ART Grand Prix co-owner Nicolas Todt has revealed his fears that the culture of pay-drivers in F1 is now so great that it is destroying the chances of more talented rivals to gain a footing on the grand prix grid - as he warned that it is becoming increasingly 'difficult' for those who truly merit a chance at the highest level.

The two clearest examples of drivers paying for their seats in F1 2010 are Vitaly Petrov at Renault and Sakon Yamamoto at newcomer Hispania Racing (HRT), but whilst the former has backed his funding up with a succession of feisty on-track performances, it would a tough case to argue that the latter is in the field for anything but his wallet.

As the manager of several top-line competitors himself - amongst them Ferrari star Felipe Massa and GP2 Series front-runner Jules Bianchi, one of the Scuderia's young driver programme members - Todt acknowledges that the global credit crunch has left many of the sport's smaller teams feeling the economic pinch and finding themselves having to prioritise sponsors over speed, but he fears for the effect this trend is having upon those who genuinely deserve to be given a break but cannot match their rivals' financial clout.

"I'm very worried," the son of FIA President Jean Todt conceded in an interview with Italian magazine Autosprint, "because drivers used to work their way up to F1 on merit, even only a few years ago. Now, drivers who have their sponsors to thank are becoming sporadic, mostly in the smaller teams.

"Due to the worldwide economic crisis and the difficulties that lower-budget teams are consequently facing, even the most worthy young drivers are having to really fight to get onto the grand prix grid. Paradoxically, it has become harder to find a way into F1 now that there are more cockpits available.

"I do see concrete opportunities in the future for drivers who are able to combine good results with plenty of sponsorship - or those who are picked up very young by teams like Red Bull or McLaren, guaranteeing them their debut without needing financial support to make it - but for the rest, it will be more difficult."