talent at the Young Drivers Test


Posted on

| Written by

Has everyone at the young drivers' test earned their place?
Has everyone at the young drivers' test earned their place?

The driver selection at the young drivers test, which finishes today, reveals much about the haves- and have-nots in Formula 1.

At one end of the grid are the teams with extensive young driver programmes running champions and race-winners from junior categories.

Or consider the likes of McLaren, who’ve had Gary Paffett on their reserve team for six years without ever starting a race, and has a wealth of experience of past MP4s to draw on as he pounds around Abu Dhabi.

At the other end of the grid we find several drivers who may be overflowing with enthusiasm but lacking somewhat in talent.

A review of the racing CVs of those participating reveals more than one of the drivers have won just a single race in the last five years. In one case this was a race featuring just seven other cars.

Now, I would never presume to say that such drivers may not improve and become better racers in the future. But it’s undeniable that while many earned their place at the test, others have merely paid.

The F3 Euroseries, previously won by the likes of Lewis Hamilton and Paul di Resta, was dominated this year by Roberto Merhi.

But Merhi, who took provisional pole position for the Macau Grand Prix by over one-and-a-half second earlier today, was disappointed not to get a chance to appear at the young drivers’ test.

He told Autosport: “When you see now with the rookie test, who are the drivers that are doing it, I think it is not really fair for all the good drivers that are around here in motorsport. It looks like you only need a lot of money to drive.”

GP2 series runner-up Luca Filippi echoed his comments. It’s striking that only four of the top ten drivers in the GP2 standings this year have appeared at the test, while more than one driver who started every race without scoring is.

This may not be entirely down to teams trying to turn a quick profit. Consider the cases of Renault and Force India. Their two drivers who are considered next in line for an F1 seat – Romain Grosjean and Nico Hulkenberg respectively – are ineligible to participate in the test due to prior F1 experience.

Nor is it the case that finance and ability are mutually exclusive. Pastor Maldonado won the GP2 championship last year and brought considerable backing from Venezuelan state petroleum company PDVSA, making him pretty much irresistible to cash-strapped Williams.

And it would be easy to over-state the extent of the problem. The test line-up features champions and race-winners from the likes of GP2, Formula Renault 3.5, Formula Three and GP3 – many of them who deserve serious consideration for a future in F1.

But there are worrying signs that the ladder leading to F1 is become less of a meritocracy and more a case of pay-as-you-go.

It is futile to blame the teams for this predicament. This is an inevitable consequence of the current testing format and the vast gulf between the haves- and have-nots in Formula 1.

The hard reality is that under tough economic pressure F1’s cash-poor teams increasingly have to pick money over talent when they can.

Do you think too few talented young drivers are getting to drive in F1? Who do you think was missing from, or shouldn’t have appeared at, the young drivers test? Have your say in the comments.


Browse all comment articles

Image ?? Team Lotus

Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

Got a potential story, tip or enquiry? Find out more about RaceFans and contact us here.

74 comments on “Money before talent at the Young Drivers Test”

  1. Nothing has ever changed, I remember in the 90’s, the likes of Pedro Diniz, Taki Inoue and Pedro Lamy were all clambering at the back of the grid with fists full of cash…

    Pedro Diniz had a wealthy family and had connections to the dairy giant Parmalat and bought his way into his spot into the Forti team.

    1. Let’s not forget that Mercedes paid Jordan $150,000 for Michael Schumacher to make his debut back in 1991. And the rest, as they say, is history.

      1. Wasn’t it actually Peter Sauber who paid?

    2. I will not hear a bad word said about Taki Inoue! The man is a legend.

      1. Was Inoue the guy who got run over by Hungarian Safety

    3. Nothing has ever changed, I remember in the 90′s, the likes of Pedro Diniz, Taki Inoue and Pedro Lamy were all clambering at the back of the grid with fists full of cash…

      Pedro Diniz had a wealthy family and had connections to the dairy giant Parmalat and bought his way into his spot into the Forti team.

      I’m not sure I’d put Pedro Lamy in that group – he was an F3 champion (back when the German series was considerably stronger than it is now) and a race winner in F3000 the following year before moving up to F1 mid-season with Lotus.

      Come to think of it, I’m not even sure I’d put Pedro Diniz down as a well-funded no hoper. I was never a fan of Diniz, but he didn’t disgrace himself alongside Olivier Panis at Ligier, Damon Hill and Mika Salo at Arrows or with Johnny Herbert at Sauber. He was more of a Maldonado – not a future champion, but sufficiently competent to score points and well-funded.

      The real pay drivers of the early 1990s were the likes of Paul Belmondo, Giovanna Amati, Philippe Adams, Hideki Noda, Jean-Denis Deletraz, Domenico Schiattarella, Giovanni Lavaggi, Ricardo Rosset, etc.

      1. john watson: riccardo rosset you fool!!! have you not read your rule book!!

        Cant remember what race it was but remember him saying it like it was yesterday

        1. Melbourne in ’96?

      2. I was about to state that TimG. Nontheless Pedro Lamy wasnt poor but he was an F3000 champion, unlike many others, I can remenber at least the names of 10 brazilian drivers that didnt had enough talent, still some were able to run in good teams like Bruno Senna(the best of the paying drivers by far), Ricardo Zonta, Pedro Diniz, some only run on bad teams like Ricardo Rosset and Enrique Bernoldi.

        1. Bernoldi did ok, remember him re passing schumi at sepang!

      3. Now Delatraz was a pay driver. I think he was outqualified by an F3000 at one race.

        1. Yeah I remember Diniz being decent.

        2. it was portugal 95. he was 6 seconds slower than the penultimate qualifier, if memory serves. F1 News had some pretty caustic comments about him.

    4. Pedro Lamy ? You don’t know what you are talking about.
      There aren’t much pilots that arrived to F1 with a palmares like Lamy

  2. no just money. today’s piercing competitive environment also closing door to enter F1 because teams want guaranteed or experienced drivers.

    Today, if an young driver want to be on the grid you need 1) sponsors to attract teams attention 2) a reserve or test driver seat 3) misfortune of your team’s regular driver 4) luckily able to show your potential. It’s too long shot and you should be very very lucky unless you’re in Red Bull/Mclaren/Ferrari’s young driver program.

    1. But this is old hat isn’t it? Driver careers often span 8 years or more, and there are only so many seats to fill. You can’t really criticism a team for wanting a known pair of hands can you?

      The opportunities are so limited for young drivers that it is normal than many miss out.
      And it is also normal (for F1) that for the smaller teams, money talks. The only way this could be seriously prevented would be by bringing budgets down. And that’s never going to happen.

  3. I wouldn’t really blame anyone, but I do think it would be better if these F1 tests would be fielding only people who did at least win a race or were top 3-4 in the couple of high standing championships during the past year.

    And McLaren putting their not so young and inexperienced test driver without races under his belt into the F1 car really feels wrong for me.

    1. Out of all the drivers running which won’t be F1 drivers in the future (or shouldn’t, according to their talent) Paffett at least can see the differences between each year’s car, and can give feedback. I think Gonzalez, Chilton, Cecotto, Charouz, Berthon (and also Razia) are the ones who don’t deserve an F1 test, surely not based on their 2011 performances.

      1. In my opinion, the biggest loss to f1 was Giorgio Pantano

  4. “Romain Grosjean and Nico Hulkenberg…. are ineligible to participate in the test due to prior F1 experience.”

    I’m curious why Gary Paffett can drive? I assume on the technicality that he’s never raced a F1 car, even though he’s had a fair amount of testing experience.

    1. You assume correctly. Paffet has never started a race, and so is eleigble to run in the YDTs.

      1. why has paffet never been offered a drive somewhere in the paddock?

        1. He was supposed to drive for the Prodrive team alongside Pedro de la Rosa but it failed to make the grid.

        2. Lets be honest his mclaren pay packet is probably more than any other team would offer him as a driver… look at fissichella and ferrari, left a good reliable seat to go and sit in a simulator…

  5. Is this necessarily a bad thing? There are a lot of drivers with more money than talent – and some of them don’t really stand a snowflake’s chance in hell of actually making it into Formula 1. At least not any time soon. No doubt the money-talent relationship is inversely proportional; the less talent you have, the more money you need to make up for it. And looking at some of the driver rosters for the tests, the teams that take these high-paying drivers are the smaller teams. The teams that need the money. They can take that money and spend it on building a better car. What’s the alternative? To take a promising young talent, give him a run, and watch him get poached by a bigger team? How is that in any way attractive?

    A lot of the drivers in the Young Driver Tests aren’t going to make it into Formula 1, no matter how healthy their bank balance. Gone are the days where playboys who fancied themselves to be racing drivers simply waved their chequebook at a team and got themselves a seat. A driver needs to have a certain degree of talent before he can qualify for a Superlicence, and no amount of money can overcome that.

    I feel for Merhi. I really do. He’s a talented driver who has a bright future – but at the same time, I don’t think he has much to worry about. The teams watch the junior leagues constantly, and if a driver shows real talent, they’ll be consricpted into the young driver programs. That’s what Merhi should be focusing his attention on: impressing teams, which he can do with or without a Formula 1 test. And he should also be on the look-out for sponsors who are interested in getting into Formula 1. Sponsors tend to attach themselves to promising drivers, because those drivers represent their best chances at breaking into the upper echelons of motorsport.

    1. Perhaps it’s not such a bad thing, but if the point is not really to give young drivers a chance, then I also don’t see the need for the restriction that drivers are not allowed to have any F1 race experience.

      McLaren (one of the few teams that doesn’t need to take the money), for instance, seem to treat this as an opportunity to do some regular testing, and give their reserve driver some more seat time.

      1. also don’t see the need for the restriction that drivers are not allowed to have any F1 race experience

        Because then teams will just run their regular test drivers.

        1. So now you just need to make sure, as McLaren do, that you don’t give your regular test driver a chance to race. Not a great trade result either.

  6. Merhi has now lost the pole position referred to in this article for a pit lane exit infringement.

    1. From

      Roberto Merhi, who secured provisional pole position for the Macau Grand Prix, is one of seven drivers who have been handed grid penalties for crossing the pitlane exit line on Thursday.

      The Spaniard, whose afternoon was also affected when he crashed into the back of rival Felix Rosenqvist towards the end of first qualifying, will be moved three places down the grid for Saturday’s qualifying race after he was judged to have crossed the yellow line at the pitlane exit.

      A pretty hefty penalty (I confess I don’t recall the pit exit in Macau – even if I drove the ‘F1 simulator’ there two years ago and got sick after five minutes of being rubbish) for an infringement on Thursday.

      1. (I got nauseous because of the movement of the simulator – not because I was rubbish)

        1. BTW Merhi got another 7 places penalty, because of his crash… that will made him 10th?

  7. Sometimes success in feeder series or lack of it doesn’t necessary mean a driver deserves a F1 drive. One example for this is Nigel Mansell – he hasn’t won a single race before getting a chance in F1 and he was paying for his seats.
    Then there is a more recent example of Kamui Kobayashi – he won 2 GP2 Asia races and became a champion, scored another win in a sprint race of European season and then managed to score only one more point for the rest of the season, finishing 16th with just 10 points to his name. At the same time his Toyota backed countryman Kazuki Nakajima year before scored 6 podiums and finished 6th in the championship. We all know what happened when they raced in F1.

    Is having financial backing important in F1? Sure, but you need to have talent as well. I can’t blame the teams for letting pay drivers have the test, McLaren’s attitude with Paffet is more against the spirit of Young Driver’s test then that.

    1. sometimes it does seem to be the case that drivers just seem to handle F1 cars better than the cars they raced in the junior categories, much like the example you provided above.

    2. One example for this is Nigel Mansell – he hasn’t won a single race before getting a chance in F1 and he was paying for his seats.

      I don’t think that’s quite correct – Mansell won quite a number of British Formula Ford races and a few rounds of the British F3 series before getting his break with Lotus.

  8. The way F1 is design now Money comes first then talent.

  9. This is exactly what i have against maldonando. He probably is a vary talented driver and has a lot of potential but because he replaced hulkenberg because of money alone makes me dislike Pastor and makes me think he is unworthy of his seat in F1.

    1. Well that’s … illogical. What do you expect him to do? Reject PDVSA sponsorship on ‘ethical’ grounds. Maldonado has earned his place in F1. You can’t buy a GP2 title or raw talent, and he has both.

      1. Supposed to be a ? after grounds.

  10. same as it ever was. in fact originally, grand prix racing, was only for people who paid. you only took a salary from a team if you couldnt afford to be a “gentleman racer”. Of course times have changed but its part of the fabric of Grand prix racing, and as per team orders it seems a difficult thing for some people to grasp. nothing to see here id say.

    1. I don’t think it’s really a matter of people not being able to grasp those concepts. I think it’s more that a lot of people grasp them and yet don’t much care for them.

  11. Is there a chance that some of these young, wealthy drivers have paid teams money to take part in the young driver tests?

    1. More than just a chance, that’s the point of the article!

      1. I understand. Sorry if the post came across a ‘tad’ naive!!
        I am well aware that driver’s have often paid for a season’s racing. I suppose I am just shocked (or jealous!) that certain drivers are prepared (or able) to pay – perhaps millions- for 2 to 3 days testing (With no promise of a race seat).

        1. This isn’t a new thing – I remember that back when testing was much less limited Williams used one day of testing like this – one car was testing as usual and the other one had 3 or 4 drivers who did a dozen laps each. Those drivers all paid for a spin in a F1 car and I don’t think I heard of either of them ever again.

          1. I think Minardi used to do the same kind of thing. Remember Chanoch Nissany? He paid for his practice session if I remember correctly.

  12. its the same thing. if you start liking a sport that has done things a certain way for most if not all of its history then it is your failure to grasp that this is how things are done. not, the sport must change because i dont like it. thats a nonsense.

    to be honest though, i shouldve said, “the public at large”. many more people who do more than just watch the highlights show, ie f1 fanatic types, do understnad these processes within the sport.

    1. Okay, I’m going to assume that was a response to my comment…

      “A nonsense”? Okay, so a sport should never evolve in any way over time? Things always must be done in precisely the way they always have been done, regardless of whatever else changes around it? Not sure I agree with that, although you’re far from the first person I’ve seen suggest it!

  13. Motorsport as a whole is money before talent. Who is to say that you and i cant drive better than half the f1 grid?

    1. I am sure most of us couldn’t drive an F1 car out of the pit garage and on to the track without stalling, let alone “drive better than half the F1 grid”!

    2. F1_Master2013
      17th July 2014, 20:45

      agreed man if we had a chance to prove ourselves I bet u will be better than the drivers who r actually f1 drivers

  14. The plot thickens!

    Valtteri Bottas is “ready” for Formula 1, and he could step up “if he did an impressive job during his outings for the outfit this week”.

    Meanwhile ……-tittle-tattle

    Adam Parr is “amused” by talk of Raikkonen joining the team, calling some of the stories “absolute drivel on all fronts”.

    1. PM, could you replace the “…” with the rest of the link?

      1. @adrianmorse

        Sorry. Copy-pasted from another forum where I posted this first. Also, I’m in the wrong thread – I maent for this to go in the round-up.

    2. Would Williams seriously go with a Maldonado & Bottas driver line-up though? It doesn’t sound like the strongest pairing in the world right now, surely Raikkonen-Barrichello looks better on paper but Pastor’s Sponsorship seems crucial for the team, so regardless of how average he seems, It’s doubtful he’ll be dropped.
      Maybe they will stick with the same line-up as this year and give Rubens his 20th (and final) season?

      And then there’s Adrian Sutil..surely he’ll come knocking When Mallya decides on DiResta-Hulkenberg…Hmm

      1. It doesn’t sound like the strongest pairing in the world right now

        They might not have a choice. Especially if Raikkonen only wants a one-year contract so that he can move on toa better team in 2013.

        And then there’s Adrian Sutil..surely he’ll come knocking When Mallya decides on DiResta-Hulkenberg…Hmm

        Based on some of the recent reports from India, Mallya might not be around long enough to make that call (which he was supposed to make in Abu Dhabi). Kingfisher is apparently haemmorhaging money right now.

        1. I hadn’t heard about Mallya’s uncertain position, thats something i didn’t expect.

          1. Indeed. He is said to be a billion dollars in debt, funding his business with constant bank loans and paying 20% interest just to keep Kingfisher afloat when the industry average in India is just 6.5%. It’s looking like the investment from Sahara had less to do with getting a new business partner and more to do with keeping the team going.

          2. Mallaya has other business interests. United Breweries… apparently 3rd largest in the world.
            More info at…

            Ofcourse, the aviation venture isn’t faring all too well, but Mallaya has enough money.

      2. Here’s a theory: HRT is a partner of Williams now, right? Can they put Bottas in an HRT while running Maldonado and any one of Sutil, Barrichello, or Raikkonen in their Williams cars?

        1. @ Journeyer I was thinking the same. I still hope they will pick Raikkonen – I am a fan.

          And I’m also not sure about Maldonado. I know Williams (Frank himself?) said that they’re almost certain about Maldonado, but I read also somewhere that Williams is not obligated to let Maldonado drive in order to get the money.

          I tried to find it, but all I encountered were one source which I’m not sure about and another source, who just is telling something else about the Maldonado situation.

          Well, let’s wait and see. In my dreams, I see the father in law of Giedo van der Garde (mr Marcel Boekhoorn) buying shares in Williams* and driving next to Kimi.

          *maybe even from John de Mol’s Cyrte investments, who have a 5% share of Williams – as sort of compensation for a little fall out Boekhoorn had with Cyrte…

          1. That is Giedo driving next to Kimi – not his father in law.
            And it’s @Journeyer

  15. I find it rather odd that McLaren picked Turvey and Paffet over Kevin Magnussen. The young Dane is part of their young driver development scheme, and he also had a brilliant second half to his British Formula 3 season which was marred by an unusually high amount of mechanical failures.

    For the next young driver’s test, I’d really like to see Gravity-backed Richie Stanaway test for Renault instead of Charouz. Charouz is not a completely bad driver; his impressive LMS record proves this. However, since he returned to open-wheel racing, he hasn’t really achieved much, especially in the World Series by Renault. Essentially, his whole career has been driven by his father, who runs the successful Charouz Racing System team.

    Chilton and the two Venezuelans, based on their GP2 records, did not deserve their runs. Leimer, Coletti, Razia, Clos and Turvey have been too average in GP2. That being said, they do have potential.

    Based on Formula Renault 3.5 results, Charouz and Berthon did not deserve the tests they recieve, although Berthon had a strong rookie season in tbe series.
    On the flipside, Ceccon, Vergne, Bianchi, Korjus, Pic, Bottas, Bortolotti, Wickens, and to an extent, Gutierrez and Bird, all deserved the tests as they have impressed this year in their respective categories.

    All in all, money talks. If it didn’t, there wouldn’t be any Venezuelans participating and I believe we’d see the likes of Felipe Nasr, Albert Costa, and Roberto Merhi in Formula One cars.

    1. For the next young driver’s test, I’d really like to see Gravity-backed Richie Stanaway test for Renault instead of Charouz.

      I too would like to see this chap have a go, been following his progress via Twitter, looks to be doing very well and a very focused individual. Reminds me of Vettel in his demeanour.

  16. I think there are too much possible new F1 drivers. Drivers are plucked from what, 3 or 4 feeder series every year. Then considering that your average F1 career last 3 or 4 years (just a guess), there are way to many drivers for way to little seats. And if you can choose a future champion like Vettel or Hamilton it’s a clear case, but those are rare. So a good second to choose on is money, especially for the poorer teams.

  17. How did the current bona fide talents come into the sport? It seems to me that generally, all of Hamilton, Button, Rosberg, Alonso, Vettel, Webber, Massa were either groomed by top teams as development drivers or came into the sport after unqualified success below. I don’t think that will ever change. The top three teams and Mercedes will never hire a pay-hack. The rest probably will continue to let a a check drive at least one of their cars.

    I can see how the arithmetic ensures this result. If you don’t have the car or the talent in-car to go up a rung or two in the standings and thereby claim and addtional $20-40m in WCC money, much better to just get $20m from Lada or PDVSA/Citgo and just hope that a team ahead stumbles. In theory, you can use the money to develop the car too—or to remove the lien put on you by the catering company.

    If you hire a junior league superstar and pay him $5m and he doesn’t pan out, you are much worse off financially, and your sponsorship pitch is now worse as well. It’s a bird-in-hand thing.

  18. It’s just so sad to think of all the talent that goes unnoticed, all of the potential to have the most skilled drivers in the world on one grid. F1 holds itself highly for having the best drivers in the world but that’s just not true is it?

  19. So exactly how much money are we talking about here? Can someone enlighten me as to how much the “pay” drivers are bringing to a team?

  20. This problem is far more deep rooted than just the young drivers test for F1. Motorsport in general could be considered to be quite an elitist sport. Lewis Hamilton only got through karting and the lower formulas because of his dad working two jobs and all the hours on the Earth. I think I remember the same being said of Jenson’s parents.

    Michael Schumacher’s parents were not particularly wealthy either.

    Motorsport needs to be more accessible to people. I know many excellent karters who call it quits there because they simply cannot afford to get into the most cheapest forms of singleseater series such as Formula Renault or even Formula Ford. A friend at university drove in Formula Ford events and festivals quite often, but could never afford to do a full season, which is a shame because he’s a pretty good driver.

    It’s a problem that wont go away however, and not a problem unique to F1 as well for that matter. At the end of the day, money talks – louder than tallent unfortunately.

    1. Motorsport needs to be more accessible to people.

      Decisive question: why?
      The way motorsport is and was has worked fine before and a certain elitism hasn’t hurt anything yet. If anything, high costs increase the chance at seeing good talent, because aside from those very few who have rich family and friends to finance their career, only those who are good and interesting enough to attract sponsorship actually make it.

      1. I guess it’s because politically I have more left wing views and believe in opportunities for everyone as opposed to opportunities of the fortunate.

  21. Money vs. talent, always a touchy subject.

    While I do appreciate the romance behind the best drivers getting the best seats, irrespective of economics, I also appreciate that yourself being part of a ‘package’ deal is perhaps more important.

    The Hulkenberg and Maldonado situation at the end of last year is a perfect example. I was as gutted as the next fan when I heard Hulkenberg was being dropped but such is the nature of the beast. F1 provides us all with lots of entertainment and some truly tremendous sportsmanship, competitiveness and talent and personally I think we should respect the pay-driver a little more. Clearly they bring vital sponsorship money and without that who knows where many teams would be. It takes a lot for the teams to wear their financial-hearts on their sleeve, knowing the onslaught of abuse they will face. It’s all about the long-term.

    Perhaps I sound naive, but i’m just trying to look at things a little differently.

  22. Formula One wants to see more overtaking? Put the best drivers in the ‘best’ series and we might see it.

  23. I have been racing 10 years, started in go-karts at age 5. Now I’m 15 yrs old, and have 9 racing championships and have stayed focused on developing my skills in multiple forms of racing. I am super fortunate to be a Red Bull Motorsports athlete now and racing the Global Rallycross Series this year. My parents have devoted everything to me and I’m truly grateful to them. My family has been through some hardships over the last year with my mom’s diagnosis of cancer and lupus. Her dream is to see me succeed in my racing career and she’s devoted her last 15 years to helping me develop and move forward even when she’s feeling bad. I would be most grateful for the opportunity to be on the F1 development team but being from America, I’m not sure the same opportunities would be extended to me. All I am asking for is a chance to test and be considered! I realized early on that football or basketball wasn’t for me, but ever since I can remember, driving anything with a motor has always come natural, God given. I would be grateful to get in contact with Christian Horner, maybe he would give me a test drive. The most exciting racers to watch are those that drove their way to the top and I would really appreciate the chance. Thank you for letting me post.

Comments are closed.