The ousting of Luiz Razia at Marussia came as a surprise to me, as I had distanced myself from the mostly baseless rumours going round the paddock. However, it still wasn’t a total shock, as the strange driver market we have seen this year has shown that Formula 1 has a huge problem with its finances.
In the past, it would be unheard of to see a competent midfield team – Force India – take until February to announce their driver line-up, in the middle of testing season no less. But that’s exactly what they did, and the decision was made with money in mind. Granted, Sutil’s a good driver on merit, but he was clearly bringing more money to the table than Jules Bianchi.
HRT have folded, with even the prospect of two pay drivers failing to hold up their sinking ship. Sauber have dropped fan favourite Kamui Kobayashi in favour of sponsor-laden Esteban Gutierrez, who surely can’t contribute to the team as well as Kamui had done.
All of this makes it abundantly clear: the majority of F1’s teams are struggling financially. Only the “Big 5″ appear to be comfortable, in particular Mercedes, who have been offering “telephone number salaries” in order to steal talented engineers from other leading teams.
I’m no expert on Formula 1’s complex financial workings, but even I can tell something’s badly wrong when half the grid are turning to pay drivers to keep afloat. As well as making F1 look bad in the press, it’s also a warning that the sport may fail to bring forward some of tomorrow’s best talent, if so many teams are focusing on survival only.
There are fixes, of course, but the vast majority of them stem from Bernie Ecclestone, who will of course be unwilling to budge an inch when it comes to finance. The 82-year-old built his fortune on tough negotiations and maximising revenues, and he isn’t going to stop now just because one driver got replaced over another.
But where does it stop? At what point will Ecclestone realise that the sport and its lower-tiered teams are being very slowly drained of its financial future? I fear that Formula 1 is heading towards a pivotal point in its future, where the needs of the many will go up against the wants of the few. Which way it’ll go is of course anyone’s guess, of course.