The news that Timo Glock and Marussia have parted company is a shame for the sport, as it loses a fast and fan-friendly driver that could have won races in the right machinery. Glock joins a long list of drivers to have found themselves as an outcast ahead of the 2013 season, as well as the eventual demise of Spanish minnows HRT, which highlights the financial problems that the remaining eleven teams are battling.
The term ‘pay driver’ gets banded about on a regular basis, but in truth, the majority of drivers need substantial backing to even make it into the sport in the first place. Just ask drivers such as Robert Wickens, who never even got a proper shot at F1.
The likes of Glock, Kamui Kobayashi and Heikki Kovalainen have all taken podiums in Formula One – with the Finn picking up a victory in 2008 – but their replacements are far from poor.
Esteban Gutierrez is a GP3 champion and multiple race winner in GP2. Max Chilton, who joins Marussia, has years of experience in British F3 and GP2 but is still young and has won in F1’s feeder series. Charles Pic has French sponsors but is also a GP2 winner and a fine racer. None of these drivers are hopeless and owe their racing careers solely to money.
As Formula One continues to ignore the idea of a budget cap, so continues the greater presence of money on the grid. But that’s changing compared to in the past. Drivers nowadays come with talent and money, not just a sack of cash and a fairly competent idea of what a steering wheel does.
Speaking about Glock’s departure from Marussia, team principal John Booth cited commercial challenges. “Our Team was founded on the principle of benefiting from proven experience whilst also providing opportunities for young emerging talent to progress to the pinnacle of motorsport,” he said.
“Thus far, this philosophy has also been reflected in our commercial model. The ongoing challenges facing the industry mean that we have had to take steps to secure our long-term future. Tough economic conditions prevail and the commercial landscape is difficult for everyone, Formula 1 teams included.” Marussia is set to lose out in the new Concorde Agreement, but it should be noted that it isn’t just the teams at the bottom of the grid resorting to money, even if Caterham's Mike Gascoyne sounded out a warning that current spending levels are 'madness'.
Williams employed PDVSA backed Pastor Maldonado at the expense of Nico Hulkenberg, but his Spanish Grand Prix success and rapid pace justifies his position at the team. Force India has also yet to name a driver for 2012 as they continue to seek financial opportunities. There are cases even at the front of the field, as financial impetus must be taken into consideration when looking at Sergio Perez’s position at McLaren. ‘Pay drivers’ exist in the sport, but that title should only be applied when it becomes apparent that they are in the sport at the detriment of the team. You’d be hard pressed to make a case suggesting that any of the 2013 drivers are unworthy of their place on the grid.
As for Glock, it is a pity that Formula One has lost a capable racer. His career path could have been different, but circumstances at the end of 2009 meant that a new team funded by Virgin looked like the best path. How different that idea turned out. Drivers will enter and exit the sport on a regular basis, but the departures of HRT, Kobayashi, Kovalainen (probably) and Glock – not to mention the likes of Alguersuari and Buemi – should act as a warning that costs cannot be ignored for ever.