Posts Tagged ‘Drivers’

Several F1 drivers took part in a televised poker tournament, broadcast here in Italy the other day, with Nico Rosberg emerging as the guy who knows when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em. He won the tournament ahead of Robert Kubica and Giancarlo Fisichella.

Poker has become a craze for F1 drivers in the last couple of seasons, started by Fisi and Kubica, with a regular game going on the table in the Force India motorhome, featuring Fernando Alonso, Bernie Ecclestone, Vijay Mallya and Rubens Barrichello as regulars.

The TV tournament was also contested by Eddie Irvine (who wore shades, as you would expect, so as not to give anything away!), Tonio Liuzzi, Alex Zanardi, Giorgio Pantano and Adrian Sutil.

The Gazzetta dello sport newspaper did a nice interview with Fisi today and he revealed that Kubica is the toughest F1 person to play against because you never know when he’s bluffing. Let’s hope he has a fast enough car this year to use some of that Cool Hand Luke sang froid on his title rivals..

Fisi also said that he was looking forward to getting his hands on the new Force India car, equipped with the Mercedes engine and McLaren gearbox later this month. He expects to be out at the two March tests before Melbourne. I’ll be interested to see how deep the technical collaboration runs between the two teams, and there is little doubt that Force India should move forward a bit as a result of this collaboration, although their own aerodynamic work will be decisive.

As for the talk of a Grand Prix in Rome in 2011, which people here are getting increasingly excited about, he said that it would be lovely, but he just hopes he’s still in F1 in 2011. He sees the revolving door coming closer..

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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.

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This is a question I have noticed that lot of my readers have been asking on search engines which have led them here, so I thought I’d do a quick post with the answer.

I had a word with a mate of mine who is an agent representing premiership footballers and I looked through my files on drivers and through the estimated figures in Formula Money, which has some good research into the financial side of the sport.

The answer is that the top drivers earn far more than the top premiership stars, but of course there are far more top footballers than F1 stars.

Top of the F1 tree is Kimi Raikkonen, who is believed to earn around $36 million £24m) per season, with Fernando Alonso on $24 million (£16m) and Lewis Hamilton understood to be on around £12 million. Jenson Button was trousering £12 million from Honda. Heikki Kovalainen gets around $5 million (£3.4m). A front of midfield driver, like Mark Webber, earns $4 million (£2.75m) with drivers like Kazuki Nakajima on around £500,000.

No premiership player is close to Raikkonen; the top earners like John Terry and Frank Lampard are on around £6 million per year, Steven Gerrard gets around £5 million. Christiano Ronaldo earns £4 million. Like F1, the sport rewards its stars disproportionately compared with the average competitor. The average premiership salary is £500,000 per year. All of these figures are for the salary, not including the endorsements that many drivers and players have.

So the bottom line is, the top premiership stars earn roughly the same as the midfield guys in F1.

It’s only a quick look at the picture, but hope that answers your question.

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What’s an F1 driver worth?

Nick Heidfeld, ever the pragmatist, is quoted today saying that if drivers are to be asked to take a pay cut, so be it, ” We have to adjust ourselves just like everyone else.” Actually Nick is pretty good value at approximately £2.8 million per season. It’s the £30 odd million Raikkonen gets or the £20 million Alonso scoops up, which give the eye catching numbers. The average, according to Formula Money, is £5.5 million. So what are the drivers worth in the current economic climate?

I wrote a post here on Friday about the cost of superlicences and the drivers complaining about the increase in price again this season. To some this is a non-story, but if you look at the comment which is coming out of the drivers and also from Bernie Ecclestone about salaries, there’s no doubt in my mind that this is all starting to come to a head. The licence furore serves to highlight the fact that they are extremely well paid, that puts it on the news agenda and a debate about driver salary caps ensues, as it does from the ongoing debate about cost reduction. The drivers are starting to be caught in a pincer movement.

With teams slashing costs, cutting testing, going for long life engines and gearboxes, the savings already made are significant and yet sitting there on the balance sheet is this whopping great cost – the drivers’ salary. The lucky drivers are contracted forwards for a few years yet, like Lewis Hamilton who is only a year into a five year deal. Kimi Raikkonen is sitting on a contract which was extended last season to the end of 2010. They would have to agree to accept a pay cut, I cannot see how they could have one forced on them as they surely have a contract with payment schedules.

It’s not hard to see why the teams would love to get the costs of drivers down, but the irony is that the more they change the rules to standardise things and cut costs out of making and running the cars, the more important the faster driver becomes…and therefore the more valuable. And now with more things for the driver to do in the car, thanks to adjustible front wings and KERS, the premium on drivers becomes even higher.

But as ever with F1 it’s not as simple as that. Many argue that the most important part of a car is ‘the nut who holds the wheel’ and that is why driver salaries are high – for the best drivers at least. But nowadays a large part of the driver’s salary also reflects his image rights and his use as a marketing face for the brands which associate with his team.

Lewis Hamilton was up in the Midlands last week at a branch of Alliance and Leicester, now owned by Santander/Abbey, helping to draw attention to that fact.

Expect a lot more on this salary story as the season goes on.

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It’s been a quiet day today, BMW are still hammering around in Valencia, but the teams who were all in Portugal are back at base shaking their heads over what a waste of time it was. There was basically only a brief window of a few hours without rain on one day to get any meaningful running done and Toyota had a technical problem at that time anyway, so missed it.

Anyway, the most interesting story I’ve seen today is one on Autosport.com about the drivers getting shirty over a further rise in the cost of their superlicences. Last season the FIA raised the cost of the licences dramatically, some 500%, because it said the cost of the work it has done on safety is mostly for the drivers’ benefit so they should cover some of the costs. A licence went up to 10,000 euros plus 2000 euros per point scored.

This year the rate of increase is much less, only 4% on the basic licence and 5% per point scored, possibly reflecting the credit crunch, but it’s still got the drivers upset and they are refusing to sign their new licence forms. The champion will have to pay just under €220,000, which is actually £220,000 now that the pound has collapsed. I’m sure Hamilton is paid in euros anyway, so it’s probably not the end of the world, but if he was paid in pounds, that makes it another 25-30% more expensive than it was last year.

As a protest chant, “What do we want? Cheaper superlicences..when do we want then NOW!” Is hardly the most dynamic of political statements. And as far as public sympathy is concerned, multi-millionaire drivers seeking support over the cost of their licences at a time when most people fear for their livelihoods will be a hard sell. But the drivers are serious and it seems that the matter will be brought up at the next meeting of the F1 teams’ body, FOTA in the first week of February.

Now FOTA has done some impressive things in its short existence and it’s making good progress in other areas. It has made huge cost savings, found a level on which to talk to Max Mosley and Bernie Ecclestone and both are taking it very seriously. A spat like this one over drivers’ licences is not something they would ideally like to get embroiled in at this time, it’s a distraction they could do without, but if the teams don’t show support for their drivers, who will?

Mosley says he is prepared to talk to aggrieved drivers, apparently, as long as they reveal their income first!

This is one way of gently highlighting the fact that at present we do not have budget caps in F1, which Mosley and some teams would like, and even when they have been discussed, drivers salaries and marketing budgets have been left out. There has been talk of a wage cap in recent months as the industry faces up to the recession. I was in America a lot in the early 1990s when baseball and and basketball tried to impose a wage cap on players and the players went on strike, as I recall for most of a season, which caused a lot of damage.

No-one is suggesting that a wage cap or a drivers strike are around the corner in F1, but if you wanted to highlight the fact that the salaries of the top drivers are out of alignment with the cost-savings going on elsewhere in the sport and with team employees starting to be laid off, where would you start in raising the issue?

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How can our sport identify and nurture the best driving talents and bring them to F1? What is the best way to evaluate a young driver?

One of the eye catching lines Bernie Ecclestone came out with recently in an interview with my Financial Times colleague Christian Sylt was a dismissal of the revived Formula 2 series as merely something Max Mosley came up with when he was going through “a problem with his private life “ last summer. It was “all done for the wrong reasons,” he said.

While it is true that F2 was announced in the midst of the Mosley/News of the World situation, on closer inspection it is a serious project and it could turn out to be a threat to GP2, which is why Bernie was scathing. I spent some time recently with the man charged with running the series for the FIA, ex F1 driver Jonathan Palmer, and got a look at what he and the FIA think is the model for the future of motor sport.

Bringing a driver up to F1 level is very expensive; it costs £600,000 for a season of Formula 3 and an eye watering £1.3 million for a season of GP2. Admittedly the GP2 is a good show; the racing is exciting, the series supports all the European Grands Prix and has a strong TV package because it is sold with F1 to rights holders. So it’s high profile and gives the drivers 24 races a season. There is a lot of value there.

But in this climate young drivers will find it much harder to raise £1.3 from family, friends and sponsors because everyone is hurting for cash at the moment.

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My Festive Top Ten

Apologies for the radio silence in the last week, a combination of a short holiday and a few technical problems while I was away.

I’ve enjoyed this season of racing as much as any I can recall. There were many fantastic races and some strong performances. As always there are more drivers disappointed with their season than delighted but we had some breakthrough performances and a new elite has been established. Here is my choice for the Top ten of the year

1. Fernando Alonso – never gave up even when the Renault wasn’t working well. Always wrung the maximum from the car and his mistakes were through trying hard, rather than sloppiness. He’s a class act.
2. Robert Kubica – only one mistake I can think of, in the rain at Silverstone. Hurt by BMW working hard to save his team mate’s season. Some sublime performances throughout the year, dropped off a bit at the end.
3. Lewis Hamilton – deserved his drivers title because his best performances this year were better than anyone else’s and he is set to be the best out there. He’s not quite there yet, though.
4.Felipe Massa – OK, hands up, I admit it, he’s better than I thought he was and he’s still improving. Only poor luck robbed him of the title he would have deserved. Showed great sporting dignity in Brazil. Respect.
5. Sebastian Vettel – what a year for the young man. Stunning win from pole at soggy Monza and was always quick once Toro Rosso got the car going fast in July.
6. Mark Webber – some great drives earlier in the year, he found consistency and showed that he’s got the credentials, but the Red Bull package went off the boil after Silverstone. Fingers crossed for the broken leg.
7. Timo Glock – his performance in Hungary was brilliant. Showed very well against Jarno Trulli this year.
8. Kimi Raikkonen – not one of his better years, in fact probably his worst in F1, but his standards are so high. The car went away from him as it developed. Needs a big year next year.
9. Sebastien Bourdais – he was overshadowed by his team mate pretty much all year and poor luck robbed him of some big results. Finsished the season well.
10. Heikki Kovalainen – A difficult first year at McLaren, where he was often quite close to Lewis in qualifying pace but not in race pace, which meant not enough podiums.

I hope you all have a great Christmas. Thanks for reading the blogs and please be sure to spread the word. I’ve got some exciting plans for this space in 2009.

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I read a fascinating article this weekend by a writer called Malcolm Gladwell, whose new book “The story of success” looks at what creates success in many walks of life.

He describes some studies by psychologists into music students and concludes that however much talent someone has at something, what makes the difference between them becoming a stand out or an also ran is practice and opportunity. Amazingly the studies couldn’t find any “naturals” – people whose natural ability allowed them to be better than the rest on a fraction of the practice. It’s talent and practice which make a genius. By the age of 20 all top musicians had done 10,000 hours of practice and those that hadn’t were already doomed.

Delving deeper, he finds that the same is true of sportsmen and women too, that magic figure of 10,000 hours comes up again and again. It is the number required to hit true expertise in a field. It is a huge amount of time, equivalent to twenty hours per week for ten years.

It got me thinking about racing drivers, especially modern ones. Since the rules were relaxed to allow children to start karting at the age of 8, many drivers have been able to focus their lives on racing from a very early on and are hugely practiced by the time they arrive in F1 at 21 or 22. And that is why drivers like Hamilton and Kubica can perform as they do from the start of their F1 careers.

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With all the fuss about medals, you might not have paid much attention to the story of the three young Italian drivers, who got to test a Ferrari F1 car at Fiorano this week. But digging into what happened, it seems the test was a minor revelation.

The top three finishers in the Italian F3 championship were invited to drive Kimi Raikkonen’s 2008 car on Wednesday and the guy who won the F3 championship, 18 year old Mirko Bortolotti, went two tenths under the lap record for that car at Fiorano, setting a 59.111s lap. Now this needs qualifying; the car hasn’t done much running there this year and the lap record was set by sometime test driver Andrea Bertolini, but in only 14 dry laps (after 26 on a damp track), the fact that this 18 year old could do that time is hugely impressive. The other two, Eduardo Piscopo and Salvatore Cicatelli were and second and two seconds behind respectively.

Luca Baldiserri, who took over Ross Brawn’s operational role at Ferrari and whom I respect enormously said, “These boys have stunned me. The extraordinary thing is that they didn’t make a single error, they went fast straight away and showed enormous potential. It’s also lovely to hear comments and views from boys who are not yet prejudiced..”

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It’s not often you can say this, but there are a couple of great drives available for next year, but no outstanding young talent to fill them

There’s a seat going at Honda and one at Toro Rosso, but a glance across the ranks of the GP2 field , at the US scene and across the other ranks below F1 yields little. It’s intensely frustrating for the team bosses. They’d love to give a talented 22 year old a try next year, especially Honda, but it’s slim pickings.

I suppose we shouldn’t be too surprised; we’ve seen the arrival of three real gems recently in Hamilton, Kubica and Vettel, but it is still surprising to me that there is no-one coming up behind them who demands attention. If there were, as the teams have admitted to me, they would slide effortlessly into a seat next year. So who’s out there? [ more ]

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