Let's face it, times are tough. The economic situation has just about every corner of life reeling with uncertainty and motor sport is no different. We've discussed the notion of teh pay-to-drive model in Formula One recently in which a young driver brings cash to the team in return for a seat be it the main driver role or as a reserve driver. Williams F1 hired Pastor Maldonado in 2011 for one simple fact, he had backing in the form of Venezuelan cash from the government of Venezuela. This year, they've chosen to hire Bruno Senna who also has financial backing to drive.
The model has been scorned by several former drivers and fans alike and yet it is continuing to be an element in the series that has crept from the poorest teams up the grid to the midfield teams who historically didn't seek paying drivers. Team such as Sauber, Williams, Lotus Renault (who now say they are not using pay drivers) and Toro Rosso. While the justifications are numerous, the reality is perhaps more simple is scope...tough times mean less sponsors for the teams and the cash needed to continue to race is being found in drivers who happen to have sponsor backing.
This seems to be the impact that Formula One is experiencing due to the difficult economy and while it would be understandable as F1 represents the most expensive racing series on the planet, it isn't alone in its suffering for sponsors. NASCAR legend Jack Roush is finding it difficult to lure sponsors after having one of their best seasons in the teams history in 2011. Roush told USA Today:
"We came off our best year in terms of performance only to find it was not the best year to attract sponsors," said Roush, who came within a point of winning the Sprint Cup title with driver Carl Edwards but captured the Nationwide crown behind Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
"I'm disappointed because of the 100 or so people we had to lay off -- people who depended on us," Roush said. "And going from four to three teams, we didn't have a seat for David Ragan. That's unfortunate."
NASCAR has long been a sponsorship magnate in the United States and no form of motor sport is bigger or more brand-centric than this legacy stock car series. NASCAR itself has been expanding into other series such as Grand Am but remains steadfast in their premier event as well as the junior series such as Nationwide and ARCA feeders. The lack of sponsorship for historic NASCAR Sprint Cup teams such as Roush is also being echoed by individual drivers who are veterans in the midst of sponsorship struggles themselves. Drivers such as Kyle Bush, Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer.
Roush Fenway Racing (RFR) had a timing issue in that 10 of their major sponsors contracts all expired at the same time and they were able to retain 8 of the 10 at some level of sponsorship according to USA Today. RFR's Steve Newmark said that while the team is struggling and veterans are having a hard time, young drivers are nearly out of luck without cash in their pocket:
"It impacted a lot of younger drivers. If they're not bringing sponsorship with them, they're not getting a seat."
Paying to drive is not a new phenomena in racing but its prevalence in the last few years speaks to the economic impact on motor sport and while we F1 fans have all been exposed to it, suffice to say we are not alone as America's biggest racing series is also steeped in fickle sponsors and the need to hire paying drivers. There are world's of difference between the two series but when money comes tough, the similarities are always cash. It makes the wheels go round as 100 people unfortunately found out at RFR.