JANUARY 23, 2009

What is a Superlicence worth?

Formula 1 drivers are not struggling for cash. Even the men on the back of the grid are mightily rewarded for their endeavours. Most of the grid are millionaires, in US dollar terms. Many are multi-multi-millionaires. They say they deserve it. They are the stars, they have short careers and they are what drives the revenues of the sport. They are not interested in talking about salary caps, arguing that no-one wants to see their salaries cut. This argument is not really valid as $10,000 to a Grand Prix driver is very different to $10,000 to a normal person.

Now it is reported by Autosport that the drivers are talking about striking because the cost of their Superlicences has risen dramatically in recent seasons. This year, so it is said, Lewis Hamilton will have to pay $285,000 to get his licence. He will earn probably 100 times that sum. Is that fair? The FIA seems to think so. If one compares that with the money that journalists spend to visit the races ($40,000 a year) in order to make two or three times that amount if they are lucky, the Superlicence fees seems a very reasonable sum of money.

In a world where thousands are losing their jobs every week, the drivers do not really have much of a case. If they strike they are hardly going to win much sympathy in a world where everyone is tightening their belts. At the moment the Grand Prix Drivers' Association (GPDA) is urging its members not to sign and pay for the licences. In the past we have seen many threats of unified action by the drivers but there are no occasions that we can remember when every single driver agreed any such proposals. There is always pressure from the teams and there are always ambitious youngsters willing to do things that the veterans will not agreed to do.

The matter will be discussed at the next meeting of the Formula One Teams' Association and it would be a surprise if the teams were to offer any support. many team principals talk quietly about the need to have caps on salaries in order to save jobs in the industry. The drivers say that other costs can be cut first, which is partly true, but in the overall scheme of things, the drivers need to understand that they probably need to be willing to compromise as well.

The FIA justifies its price hikes because of the costs of maintaining the safety standards in F1.

Everyone involved in the sport has their value and the F1 world needs to understand that without the different parties the sport will suffer. The drivers do deserve to be well-paid. They have exceptional talent. But so do many others in the sport and they are not all looking at millions in their bank accounts.