F1 – the sponsorship ‘problem’

There is a perception that these days it is impossible for a young driver going on talent – as opposed to sponsorship – to get into Formula One. If you’re returning from retirement, or you have bags of cash, then it’s easy to get in. But is this really the case?

Today, companies don’t have money they can throw at racing teams – whether in F1 or other series – to sponsor them. Most of the companies who do sponsor teams seem to be out of reach for the average fan, or they are companies belonging to the team owner. The other sponsors on cars tend to come from drivers, who carry the names with them as they change teams and series. Racing is horribly expensive, and with a cost of several hundred thousand pounds even for Formula Renault UK, most drivers have no choice but to seek sponsorship in order to get into the series. Drivers who struggle to find sponsors may be left without a seat, and in recent days – starting with Dan Wells – we have seen many turn to the public via Twitter to get funding.

But is there really a dilemma between sponsorship and talent? Is it really true that good drivers miss out while worse drivers get all the funding?

The truth is, companies aren’t going to sponsor bad drivers. They want to sponsor good drivers so that they will get noticed! Some drivers can use their name to get sponsorship – Bruno Senna, for example – yet nobody thinks of him as a ‘pay driver’. There was great delight when Senna got into Williams, though at Barrichello’s expense. And though Vitaly Petrov brings in Russian sponsorship, his ability has also been proven. His displacement of Trulli might cause disgruntlement, but in truth he will be good competition for Kovalainen.

The list goes on: Jerome d’Ambrosio, replaced at Virgin/Marussia by Charles Pic, but he also brought in sponsorship which now features on Lotus’s cars. Di Resta has help from Mercedes, Perez has help from Escuderia Telmex. These are all fantastic drivers. And though Hulkenberg isn’t regarded as a pay driver, it doesn’t say ‘Katjes’ on his cap for no reason. As for drivers in the top teams, they have had some help to get to where they are – Hamilton through his young bravery with Ron Dennis, Alonso indirectly brings in Santander sponsorship to Ferrari (and it stayed at McLaren though the Abbey connection). There are very few, if any, drivers on the grid now who are there purely by talent.

As for the age of F1 drivers, 11 on the grid this year are 25 or younger. Four of those are GP2 champions (Rosberg, Maldonado, Hulkenberg and Grosjean); one is DTM champion (Di Resta); one is a world champion (Vettel) and the others all have good records in Formula Renault or GP2. All but six drivers are 30 or younger. So F1 does not have an age problem.

I believe F1 has one of the most talented lineups of all time. If we put them in equally-matched cars, we would have some incredible racing. I think the few drivers regarded as ‘bad’ are severely underrated (Maldonado might be good at disobeying rules but you need talent to win in GP2; Karthikeyan has done brilliantly outside F1). Yes, some talented drivers have been left out of F1 – Luca Filippi is a prime example – but many others who are just as talented have made it. So stop complaining and enjoy the racing. And hope that somewhere out there is a team to match Red Bull!

Arden and Caterham announce tie-up

FR 3.5
Racing teams Arden and Caterham – rivals in GP2 – have teamed up for the 2012 Formula Renault 3.5 campaign. Caterham development driver Alex Rossi, who drove for Fortec last season in the series, is likely to partner Arden’s Lewis Williamson but nothing has been confirmed yet. Arden already have connections to Caterham, with their GP3 team sponsored by AirAsia (Caterham boss Tony Fernandes’s airline). There is also a Red Bull connection to Arden and to Caterham.

Lucas Foresti, who drove for Fortec in last season’s British F3 championship, has signed with DAMS for the 2012 FR 3.5 season. The Brazilian, who drove for Carlin in the 2010 BF3 season and has GP3 experience, will partner Arthur Pic at the French outfit.

GP3
Marussia Manor Racing have announced the second driver in their 2012 lineup. Fabiano Machado, who won last season’s F3 South America with 17 wins from 25 races, is older than the average GP3 driver. He will partner Dmitry Suranovich.

F2
The series announced today that alongside the normal F2 championship there will also be a rookie championship open to all drivers who have competed in less than two F2 rounds before the start of the season. Last year many rookies did well, including Christopher Zanella and Ramon Pineiro (finishing 2nd and 3rd in the championship respectively). I’m not sure this is necessary, but perhaps the prize for winning this championship will be encouraging as no doubt it will give some extra funding to support the future of someone’s racing career.

F1
Finally, Pirelli have announced the tyre choices for the first three races of the season:

Location

Option

Prime

Australia

Soft

Medium

Malaysia

Medium

Hard

China

Soft

Medium

While these may seem like strange choices, remember that the tyres are much softer this season.

Caterham does some rebranding

GP2
From next season, Caterham Team AirAsia will be renamed Caterham Racing, to match the name change of the F1 team. The two racing teams, the car company and other car-related ventures will come under the Caterham Group banner.

F1
With Kimi Raikkonen definitely not going to Williams next season, Barrichello’s seat looks set to be taken by GP3 champion Valtteri Bottas, or maybe someone else. Meanwhile, Renault are not just looking at their current lineup but also at drivers from other teams to possibly take over in place of Robert Kubica.

The details of the BBC/Sky television deal have begun to emerge over the last few days, with Martin Brundle signed up with Sky to commentate. He will not, however, be the lead commentator. The BBC will be doing ten races, with Sky doing all twenty. Sky, however, have the exclusive broadcasting rights for Bahrain and the US Grand Prix. Both of these races are under threat.
BBC Radio 5 Live will continue to provide live coverage of every practice session, qualifying and the race, so even if you cannot afford Sky then you can still enjoy F1. When I didn’t have a television, this was how I enjoyed F1. I would watch half of the races at my aunties’ house, and listen to the other half at home.
The ten BBC live races are: China, Spain, Monaco, Valencia, Britain, Belgium, Singapore, Korea, Abu Dhabi, Brazil.

Oh yeah, and it was qualifying yesterday and Sebastian Vettel took pole. It looks wet for the race today, so we could be in for a treat.

Yellow and green

Two champions will be driving the Williams FW33 at the F1 young drivers’ test this year. Mirko Bortolotti will be taking control of the car on day three as his prize for winning the F2 championship, while GP3 champion and Williams tester Valtteri Bottas will be driving for the first two days. So no surprises.

Meanwhile Riad Asmat the Team Lotus/Caterham CEO has announced that the team will be continuing with the green and yellow colour scheme in 2012. It’s a great way for the team to maintain continuity whilst leaving behind the Lotus brand that has caused so much confusion this season. I can’t help but wonder if the ART GP2 and GP3 teams currently sponsored by Group Lotus will be changing their colour scheme in 2012; currently Caterham Team AirAsia uses the same green and yellow as their F1 sister, and will most likely continue to do so in the next season.

Team Lotus and Caterham

So Team Lotus have joined up with Caterham, the manufacturers of the Seven – formerly known as the Lotus Seven – and a classic British car manufacturer. Yep, Caterham are another Group Lotus throwaway, but still going today they sell a few hundred cars a year. Green and yellow themselves, we know that whatever happens with the court case they’ll still be green and yellow on the grid.
By announcing this a while before the case is resolved, Tony Fernandes has made a smart move. By allowing fans to get used to the connection between the two, and to get involved with and understand the history, if the team loses the Lotus name it can still maintain its fanbase in the same way. I don’t want Team Lotus to lose the name, however. Well, we’ll have to see.

On the GP2 side, Team AirAsia may be getting a rename. They won’t be able to colour themselves identically to the Lotus ART, but I hope they lose the red and white as it’s too similar to Coloni and Arden. In an interview with Autosport, Tony confirmed that there would be a GP2 Caterham team with AirAsia as the sponsor, but the change won’t occur just yet as he needs to sort out the regulations. Once this happens, they’ll be called AirAsia Caterham. The plan seems to be to take the Caterham name from karting up to GP2, and whether or not it will be in F1 depends on what happens elsewhere.

This deal was concluded quickly, but has been on the cards since December – long before the court case really got going and probably before they were even announced as Team Lotus by the FIA. Don’t think this is a Tony back-up plan. As far as I’m aware he hasn’t got one, he just goes with the flow and takes what comes.

So an exciting announcement. It won’t affect the team too much, but will help their sustainability. Their next challenge will be Turkey in nine days’ time.