All of the young drivers who are about to get their first taste of Formula One this weekend in Abu Dhabi - the Young Driver Test is scheduled for next Tuesday - are understandably excited.
But here’s the dirty little secret: either they or their backers are paying millions for the opportunity.
Now, before there is any misunderstanding, this does not include Canadian F1 hope Robert Wickens, who is supported by the Russian car company Marussia and who will drive a Virgin F1 car in Friday’s first practice session for this weekend’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Nor does it include Jean-Eric Vergne, the French driver Wickens defeated for the World Series of Renault championship this season, who is sponsored by Red Bull and who will be out in a Scuderia Toro Rosso team car on Friday as well.
What I’m talking about here are relatively unknown kids who’ve been paying their dues in some of the lesser series. They’ve been invited by some of the F1 teams to show their stuff at a bona fide Grand Prix circuit where their performances can be measured against Sebastien Vettel’s or Michael Schumacher’s.
Fathers (or other financial backers) of drivers named Kevin Korjus (who will be in a Renault), Max Chilton (Force India), Stefano Coletti (Toro Rosso) and Dani Clos (HRT) are paying hundreds of thousands of Euros to put their young charges in Grand Prix cars.
As Flagword.com reported this week, 22-year-old Fabio Leimer of Switzerland, who finished 14th in this year’s GP2 Series (and — if anybody’s being honest with him — doesn’t stand a hope in hell of ever getting into F1) will drive a Sauber car in the Young Driver Test and has paid 300,000 Euros for the privilege.
That’s $415,400. For what? Twenty laps?
The asking price for a Toro Rosso seat was 200,000 Euros ($276,933).
Is everybody crazy?
The German magazine Auto Motor und Sport said that “success in the lower classes is no longer enough,” hence the need to prove yourself at the bank.
Don’t kid yourself: young guys like Wickens and Vergne are being courted big time by F1 teams but unless they are signed by Red Bull, Ferrari or McLaren they will probably have to pay big money to get a seat.
Unfortunately, talent alone just doesn’t cut it with the vast majority of teams in Formula One any more.
TV Times: Qualifying for the Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi can be seen on TSN at 7:55 a.m. Saturday and the race can be seen at 7:55 a.m. on Sunday.