Red Bull driver Mark Webber is on his farewell tour this year as the 12-season veteran is calling it quits in Formula 1. Webber will move to the Le Mans series as a Porsche factory driver for 2014.
One of the refreshing characteristics of Mark Webber is his willingness to call the plays as he sees it. For better or for worse, Webber tends to say ugly truths that people find insightful or offensive depending on your point of view.
To those ends, Webber told Sky Sports F1 that the current pay-driver scenario is not good for the sport:
“Formula 1 must keep the hot talent coming through and these drivers that have countries with their own race or got governments or absolute full-on commercial scenarios behind them to the tune of five, eight, ten million dollars, whatever it is, is not right,”
Drivers with significant financial backing willing to pay for the privilege of driving a car is not a new phenomenon on Formula 1 but it has laddered up in recent years due to the global economic crunch. Teams have not been as successful at finding sponsors in a down economy so paying drivers is the next best thing.
A paying driver may represent a significant portion of a team’s budget these days but Webber questions the long-term effect of not having the best at the wheel. He also says this lack of integrity toward to the sport applies to racing event such as this weekend’s Korean Grand Prix:
“I think keeping the quality is important, keeping the quality events,” Webber said.
“Korea, there’s no one there. We need to have quality events, quality drivers, quality teams and keep that going.”
Korea may not be ripe with F1 fans that will attend the race but apparently they have a government willing to pay $25-30 million per year to host the race and for Formula One Management (FOM), this is what matters. FOM have had to keep the series going and bringing in far-flung racing venues and siphoning cash from willing wallets is part of the Bernie Ecclestone mystique.
How do you feel about paying drivers? Not all paying drivers are a blight on the series and some have warranted serious consideration and there are several who have gone on to win championships.
At some level, fans have to trust the teams to make the right decisions. Williams F1’s Valtteri Bottas and Pastor Maldonado, Marrusia’s Jules Bianchi and Max Chilton, Sauber’s Esteban Gutierrez, Caterham’s Giedo van der Garde and Charles Pic all rank among F1’s paying drivers but who do you feel is a paying driver with true skill and merit to be on the grid?
Some might argue that all of these drivers merit a spot on the grid because driving a F1 car is no easy task. They have all certainly cut their teeth in lower series racing so having financial sponsors may not be a crime that automatically indicts them to also-ran drivers unworthy of F1 grid status. It is a fine line but ultimately the team and drivers who race against them know who is and who isn’t the best person to be on the grid.
I suspect Mark Webber knows who most likely shouldn’t be on the grid but he hasn’t named names yet…then again I wouldn’t put it past him.