Thursday, October 13, 2011

Formula 1 Politics - Money Talks Louder

Driver selection for Formula 1 teams is not just based on talent, but on many other considerations. A case in the point is the Renault team.

Robert Kubica suffered a terrible accident at the beginning of the year and Renault had to find a suitable replacement. In came Nick Heidfield and he set a very fast timing during practice and was selected as a replacement. However, things started turning sour. Nick Heidfeld and Vitaly Petrov (who has backing of sponsors from his native Russia) were nearly matched in terms of points which Heidfeld ahead. It is of course a different matter that Heidfeld was unlucky of being involved in a couple of crashes. Eric Boullier of Renualt started making some negative comments about Heidfeld and then after about two races, Renault suddenly removed Heidfeld and Bruno Senna was given the drive. Nick Heidfeld hadn't brought any sponsorship with him. Bruno Senna is the nephew of the legendary Ayrton Senna and the Senna name evokes lot of interest among public and hence sponsors. Renault team which has financial worries wanted sponsorships and instead of coming clean on its intention, started a campaign to malign Heidfeld saying that he lacks leadership qualities so that the replacement by Bruno Senna won't look an act of desperation driven by financial worries.

Of late, Eric Boullier has started making noises about the need to freeze on their driver lineup by October and has kind of given a deadline to Kubica. Robert Kubica's doctor and manager had said that he can come back to some form of racing by November. However, Eric Boullier has given a deadline of October end. Clearly, they don't want Robert Kubica to come back with them as Robert is not likely to bring any sponsorship with him. That would free up one seat for a sponsored driver like Bruno Senna. Ultimately, Money talks louder.

Pastor Maldonado brought lot of sponsorships to the Williams team. So Williams team replaced Nico Hulkenberg. Nico Hulkenberg had in turn brought sponsorships to the Williams team and had even bagged a pole position in 2010. However, Maldonado's sponsors ensured that Hulkenberg was dumped. Williams had felt that they needed an experienced driver like Rubens Barrichello to help in development of their car. Unfortunately, despite Rubens being a jovial guy with lot of experience in F1, he couldn't help in making the Williams car faster. It looks like time is running up for Rubens and there has been news of Kimi Raikkonen expressing interest for a drive with Williams team. Kimi's "private" visit to the Williams factory made Rubens jittery and Rubens even said that he is willing to spend some money from his own pocket to remain in F1. Clearly, Rubens is trying his best to stay in F1 at any cost.

Coming back to Kimi Raikonnen who became F1 champion after moving over to Ferrari, it came as a shock to people that Ferrari chose to drop him one year before his contract and get Alonso for Renault. When the Spanish bank Santander - who has traditionally sponsored the team where Alonso is a driver - moved in as sponsors of Ferrari. Clearly one could see the connection. Even a company with huge history in Formula 1 fell for the lure of the Lucre and dropped a Formula 1 Champion like Kimi. Again Money Talks Louder.

And  if teams like Ferrari, Willams, Renault etc select drivers based on sponsors, can HRT be blamed for replacing Narain Karthikeyan with Daniel Ricciardo due to sponsorships from Redbull?

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