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11/02/2010

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Norris,

You are totally right about paying for a race seat in F1. The latest examples that you mentioned are correct and are not the only ones. Same thing happen with Sakon when he came to HRT – see here (http://www.racinginfocus.com/formula-1/yamamoto-set-to-keep-hrt-seat-for-hungary/).
Unfortunately racing is expensive by definition….

Like I said in my original comment, the economy of "racing" is very different from stick and ball sport. People don't volunteer and travel to places on their own pocket to "support" someone to drive on the track. They need to get paid. Racing teams rarely turns profit. The way I've always look at it is that if they have funding left, they are not working hard enough. That is true all the way up to F1. If someone can buy his ride all the way to the big league, he probably had raced his way up too. I personally will feel more skeptical for that "supposed" talent that cannot always find ride. There are always exception, but thats few and far in between. "If there is a will, there is a way". Car & Driver from years ago had an article on how Montoya got to F1, in which he mentioned that his father basically managed to find money to fund his son's career as he move up, and his first "paying" ride was with Ganassi in CART. Thats just the reality of it...

Ah, but Norris, what is the cost of running a team in a stick & ball sport? How big is the annual R&D budget of the Jays? If someone puts you into the boards in the NHL, is the cost comparable to getting spun into the wall at turn 2? Where did the money come from in your ownership/driving days?

Paid drivers are a fact of life that isn't going to go away, unfortunately. But I haven't completely lost hope that the situation won't improve somewhat in F1.

One of the interesting things about F1 is that the top ten teams get to split some of that big TV money based on the team's final position in the Constructors Championship. So while having a paid driver can bring in money in terms of sponsorship, they can also lose you money if they fail to perform well on the track. As some of the BBC commentators have mentioned, Petrov, who has significantly under performed his teammate (who didn't buy his seat) may have ended up costing Renault more in TV money than he brought to the table in sponsorship money. With a better driver, Renault might have been able to beat Mercedes GP for 4th place. Not only would that have meant a significantly bigger share of the TV money, but it might have also made it easier for Renault GP to bring in more money via their own sponsorship efforts. The question Renault has got to be asking themselves right now is: has the rookie Petrov improved enough this season to give the team confidence that he won't be costing them TV money next season? If they think he's improving, and continues to bring in a big pile of sponsorship money, he'll be worth keeping around. If not, he may be worth replacing despite the sponsor money he brings.

I think a real indicator of which way things are going in F1 is Hulkenberg. He's likely a better driver than Petrov; he's only one point behind him despite the fact that he's got a slower car, and he regularly beat Petrov in GP2. If Hulkenberg loses his seat, and Petrov keeps his, that will be a pretty good indicator that the paid driver situation is getting worse.

Gee. There it is again, in black a white: buy a seat.
--------------------
None of us who gave you heat over your first article could argue that seats aren't bought. The comments were raised by your (false) implication that MOST (or 'ALL' as the title declared) of the seats are bought that raised the comments.

I also felt the article showed a bias towards NASCAR by calling it the only 'pure' for of racing (despite being a spec-series). Had your article been labeled 'opinion', that would be fair. Instead, you are billed as a 'Motorsport Writer'. In my mind, that implies 'journalist'.

I don't believe for a minute that Norris is arguing that "sponsorship" should not be a part of racing but that "ride-buying" should not be a part of racing. I think that makes perfect sense.

Lets not miss the point here. Why cannot the racing teams themselves find the corporate sponsorship in order to run their team efficiently? Why? Because there are way too many families out there who have the money in their back pocket or have the rich contacts to be able to do the work that the teams should be doing themselves! Therefore the real talent gets left out in the cold. That's what needs to change, not sponsorship itself. And I'm sure that's what Norris is referring to.

I think people who are strongly opposed to "ride-buying" are missing two of the key reasons why it's never going to go away.

1) The simple fact is that many drivers, especially at the uppermost levels are able to tap into certain sponsorship opportunities that the teams they drive for can't access. Until there are F1 races held in Mexico, Telmex will never have a strong business case for sponsoring a swiss F1 team; but signing a sponsorship deal with a promising young Mexican driver could have real promotional benefits for Telmex. Even with an F1 race in Japan, Japanese drivers can tap into sponsorship money with Japanese firms that the current F1 teams don't stand a chance at touching. I don't know if E. J. Viso paid for his ride, but I feel confident that Petróleos de Venezuela wouldn't be listed as a sponsor on his car if he wasn't Venezuelan. The same goes for Ana Beatriz and Petroleo Ipiranga.

2) Having the drivers raise the sponsorship not only brings money to the team that it might not be able to tap into themselves, but it actually saves the team money. The drivers do the fund raising for free. This might not matter to a big team that's been around for years, and has a "sponsor relations" department already in place. But if you're a brand new team operating on a shoe-string budget like HRT, it can make a difference.

Please don't take the above as any kind of defense for "ride-buying", I really don't like "ride-buying". And feel that good young drivers like Hulkenberg are going to lose out simply because they happen to come from a country that's overflowing with good race car drivers and as such have to compete with all those other drivers for 'home country' sponsorship money.

I'm just pointing out that right now there are certain financial aspects to driver sponsorship that can't be ignored. And if you're a brand new team, with no record of success to attract sponsors, it's likely that a decent driver that brings big sponsor money can't be passed up.

The big problem right now is that even the experienced teams are having trouble raising money. That's partly due to the economy. But in NASCAR and Indy I think it has a lot to do with the fact that there are simply too many teams, drivers, and racing series competing for a relatively small sponsorship pie. Count up the number of different race cars & trucks appearing on the track during a typical NASCAR weekend, and it's no wonder all those cars & trucks are having trouble raising money.

Norris - I'd like to point out the one big flaw in your "this would never happen in any other pro sport" argument. In just about every other pro sport you can name where the teams need a large budget to operate, the teams in question have this really big revenue stream called 'home game ticket & concession sales'. Show me a similarly large revenue stream that individual race teams have direct access to, and you can use your Vernon Wells analogy.

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