Sergey Sirotkin being announced as a race driver for 2014 has come as a real shock to me, and I am sure I am not the only one who feels this way.
Sirotkin is a pleasant young man with a fair bit of potential, but do my compliments extend much past that? No. The reason being he is a 17 year old with 82 car races and 11 wins to his name! It is impossible to think he is ready for Formula 1. I do not doubt that he will be able to drive a Formula 1 car reasonably quickly, but will he be able to drive it to the best of his ability? No. Long term development is crucial for any young driver or athlete across all sports. Sportsmen and women have to be able to develop their skill set in a structured and well delivered manner. This cannot and should not be rushed. Failing to learn the necessary lessons at a young age will prolong your learning curve and prevent you from maximising your potential. What is more important to Sirotkin's investors: Having a Russian Formula 1 driver in time for Sochi 2014, or having a Russian Formula 1 driver capable of winning Sochi 2016?
What I find frustrating is that Sergey Sirotkin is not just another driver with money. I am commentating on his 2013 World Series by Renault campaign and I have seen enough to say that he definitely has good potential. He has a very good feel of what the car is doing underneath him and is comfortable exploring the limits. However it is also clearly evident that he is already suffering from the example I've explained above. He is lacking the knowledge, experience and skill set to compete with the very best in WSR this year. Understandably this is only his first season in WSR so he should be prone to a mistake or two and that is what we are seeing. Surely then with this in mind he should continue to learn his trade and learn a better way of winning before he moves up to the pinnacle of the sport. Rushing drivers through their development to align with commercial ties is not a healthy trend to be getting into too. Throughout my time in the sport results have always been more important than merely taking part, but can we say the same today?!
This is a very unsettling era for young drivers, and for all of us who care deeply about the sport and the values it withholds. We are now well into an era whereby the graduating 2012 GP2, WSR and Formula 3 Euroseries champions cannot even dream of a Formula 1 drive. That in its self is a very sad statistic. The precedent being set by the Formula 1 teams is that results do not guarantee you success nor do they seem to count for much. Robin Frijns is a prime example. He has won every Championship he has competed in and in some style. Yes, you can argue that he is part of the Young Driver Test this week courtesy of his reputation but he cannot progress that into a race seat because of budget. The sport is now effectively starving itself of talent because of the financial difficulties currently being experienced by 80% of the pit lane. The next generation of talent is seeing the deserving fall by the wayside and the wealthy journeymen progress. If this model continues, I hate to think what Formula 1 will look like in 5 years’ time.
The solution is not an easy one as I can see both sides of the coin. Rumour has it Sauber may not even have been in Hungary had they not secured the Russian investment. Historically, drivers bringing money is nothing new and I fully appreciate that the smaller teams rely on this income to survive. However, what we are seeing today is almost unprecedented with the bigger teams now looking towards that income also. The gross spend in Formula 1 is excessive and the budgets required to win are mind boggling. Is this sustainable? If you analysed the financial stability of the pit lane today, you would have to say no. The longer this almost insolvent trend continues teams will have no option but to source new forms of income and the more paying drivers we'll see on the grid.
I fear for the mind sets of young drivers today. How do you deal with the realisation that Formula 1 is an impossible dream? Drivers spend their whole careers trying to prove their ability and seek recognition. Now they are being taught that this fundamental concept of competition does not matter. Formula 1 needs to address the capital outlay of the teams and reinstall the values of the sport, whereby drivers are rewarded for their ability. This is pivotal for the growth of the sport at grass roots level, right the way through to the quality assurance of Formula 1.