Timo Glock’s sudden exit from Marussia has brought into sharper focus an age-old truth of Formula One — that money makes the wheels go round — and highlighted the gulf between cash-rich rights holders and struggling teams.
Passion, engineering brilliance and sheer hard work can only go so far and must be paid for. In the end, teams are always chasing the sponsorship dollar, even if they manage to keep their rivals behind them on the track.
Glock was paid to drive at Marussia, but the team made clear in a statement on Monday that was a luxury they could no longer afford when their survival was at stake in harsh economic circumstances.
The German had become an anomaly on a starting grid whose lower slots are increasingly being filled by drivers bringing “budget” with them.
“The ongoing challenges facing the industry mean that we have had to take steps to secure our long-term future,” team principal John Booth said in a statement.
“Tough economic conditions prevail and the commercial landscape is difficult for everyone, Formula One teams included,” he said.
Marussia, one of three “new” teams who were encouraged into the sport in 2010 with the promise of a budget cap and favorable terms that swiftly evaporated, have the smallest budget of any current outfit.
However, that still translates into about US$70 million a season, and by finishing 11th overall behind Caterham last year, they missed out on millions in prize money divided among the top 10 teams.
The team made no secret when hiring Britain’s Max Chilton, a Formula One rookie this season, that he would need backing to secure the drive and Glock’s exit will allow them to bring in much-needed cash for the second seat as well.
Marussia are not alone there, with vacancies outstanding at Force India and Caterham as both teams assess a number of candidates who can boast both an FIA super-license and substantial support.
The failure of Spanish-based HRT, who had Indian Narain Karthikeyan and Chinese reserve Ma Qing Hua helping to pay the bills last year before they folded, has shown how vulnerable some teams are in a sport whose revenues were expected to exceed US$2 billion last year.
Against that backdrop, with none of the three new teams (Marussia, Caterham and HRT) scoring a point in three seasons and others above them also feeling the squeeze, driver decisions have focused on more than just talent and experience.
“That’s the way of F1 at the moment [I] hope it will change again soon because like this it has nothing to do with sport!” Glock said on Twitter on Monday in a message to Red Bull’s Australian Mark Webber that was later deleted.
Other leading drivers commiserated with the German, a veteran of 91 race starts with three podiums for Toyota.