| LONDON, March 9
LONDON, March 9 Jarno Trulli and Rubens
Barrichello could only commiserate with one another after their
Formula One teams replaced them with fresher faces for the new
What softened the blow for the veterans was the thought that
it was not so much the speed and promise of those young drivers
that had tipped the balance in their favour as the financial
benefit they might have brought with them.
"Sad to see that Trulli won't be on the 2012 grid...money is
dominating everything," Brazilian Barrichello, the most
experienced Formula One driver of all time, declared on his
Twitter feed after Caterham replaced the Italian with Russian
Vitaly Petrov last month.
Barrichello himself was replaced by inexperienced compatriot
Bruno Senna alongside Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado at Williams,
the former world champions who enjoy hefty sponsorship from
Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA.
Maldonado took one point last year, but he can reply to
anyone questioning his credentials and calling him a 'pay
driver' by pointing out that he won the GP2 support series
Formula One has always followed the money, grabbing it where
it can and burning through bank balances as quickly as anything
on the track.
When economic times are tough those teams with more fragile
finances have demanded that their drivers bring something to the
table, or looked more favourably on those with potential
sponsors in tow.
Drivers and teams may deny it, not wanting to be seen as
paying for a drive or in need of funds from drivers, but the
phenomenon has been on the rise after waning during the days
when deep-pocketed manufacturers called the shots.
Caterham, formerly Lotus Racing and then Team Lotus last
year, are run by Malaysian entrepreneur Tony Fernandes, boss of
AirAsia and owner of Premier League soccer club Queens Park
Trulli, whose seat had been uncertain for a while, had no
doubt that he had been ousted for reasons other than his ability
behind the wheel.
"I was prepared for a possible divorce from Caterham,
knowing that the difficult economic situation would have pushed
the team to find an adequately-supported driver," the
Petrov, Russia's first F1 driver, stood on the podium with
Renault in last season's Australian opener and is no slouch. But
he remains dogged by the 'pay driver' tag.
"I think this is not true," he told Reuters. "Even in 2011
they start to ask me about this money, but come on...I hope
people will understand this is not just a question of money."
Caterham subsequently announced Russian petrochemical
company Sibur as a sponsor.
Senna had also ended last season at Renault, now Lotus, who
replaced him and Petrov with 2007 world champion Kimi Raikkonen
and France's Romain Grosjean.
Raikkonen's pedigree speaks for itself while Grosjean won
last year's GP2 title. The Frenchman has also been supported by
oil company and team sponsor Total for more than six years.
"Total is delighted to give the young talented French
driver...the opportunity to fulfil his dream," the company's
senior vice-president of communications Jacques-Emmanuel
Saulnier said when Grosjean's drive was announced.
Mexican Sergio Perez is a promising driver and member of
Ferrari's driver academy whose arrival at Sauber was accompanied
by several sponsors from his country.
Indian Narain Karthikeyan, at HRT, has considerable backing
from India's Tata Group while Frenchman Charles Pic is
well-funded at Marussia.
There may be drivers with more talent and less money who
feel sore to be on the outside looking in but there is nothing
new in that, with only 24 slots on the grid for this month's
Australian season-opener in Melbourne.
There have been some plodders in the past but there have
also been some rare talents who owed their first breaks to the
power of money. Austrian triple champion Niki Lauda was one such
Michael Schumacher, the seven-times world champion and the
sport's most successful driver, made his first appearance for
Jordan at Spa in 1991 in what was a straightforward commercial
Jordan's French driver Bertrand Gachot, who had brought
significant sponsorship, had been imprisoned for spraying a taxi
driver with CS gas. Schumacher arrived as replacement along with
a cheque for 150,000 pounds ($236,100).
"Since then of course we have learned a lot more about
Michael Schumacher," team founder Eddie Jordan wrote in a 2007
autobiography. "But until that weekend in August 1991, no one
had much of a clue."
(Editing by Clare Fallon)