Search in the right places and you’ll find the internet awash with journalist’s outspoken opinions on the current state of Formula One, particularly where young drivers are concerned. It’s long been known that money talks and a wad of cash counts for more than a barrel of talent these days but is the situation getting out of hand?
Torro Rosso have recently announced that 19 – yes, 19 – year-old Russian Daniil Kvyat will drive for them from 2014, having only just wrapped up the 2013 GP3 title. Talented though Kvyat clearly is – no easy feat is it to win at GP3 level – such a speedy ascension to Formula One, skipping GP2 altogether, is risky business. Look at Valterri Bottas: GP3 champion of 2011, a year as F1 reserve driver for Williams followed by promotion to a race seat for 2013 and the Finn has struggled. Williams are standing by him and a third place in qualifying for the Canadian Grand Prix was a flash of brilliance but with two races of the season left Bottas has failed to score a single point. Granted, Williams haven’t supplied the ideal race car but has jumping from GP3 to F1 hindered Bottas? Probably – there’s no substitute for racing experience…except money, it seems.
There’s a Russian Grand Prix scheduled during the course of 2014 for the first time in the sport’s history and that, undoubtedly, has had some bearing on Torro Rosso’s decision for signing Kvyat. Especially when one considers the vast roster of talented drivers available to Torro Rosso courtesy of the Red Bull young driver program; Portuguese Antonio Felix de Costa was largely tipped for the seat vacated by Red Bull bound Daniel Ricciardo but there’s no Portuguese Grand Prix next year, is there? Call me cynical but there’s reason Sauber are eyeing a young Russian driver also: Sergey Sirotkin, an 18 year-old with an absurd lack of racing experience and an equally absurd amount of backing, courtesy of Daddy’s bank balance.
For Kvyat, his home Grand Prix is perhaps coming a year too soon; GP2 has proved itself as an ideal finishing school for ambitious racers before they make the step up to Grand Prix racing and Kvyat would no doubt benefit from further tuition, to hone the raw skill he clearly has. GP2’s alumni includes Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg, Heikki Kovalainen and Timo Glock and there are some extremely talented drivers currently in attendance too.
It’s the reason for the backlash, the questions over the direction of Formula One, that the likes of Kvyat and Sirotkin are considered for Grand Prix seats before the likes of Fabio Leimer, the Swiss 2013 GP2 champion, or Brits Sam Bird and James Calado, both extraordinary talents but with wallets that don’t reflect their true worth. ‘Pay drivers’ are nothing new and neither is the act of signing a driver for commercial rather than performance based reasons but the talent pool is deeper than ever before, yet those who have forgotten their trunks are stepping up to the diving board first.
Things are unlikely to change anytime soon. Costs are increasing – especially with new engines coming in next year – as such, teams must find funds from somewhere and whilst a talented driver such as Sam Bird could undoubtedly bring a tenth or two to any team’s performance, £10million to develop a new front wing will bring four or five, you do the maths.
For Kvyat’s sake it’s hoped he succeeds, impresses those who must be impressed and has a long and successful career. More than that however, it’s Formula One’s reputation at stake, as well as the likes of Kvyat’s future; the more often drivers are perceived to have entered the world of Formula One courtesy of money rather than talent the more the cynics question the direction of the sport and whether Formula One really is the showcase of driving talent and pinnacle of motor racing that it so believes it is.