Out TV screens our inundated by talent shows of one sort or another. Dancing, singing and ice skating are all catered for but what if all the current F1 grid and hopeful young drivers were to get feedback from team bosses live on TV? What would they be looking for? What is the driver X Factor?
The answer is simple in one respect and more complex on the other. Each team boss knows exactly what they want in an ideal world but in this world of strained budgets not everyone can go for their ideal targets.
McLaren team principle, Martin Whitmarsh consistently talks of the aim to have the strongest available driving line up for the team, something that has never been a problem for the Working based team. Their ethos over what makes a good driver hasn’t changed since Ron Dennis took over the company in the early 80’s with iconic names like Lauda, Prost, Senna, Häkkinen, Hamilton and Button easily roll of the tongue.
Other teams, such as the factory outfits of Mercedes and Ferrari, also enjoy deep pockets when it comes to driver selection. Both of which have enjoyed the services of 7 time world champion, Michael Schumacher.
Drivers rarely change, their styles are their own and that contributes to their individual ‘X Factor’. Teams on the other hand, don’t always look for the same thing year on year, take Lotus Renault for example. Three years ago when they were a factory team, they had the services of the then, youngest double world champion, Fernando Alonso as their golden boy. In the wake of the crashgate scandal, the team was sold to Genni Captal where the lure of drivers with a budget became irresistible for the team which now had a huge debt to pay back. Russia was the promised land of investment in the form of Vitaly Petrov, armed with car and drinks companies money. Perov’s cash ensured he kept his seat for two seasons, he was improving all the time and became the first Russian to score a podium finish with a third place finish in Australia this season. Lotus, as they are now known as, have set themselves the ambitious target of being title contenders within three years. To aid this ambition, both of last year’s driver’s have been shown the door, taking with them up to ten sponsors. In place of Petrov and Senna, the team have brought in Kimi Räikkönen and Romain Grosjean, a move that “shows the teams intentions” according to team boss, Eric Boullier.
With some team’s deciding they need a different X Factor for 2012, we see an unprecedented number of experienced driver’s searching for a seat. No less than 10 drivers who raced in 2012 are still without a confirmed drive for 2012, with only Williams and HRT with a vacant seat.
Williams themselves have compromised their driver requirements in recent years. Like McLaren, you can recall the big name drivers from 1977 right through to the end of the BMW partnership in 2005. Since then, the Grove based squad firstly employed Japanese driver, Kazuki Nakajima who came along with a subsidised engine supply from Toyota. For 2011, they have again looked to a driver to help balance the books in the form of 2010 GP2 champion, Pastor Maldoado. ‘The Animal’ comes with considerable backing from his native Venezuela.
As I said at the beginning of this article, in an ideal world all the team bosses would be looking for the same thing and not compromising anything to bring in the top talent. With so many drivers trying to land or regain a seat in Formula 1 this winter, only a dramatic upturn in sponsorship levels further down the grid can make this a reality. Will this happen? Not any time soon.