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F1 drivers need to get real over super-licences

February 12, 2009

rtr22j1l1hamyjpgA glossy report compiled by Formula Money last year contained a list of estimated Formula One driver salaries, excluding personal endorsements and bonuses, for 2008:

1. Kimi Raikkonen $37 million
2. Fernando Alonso $25 million
3. Lewis Hamilton $20 million
4. Jenson Button $18 million

 A further 14 of the 22 drivers were reckoned to have earned in excess of $1 million and just two, the unlucky souls who drove for the now-defunct Super Aguri team, were on a relative pittance of $100,000 each.

The salaries could be wide of the mark, such details being highly confidential, or maybe not. But they certainly make interesting reading in the light of drivers protesting about having to pay more for their mandatory super-licences while the rest of the world is worrying about losing homes and jobs.

“The proposed (licence) increases are inherently unfair, both in the way they were introduced and the way they impact on individual drivers,” the GPDA said in a statement at the weekend.

The row dates back to last year when the governing FIA increased the cost of a licence from 1,690 euros to 10,000 euros with each point won on the racetrack costing a further 2,000 euros compared to 447 euros in 2007.

Anyone present at the 2007 Honda launch, when the team made a big play of their concern for the environment and then flew Button and Rubens Barrichello back to Britain from Bahrain for the day to talk about it, will know how out of touch the sport can sometimes seem.

Times are hard, and everyone wants to save money. But protesting about having to pay for something that allows you to go out and make a fortune beyond the wildest dreams of most mortals is hardly chiming with those times.

As FIA President Max Mosley said: “In the present climate, somebody who is earning several million a year and doesn’t want to spend one or two percent of that to get a licence for his trade is not going to get a lot of sympathy.”

To be fair to Mosley, he also said that teams should be careful not to slash their drivers’ wages because “sports tend to be measured by the pay of their top performers”.

I sense that the drivers know their stance doesn’t play well but are equally reluctant to let go an important point of principle — namely that they shouldn’t become a revenue stream for the governing body.

After all, how much does Tiger Woods have to pay the U.S. PGA? or David Beckham the English FA or FIFA? (Or are those organisations just missing a trick?)

I asked Red Bull’s Mark Webber (estimated salary $4 million, super-licence cost 52,000 euros) about the row at the team’s new car launch on Monday and the GPDA director was distinctly reluctant to discuss it.

“It doesn’t come across very well, drivers complaining about the cost of things,” I ventured.

“The statement has been put out, mate. That’s what has been put out,” the normally affable Australian replied.

The argument may date from last year but the world has not exactly stood still in the meantime. And any threat of action by the drivers, not something that has been suggested yet, will ring hollow.

The drivers are contracted to their teams and everyone knows that they will go racing in Australia on March 29, dispute or no dispute.

In fact, as we have reported, three have apparently already paid up.

Can anyone seriously imagine someone like Button, assuming his team are saved at the 11th hour, turning up in Melbourne and threatening not to race because he doesn’t want to fork out 16,000 euros to the FIA?

That’s about as likely as drivers deliberately going slow so that they won’t have to pay so much next year. Although some of the teams could save millions if they did.

PHOTO: McLaren’s Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton (L) of Britain poses with Prince Albert II of Monaco before the 2008 FIA prize presentation gala in Monaco Dec. 12, 2008. REUTERS/Valery Hache

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