Points Mean Prizes!

Or in this case, a superlicence.

The reveal of the FIA’s new point system to award superlicences has thrown up some interesting details.

It’s hardly surprising the the points system favours the FIA championships. Naturally the governing body would want to promote their group of series over others. When Gerhard Berger became President of the FIA Single Seater Commission back in late 2011, he expressed his desire to have a clear ladder for young drivers to follow on their path to Formula One. Berger stepped down from that role at the end of 2014, but it would be hard to imagine him not having a huge role in the setup of the new super licence system. It looks like he has finally got his wish. Formula Renault 3.5 has been knocked down several pegs. What was regarded by many in the F1 paddock (including former McLaren Team Principal Martin Whitmarsh) to be the feeder series of choice for Formula One teams, has been placed below GP3, European Formula Three, and is now on a par with GP3. Formula Three’s fortunes seems to have taken a huge lift through association with the FIA, now on a par with IndyCar just below GP2. The addition of the “Future F2 Championship” caught people’s eyes, which was disbanded at the end of 2012 following a lack of entrants, the same issue that signalled the end of British F3 last year.

Two omissions from this list are curious. The first being IndyLights, the feeder series to IndyCar, which arguably should be classed the same as national F3 or F4 Championships. The second is Formula E. For such a young, experimental series, the field is very strong, with plenty of formula F1 or GP2 drivers. The quality of the field, especially at the top end, could be considered only below that of F1, WEC and IndyCar. So why hasn’t it been included? This can only work as a deterrent to the series. Drivers racing in Formula E for multiple seasons would have to accept that the possibility of gaining an F1 seat to be virtually nil. I was going to save this point for another future post, but with many viewing Formula E as the ‘F1 graveyard’, in future years the series should be trying to secure more drivers that are up and coming – ideally those on a driver development programme. The new points system works completely against that. For example, why would a young driver such as Matthew Brabham continue to race in Formula E if it has practically no impact on any future F1 career he may hope to have?

One thing this should do is somewhat reduce the amount of pay drivers coming into F1. Without winning one of the top five championships or consistently performing over a period of three years, heavily-backed drivers will not be able to simply walk into F1. Drivers such as Marcus Ericsson, Max Chilton and Estaban Gutierrez would not have made it to F1 under the new rules, but nor would many others. The likes of Button, Alonso, Massa and Raikkonen and Ricciardo would not have been granted a superlicence at the time they entered the sport, which again raises the question of ‘if you’re good enough, you’re old enough’. Max Verstappen will forever go down as the youngest driver ever to have raced in F1 by the opening lap of the 2015 Australian Grand Prix, now the FIA have changed the rules so no driver under 18 can enter the sport, but success stories such as his and Kimi Raikkonen’s – jumping several series straight into an F1 driver are also gone.

For all it’s good intentions of trying to make sure that drivers progressing to Formula One are of the right standard and experience, you can’t help but think that they are still missing the point slightly. The reason why teams are taking on pay drivers is because of the disparity in prize funds and income distribution. To be fair to lost if those drivers tagged with the pay driver label, they have still been able to compete in the F1 field, many of us forget for all his errors that Pastor Maldonado has actually won a race, and we are a far cry from times during the 1990s when it seemed a new driver joined the back of the grid very race weekend. If this new system is to decrease the number of pay drivers entering the top tier, then teams are either going to need additional means of income, or costs will have to come down. I just hope the FIA and the Strategy Commission get on with it.

Comments are always welcome.

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