Sidepodcast // All for F1 and F1 for all

Is F1 hard to break into or simply fully booked? // Christian Klien opens up the debate about F1's accessibility

Published by Christine

There's an interesting interview with Christian Klien on Autosport today, and it really must be good because I do not normally write about him if I can help it. He's talking about the possibility of a race drive in 2011, as a lot of drivers without confirmed deals are currently doing. There's a lot of talk, and not a lot of announcing going on, and Klien believes that's because F1 is getting harder and harder to crack into.

A tougher nut to crack.
A tougher nut to crack.Credit: Hispania Racing

Firstly, he makes a couple of points I disagree with. Regarding his most likely possibile seat at HRT, having driven for them in the last few races of 2010.

The team is on the brink of becoming a serious contender in Formula 1, despite a few setbacks here and there. But things have looked worse in the past.

- Christian Klien

A serious contender? I'm still hearing reports of funding problems and given the revolving door of drivers last year, can they really be a serious contender? They'll be back in 2011, I have no doubt, but they're not likely to be much faster, are they?

Then, on to some of his observations of other driver movements:

There are no guarantees, as we have seen with Nico Hülkenberg recently. He drove an excellent rookie season, pole position in Brazil and still he gets the push.

- Christian Klien

That's not quite how I saw it. At the time, it seemed very much more likely that Hülkenberg wanted bigger and better things. Perhaps Klien knows something I don't. With an announcement expected from Maldonado regarding his future any moment now, maybe Nico was pushed.

Finally, though, Klien starts to talk sense, pointing out that it used to be a bonus to be a European driver, but now the scope of talent has widened so much more, the mathematics are against you.

Whoever has a government or an oil company from a rising country behind him has the best chance to be on the grid in 2011.

- Christian Klien

It's not really probability that stops you getting a seat, more the amount of money you can bring to the table. Klien does have a good point, though, there seem to be more and more drivers that can make the step up to F1, and so you have to do something to stand out from the crowd.

Getting seat time is the one way to prove yourself, but that in itself is getting far harder. There is limited winter testing, and nothing once the season gets going, and that's why the Young Driver test was introduced. Most of the names featured there, though, have either earned their stripes by winning a junior series, or they've paid to get there. One has to wonder how a 30 year old Bulgarian, who has very little GP2 experience and even less credentials, manages to get a chance in an F1 car.

As testing has to take place on a Friday, during practice, we've seen a few reserve drivers getting to grips with the car during these sessions. Friday drivers weren't unusual once the 2010 season began, and it's been good to see a batch of fresh new names.

There are two extra teams this year, which adds four more seats to the grid, but their budgets are even tighter than the existing cash-strapped teams. The race seats haven't exactly opened up, it is more a matter of who can pay to get in and who can pay to stay in. HRT have been a prime example of that this year, and whilst it is not popular with the fans, it does pay the bills.

I wonder if the problem is not wholly related to money, though. This year has been very quiet for driver changes so far, and the silly season (what there has been of it, anyway) is very late. The teams at the top - McLaren, Red Bull and Ferrari - all have their pairings for 2011 sorted, and plenty of other teams know which direction they are headed in, even if they haven't quite announced it yet. This is a bad time to try and make your name in the sport. Klien is a known entity and yet there doesn't appear to be much space for him. Someone like Daniel Ricciardo has proved his worth already, and there aren't many options open to him either. Perhaps ahead of 2012, or in the next few years, as more contracts begin to run out, we will see more of a case of musical chairs, and there will be new names once more.