Former F1 driver Mark Webber last competed for Red Bull in Formula One prior to his retirement at the end of 2013. He now competes for Porsche in the World Endurance Championships, and has hit out strongly against ‘pay drivers’, whose financial backing enables them to ensure Formula one seats.
“The depth of the F1 grid has never been weaker,” Webber said on BBC Radio. Although he discussed pay drivers at large, he referred specifically to Lotus driver Pastor Maldonado, who has won only one of the 89 Formula One races he has been a part of; this was also his only podium spot.
Venezuelan Maldonado is backed by Petróleos de Venezuela or PDVSA, the state oil company of the South American nation.
"We know we've got quality at the front, but I just still think there's the swing of the financial drivers [into F1], who are coming to basically decide what teams they want to go to, and also if they're going to stay there," he said. "Pastor [Maldonado], for example, saying 'I haven't made my decision yet where I'm going'. said Webber, displeased with how there was no ‘depth in the grid’ in Formula One.
"We used Pastor as an example - there's a few of them who shouldn't be there,” he said, clarifying that he felt there were others beyond the Lotus driver, who has crashed out of both the last two races at Spa and Monza, who do not merit their seats.
Webber, who retired at the end of the 2013 season, when he partnered that year’s champion Sebastian Vettel, feels that drivers should be replaced if they are not performing well in F1. Among the other pay drivers currently in Formula One are Force India’s Sergio Perez, although the Mexican driver has had significantly more success than Maldonado, with 4 podium spots and consistently high points finishes this year.
"What other sports work like that? If you're not performing, mate, on your bike, get out of here,” he told BBC Radio 5.
He also said the sport itself was not as challenging to drivers as it used to be, saying they are cushioned from several of the sport’s most punishing aspects, among them the g-force exerted on drivers’ bodies. He mentioned “all the records are from that era,” saying this was, in his opinion, due to how physical the sport had been then.
He still believed, however, that there were talented drivers on the track,saying their fate was that of an “F-16 pilot flying a British Airways jet”, with their talents underutilized.
Disappointed with where he feels the sport is currently heading, focused more on the vehicles and development than driver skill, Webber is not alone in his opinion, which is
It is an opinion several fans echo as well – and it is not just restricted to them, as Mercedes racing’s non-executive chairman feels the same way. Three-time world champion and Formula One legend Niki Lauda, who is currently the non-executive chairman of Mercedes’ racing team, echoed his sentiments earlier in the year, saying MotoGP had kept the essence of Formula 1 – raw racing, but that motorsport’s premier class of car racing had become stagnant.