The Economics and Morality of Pay Drivers

The Economic Morality of Pay Drivers


            Formula 1 racing is often called the ‘Pinnacle of Motorsport,’ where the best drivers in the world come together to race the fastest cars at twenty races around the globe to provide the ultimate experience for both the drivers and the audience. F1 is one of the world’s most viewed sports, with prestigious races such as the Monaco Grand Prix yielding a TV audience of roughly 25 million annually. The cars are multi-million dollar machines capable of cornering forces approaching 5g, and top speeds often exceeding two hundred miles per hour. The cars are arguably the hardest cars in the world to drive, and require intense physical and mental training coupled with on-track experience if they are to be driven to their full potential.





Formula 1 used to be a relatively small-scale operation, with teams only consisting of a couple dozen members. As racing technology progressed, teams began to grow larger and larger in order to improve their cars and keep pace with the progression of auto racing. Developments in aerodynamics, light weight compounds, and computer technology brought us to the modern F1 team: A multi-million dollar operation with hundreds of employees and massive corporate sponsorship.  Of course, the rapid advancements in technology came with an exponential increase in the cost of running a team, which is the explanation for the aforementioned corporate sponsorships. In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, F1 started to become a business with the advent of on-car advertisements, and team title sponsorships (Vodafone McLaren Mercedes, for example). Companies began to sponsor teams in multiple ways, including strictly financial support, or joint-technological ventures in which companies would help F1 teams research into new technologies. Another way in which companies could put their advertisement in front of millions of TV viewers was through pay drivers. The concept behind pay drivers lies in companies backing young drivers with millions of dollars, essentially offering drivers to teams who need financial backing. The drivers are almost always rising talents in lower divisions who have a chance to race in F1. The reason companies target these drivers is so that they can put their advertisements on the car and in the name of the team, and the money brought to the racing team by the company will also help the team develop their car and be more competitive, benefitting both parties. By examining the impact of pay drivers on the quality of F1 racing and the safety of other drivers, I will show in this paper how the “purchase” of race seats in F1 is an immoral process that degrades the sport.



One of the first moral issues brought to the table is the devaluation of the experience level of a driver. Companies are not interested in backing already-established drivers in Formula 1; rising talents naturally attract more attention from fans and the media, and will help benefit the companies further. This leads to experience in F1 becoming relatively less important, even though on-track experience is critical in understanding how an F1 car works and reacts to certain inputs. A modern example of a more experienced driver being replaced with a younger driver happened at the end of the 2012 season, when the established German driver Timo Glock was replaced by the young English driver Max Chilton to drive for the Marussia F1 team. Chilton’s father Grahame is a “multi-millionaire vice chairman of insurance company Aon” (BBC), and brings millions of dollars to the Marussia team annually. It was revealed that Marussia could no longer afford to hire a driver with a large salary, and needed a driver to bring money to the team. Timo Glock had “introduced sponsors to the team, but his salary was significantly greater than what they paid. Chilton owes his drive to the fact that his ‘salary’ is far less than the income from the sponsors he brings with him” (BBC). In other words, Chilton accepts a small salary to compete in F1, and most of the sponsorship goes straight to the team. It is clear why this model is attractive to the teams given the extreme costs of competing in F1, but it is also a clear act of neglect toward the critical experience of older drivers. While the money brought by Chilton would help the team develop the car, would Chilton be able to handle pressure, adapt to drivers and track conditions around him, and rebound from poor results as well as a more experienced driver? This question is one of the main reasons why pay drivers are so controversial in F1; the teams value the money they receive more than the experience of established F1 drivers, which leads to a reduction in the quality of driver that we see racing.



Another moral objection here could be viewed from more of Debra Satz’s perspective in that this system could be exploiting the teams because of vulnerability. Marussia have one of the lowest budgets out of any team in F1, and failed to “manage with one pay driver and one salaried [driver]” (BBC), forcing them to hire another pay driver to replace Glock and his salary that they could not afford. The team was forced to accept a lower quality driver because of the extremely high costs of running in F1. A philosopher such as Satz might view the high costs of F1 as somewhat of an exploitation of the smaller teams in F1. Whether the market for F1 race seats can be considered a “noxious market” nor not is debatable, but it is clear that because of high costs the teams are limited to drivers who have corporate sponsorship behind them, rather than a more stable driver with experience. This in turn affects the ability of the team to succeed. 


Drivers have also expressed their anger over the increasing commonality of pay drivers getting seats that they arguably are not ready for. Jaime Alguersauri claimed that F1 has become “an auction” after losing his seat to a younger driver at the end of the 2011 season. His complaints reference the lack of a traditional ladder-based system where talent alone is the deciding factor in determining who gets a seat in the top tier of motorsport. Pay drivers have been around for a long time and F1 seats were never purely determined by raw talent, but the commonality of pay drivers and the increasingly frequent lack of experience of the pay drivers is a major cause for concern. I found that the description of F1 as “an auction” related to our discussions in class about Sandel, and how the purchase of a seat in F1 reduces the value of that seat. Sandel might argue that the value of the seat has been reduced because the driver bought into the seat with sponsorship money rather than earning the seat based solely on talent.



Another obvious concern in Formula 1 is the safety of the drivers. Over the past several decades, massive improvements in safety have been made. Even in the 1970’s driver deaths were commonplace and accepted as part of the danger of racing in Formula 1. Since then, safety has become of utmost importance, and the last driver death in the series happened in 1994 when Ayrton Senna died after a serious crash. The lack of a single death in F1 in nearly twenty years is surely a testament to the improved safety regulations, but some concerns over pay drivers are based on the potential danger that they bring to the sport. Pastor Maldonado is a Venezuelan driver who currently drives for Williams F1. He began his F1 career in 2011 when he signed to the team, bringing a massive 30 million pounds annually to Williams. The money came from PDVSA, a Venezuelan gas company, and the deal was “approved personally by the [Venezuelan] President Hugo Chavez” (BBC). Maldonado did little to impress during his rookie year in F1, although the team was not very competitive that year. The more important factor here is that Maldonado quickly gained a reputation as one of the more “dangerous” drivers on the grid. In his first season, Maldonado retired from six races, only scoring one point. Even in the 2012 season (his second season), Maldonado picked up ten penalties, twice as many as any other driver (Keith Collantine). Penalties are normally rewarded for dangerous or overaggressive driving. As for the 30 million pounds PDVSA brings to the team annually, it seems to have very little impact on the performance of the team. The team scored a total of five points in 2011, which was one of their worst seasons on record as they took 9th place in the constructor’s championship. The team improved in 2012 with 76 total points and 8th in the constructor’s championship. However, with 16 of 19 races of the 2013 season already over, Williams has only one point and is almost certain to take 9th place in the standings again (Formula 1). The team does not seem to benefit hugely from the deal, and both drivers and fans of F1 racing have spoken out against Maldonado as a potentially dangerous driver. A pole done in 2012 by the Telegraph newspaper in England revealed how the audience reacted to Maldonado’s driving, showing that out of 6903 people, roughly 87% of people believe that Maldonado was “a danger to other drivers.” The minimal improvements brought to the team along with the increased danger brought to other drivers show the devaluation of certain standards in F1. By choosing to race Maldonado, Williams made it clear that to an extent, they value the money over the safety of other drivers in the sport. For a sport that has already spent so much time and money trying to research ways to improve safety, having a system in which dangerous, inexperienced drivers can have race seats seems both backward and immoral.



Pay drivers have been a part of Formula 1 for a long time, and there is no denying that some of the drivers do eventually learn and improve to become competitive in the sport. However, the increased commonality of the pay drivers in the modern era of F1 is what concerns people the most. Also, many drivers and fans in F1 see some of the pay drivers as potential hazards. The fact that many modern pay drivers have almost zero on-track experience testing a Formula 1 car decreases the quality of racing, since most F1 fans agree that the sport should have the very best drivers in the world. When young drivers use massive corporate sponsorships to pay their way into a race seat, they are corrupting some of the traditional values associated with earning one’s position at the top. Not only does this system allow inexperienced drivers to take the place of established drivers, but also the potential danger posed by some pay drivers highlights the immorality of purchasing racing seats. There should not be a system that allows one to spend enough money to claim a spot in F1 if they are going to put other drivers at danger.























Works Cited:


Benammar , Emily . “Poll: is Pastor Maldonado a danger to other Formula One drivers after incident with Sergio Perez at Silverstone?.” The Telegraph . N.p., 12 July 2012. Web. 22 Oct. 2013. <;.


Benson, Andrew. “Pay as you go, go, go: F1’s ‘pay drivers’ explained.” BBC News. BBC, 27 Jan. 2013. Web. 21 Oct. 2013. <;.


“Formula 1 an auction, says driver Jaime Alguersuari.” BBC News. BBC, 18 Feb. 2013. Web. 20 Oct. 2013. <


Collantine, Keith . “Stewarding can be tough, admits Maldonado.” MotorSportsTalk. NBC, 2 Sept. 2013. Web. 22 Oct. 2013. <;.


Rose, Gary. “Max Chilton brings ability as well as affluence to the F1 paddock.” BBC News. BBC, 27 Jan. 2013. Web. 21 Oct. 2013. <;. (Used for statistics) 


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