If you have it, then chances are you’ll be able to find a place on a grid somewhere. If you don’t have it, then things just got a lot more difficult.
It’s well documented in F1 where we’ve already seen – amongst others – Rubens Barrichello replaced at Williams by Bruno Senna, and Jarno Trulli dropped by Caterham to allow the team to bring in Vitaly Petrov.
But, as most hardcore motorsport fans will know, the issue of funding in goes much deeper and it means that those who should already be signed up and secure in a drive for the year ahead are now racing against time to try and make sure they appear on a grid in 2012.
The economic downturn that has affected us all in recent years has had a major impact on the motorsport world, for both better (strangely enough) and for worse.
For some, the downturn has actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise as it has encouraged companies to diversify into other areas, offering technology that has been developed for racing to clients in other areas. The defence industry is one prime example of the way in which motorsport companies have expanded into other areas – a topic I touched upon in a 2010 interview with Chris Aylett from the Motorsport Industry Association that you can read HERE.
However, while part of the industry has thrived on what has ultimately been an unexpected opportunity to expand, other areas have found the going much harder – which includes the actual drivers and teams who hit the track to produce the action that has fans flocking trackside for a racing fix.
There are a variety of reasons why the going has become so tough, but a major factor is the understandable impact that the downturn has had on sponsors. Potential sponsors are now more wary about investing large sums of money into a racing programme for fear that a further shift in the financial markets could leave them at risk. It’s a risk that some are simply no longer prepared to take.
You only have to look at the British racing scene as a prime example of the way in which the current financial situation is affected the sport.
In recent years, the BTCC has seen drivers like Fabrizio Giovanardi and Colin Turkington left without a drive because teams couldn’t raise the money to put them in a drive. James Thompson is another who has found opportunities in Britain hampered by a lack of sponsorship, although he has now secured a return to the WTCC as part of the new LADA programme.
These aren’t unproven drivers, but experienced figures with five championship titles between them.
This season, while the grid is starting to take shape, Paul O’Neill is amongst those drivers facing an uncertain future unless he can find extra sponsorship to take his place on the grid – again a proven, race-winning driver, but one who doesn’t bring with him a portfolio of wealthy sponsors.
Of course, the BTCC has attempted to reduce costs with the introduction of the Next Generation Touring Car regulations, and while the idea may be that the costs compared to developing an S2000 machine are lower, the fact remains that you are still talking about a large amount of money that needs to be generated to put a programme together. The fact that the series has been attracting record grid numbers is an indication of the way in which it is rallying against the current financial climate, but the hunt for sponsors for teams up and down the paddock remains as difficult as ever.
It isn’t just touring cars that have felt the impact of the downturn either. It isn’t long ago that the Clio Cup needed to split its field due to the number of cars entered on a race weekend, but the field had thinned out considerably last year with fewer than 20 cars on track. Grid numbers in Formula Renault were also low last season – even if the quality of the racing was still impressive at the front of the field – and only half a dozen cars from the main series were present for an official test session at Donington Park earlier this week.
Away from the TOCA paddock, British F3 is looking lean on numbers for the year ahead, with plenty of questions still to be answered about the make up for the grid for the year ahead. Quite simply, the budget required to compete is difficult to raise for drivers who are feeling the pinch.
A notable exception is GT racing, which goes from strength to strength, although that branch of the sport has been aided somewhat by the fact that it is somewhere where wealthy amateur drivers can hone their skills alongside a professional and fight for race victories. The likes of Duncan Cameron, David Ashburn and Hector Lester have done just that in British GT in recent years alongside top-line pros Matt Griffin, Richard Westbrook and Allan Simonsen.
So what can fans do?
Obviously, there are ways in which people can contribute directly – such as the YourRacingCar initiative in the Ginetta Supercup – but there is plenty more than can be done.
It’s not a case of reinventing the wheel. Simply show your support to the industry in any way you can. Head trackside to catch the action. Join your local motorsport club, Sign up for a marshaling course and become a guy – or girl – in orange.
Okay, it won’t always ensure that your favourite driver or team is on the grid, but in the long-term it can help to keep motorsport growing and make sure that the industry as a whole – and not just in sectors – comes out of a time of financial problems in a better place.
To explore some of the ways you can become involved in motorsport, visit the Go Motorsport website.