The recruitment of new racing drivers within Formula One is extremely complex and makes a player’s journey within football look simple. The racing careers of many drivers start at an extremely young age. For example, five-time world champion Lewis Hamilton had his first taste of racing at just eight years old on the karting scene. So how do people get into the holy grail that is Formula One and how are they recruited?
The answer is not a straight forward one as there are many different routes that drivers can go down with some being down to luck and others down to money. Most F1 drivers start out in their careers at local and national karting championships from a young age making their way through the age groups. This point in their careers is crucial, even though they are so young, as racing academies such as McLaren recruit talent from a young age.
Can you buy an F1 seat?
The short answer is yes. There isn’t a driver in the paddock who hasn’t started their career go-karting – it is the proving ground for any racing driver. But there are drivers who have paid for their seat on a team.
Pay drivers bring investment to a team and have long been around in Formula 1.
The most talked-about pay drivers last season were Williams pair Lance Stroll and Sergey Sirotkin. Stroll’s billionaire father and Sirotkin’s oligarch Boris Rotenberg, who established SMP Racing where Sirotkin started on the young driver programme and is closely connected to the Russian bank, pooled £65m into the British team last season.
The academy system
Then there are driver academies. Charles Leclerc is in his second Formula 1 season. He’s currently enjoying a fantastic season after signing for Ferrari.
He’s proved his worth as previous karting, Formula 3 champion and current Formula 2 champion. He was nurtured – and paid for – by Ferrari’s driver academy
The last working-class driver?
It’s true that most drivers are from money orientated backgrounds but there is one driver that prides himself on the fact he was from a council house background. Lewis Hamilton has five world titles and an estimated net worth of £130m. He’s the only one of 20 current Formula 1 drivers who can recall a time in his youth when he lived in a council flat with his father, who at one point worked four jobs to allow him to race around the country in his go-kart.
Hamilton stated “When people ask me where the next me is coming from, I say: ‘No, these kids come from wealthy backgrounds, not from the struggle I came from.
“It goes to the fundamentals of how the sport is governed. There are so many aspects that are not being tackled. There are only wealthy kids coming through. There are not kids from working-class families.”
With so much pressure from a young age and the amount of money that is required just to try and break into the sport does racing need to do more to recruit based on talent rather than money?