Pay drivers in Formula 1: Are they really that bad?

There are pay drivers in F1 and there have been for a long time. But recently, there appears to be an abundance of them, especially in the lower teams who are fighting for survival. Yet, what is this grudge that we as spectators seem to hold against them?

Pay drivers essentially pay the team to race; they do what they say on the tin. Say ‘pay driver’ and people often roll their eyes, regard them negatively.

Recently, Williams F1 confirmed that Lance Stroll would race for them in 2017. Why? The young driver would be paying the British team a large volume to be able to make his debut in Formula 1 (although these claims have been denied by the incredibly wealthy Stroll family).

The question I raise is: is this really necessary for one of the top teams in the sport, when there are plenty of more experienced drivers out there?

Pay drivers often have a good racing record – a few championships under their belts and a bright future ahead of them. But would they be destined for the pinnacle of Motorsport if they didn’t have a big cheque book?

That, of course, remains debatable. Stroll had a lot of help from the Williams team this year to help him secure his FIA European F3 title – from tests in the wind tunnel to wing mirrors being made by the team in Oxfordshire. Without large payments, he arguably wouldn’t have received the amount of success that he has had. Not everyone on the grid can afford to do what Stroll has done. Some are merely fighting to be there, let alone seeking the help from Formula 1 teams. Though, albeit Stroll’s helping hand from Williams this year, I have been told that the Stroll deal has been set in stone and signed for some 12 months. Pre Stroll’s big time.

“I can’t imagine Williams would put him in the car if they didn’t think he was ready. Frank Williams has got to have been impressed with his character and probably echoed some of the points below himself. Bring on Australia,” Tim Gaymor told Sky F1.

But Stroll won’t be the only pay driver on the Formula 1 grid in 2017.

Jolyon Palmer is one of several and has received a high volume of criticism this year. If I had to scroll up my Twitter timeline during a race, 3/4 people would be condemning him.

Pay drivers are fundamental to teams. In fact, a driver bringing sponsorship to a team is not rare. Yet, as soon as a ‘pay driver’ label is put on them, they are signed off by the fans. Then, their every move is watched and those social media trolls look on with bated breath, waiting for them to run wide at a corner so they can slate them.

Regardless of what the opinion polls say, one must remember that pay driver or not, the individual often has an impressive racing CV to make it to the top of Motorsport.

“Does that mean that, specifically, Palmer’s ascent to Formula 1 was merited? In an alternate universe where racing F1 cars is completely free and teams can choose whoever they want, would Palmer get a look in?

“On the basis of much of his junior career, despite a fair number of successes across various British and international categories, you’d have to say no. On the basis of his first three years in GP2? Also no,” stated a recent article.

Pay drivers have turned out some successful Formula 1 drivers in the past, but they are quickly forgotten when running parallel with the ‘bad’. Who can forget the entertainment that Pastor Maldonado provided with on Grand Prix weekends? – Here is a link just in case it has slipped your mind.

Yes, pay drivers aren’t perfect, but they enable a team to go racing. The money ploughed into the team is re-invested to ensure good results and progress. It enables those 500 people to still have a job, enables the fans to still support their favourite team, and allows research and development to happen. That’s a big positive.

It is not just about the money they pay for that seat, they must have talent, vast potential and the likability factor. If I rocked up at Manor with fifty million, they’d laugh at me. My go-karting experience would probably stand for nothing.

So whether you like them or not, you had better yet used to the idea of still seeing them on the grid in years to come.

F1 isn’t just about racing; it’s a complex political agenda.


6 thoughts on “Pay drivers in Formula 1: Are they really that bad?

  1. Hey Helena, interesting post. My two cents is that the whole essence of pay drivers has been one exaggerated from the new age of the Internet where everyone can comment, and nature itself of Formula 1 becoming more and more expensive.

    I don’t envy Williams. Caught between a rock and a hard place. They’re a good team, but don’t have the funds to compete with the “big three”, and Stroll packs MEGA money. Might be their only chance to compete for a title due to the extra funds in a hybrid era they’ve admitted is twice expensive as the V8’s before it.

    I think the concept of Pay Drivers is a natural circumstance of F1 being a stupidly expensive sport and an arms race to compete. Especially when Williams don’t sell road cars like Ferrari or McLaren. But yeah, just some thoughts from me. Keep up the great work!


  2. Williams isn’t a top team anymore. As a matter of fact it hasn’t been one since ’97. Throughout the ’00 they have been slipping further and further which doesn’t give them much of an option now. But that aside I agree. People forget that all of them are paydrivers. Period. If you bring daddy’s money, the biggest bank of Spain sponsors you or if a team like McLaren pays everything for you since you are 13. Only difference is that people get jealous of the first one and think the other two are because of talent. Which isn’t true, imo. Maldonado is a good example. Brought a lot of government sponsorship, but wasn’t really that good of a driver. So the problem is the attitude of the public towards the drivers. Lance has a (very) rich dad. One that believes in him. Hardly his fault. But people envy that.
    Anyway, I liked the article. Only “discovered” your blog because of your following me, but I’ll be reading a bit more in the following week.
    I’ve been working on a paydrivers (sort off) article too, which is currently being edited, so I’d love to hear your thoughts about it, when I put it up on my blog. It has some common ground with my comment 😃

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It is old topic but also an interesting one.

    I read alot of books from former F1 drivers and for the first years everyone was a bit of a paydriver.
    They paid for a seat in a backmarker F1 team and they could achive more if they deliver.
    But many of the guys struggle and never got a chance in a good car.

    Of course there were real pay drivers from recent years like pedro diniz, riccardo rosset or even alex young but they doesn’t have that much money from their sponsors like the paydriver from this century.

    Regards from germany


    Liked by 1 person

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