Show me the money
At its core, one of the most interesting aspects of F1 is that it isn’t fair.
On its surface you may not think that to be the case. As a fan, you might want the competition to be closer, and therefore more exciting. You may even feel that there should be a baked in sense of “fairness” that gives everyone an equal chance at winning.
If you think that, you’re kind of missing the purpose of F1. It’s not a sport that’s about fairness, but rather its about pushing human limits. That’s both from a driving point of view and a mechanical perspective.
For many, myself included, it’s the Constructors Championship that’s most compelling about F1. Seeing what manufacturer can squeeze an extra 1/100th of a second off a lap time, or an extra lap from the tyres is where the fun is. It’s a thinking man’s sport. That makes it unique.
That’s not to say the racing isn’t exciting and the drivers aren’t also compelling figures. They absolutely are and I’ve written at length about them already. In fact, when it comes to the issue of fairness in sport the drivers are a perfect illustration of why trying to achieve fairness is a foolish goal.
The drivers aren’t equal. Some are better than other. Some have had things handed to them, sure, but that’s part of the background in any sport.
Since pro sport isn’t a meritocracy there is a great and easy way to measure what the worth of each driver is – how much are they paid.
That’s not the easiest thing to find out, but luckily for fans the website racefans.net has been tracking driver salary for several years. Their 2021 list came out this week.
I’m not going to unpack it all here, but a few things jump out.
That Lewis Hamilton, at $30-million USD a year, makes more money than the bottom 10 teams on the list combined is one. Is that fair?
Yes. Absolutely. Lewis Hamilton is a brand onto himself and, as such, is invaluable to Mercedes. They need to pay the man and he needs to perform.
So far, so good. He won Bahrain.
Meanwhile, Nikita Mazepin didn’t even make it around the track once in Bahrain. If anything, his $1-million salary should be what offends fans, not Hamilton’s $30-million. Haas should have him arrested for theft, really. They probably would if he wasn’t a pay driver and thus putting far more into the system than he takes out.
Like life, this is all a bit messy, but that’s what makes it fun.
It might be changing soon, with new spending restrictions in the sport. The desire for less predictable podiums is winning the day and there will be a sense of parity coming in. The drivers salaries have so far remained apart from the restrictions, but it stands to reason that they won’t be much longer.
Will taking money out of Hamilton’s pocket (and it will be the top drivers that are hit the hardest) make the sport better?
I have my doubts.