It is harder than ever before for European drivers to gain a foothold in F1 due to the increasing globalisation of the sport, Christian Klien has lamented.
Klien has raced sporadically in F1 2010 for financially-troubled, off-the-pace newcomer Hispania Racing (HRT), but for the majority of the campaign, the talented and highly-rated Austrian has had to sit on the sidelines and watch the far better-funded Sakon Yamamoto out on the track in what by rights should arguably have been his
The 27-year-old contends that nationality and lucrative commercial backing are sadly the keys now to finding a seat on the grand prix grid – with hitherto untapped markets, such as Russia in the case of Renault rookie Vitaly Petrov, of great allure to potential employers in an era of economic belt-tightening.
Such a trend has made pay-drivers ever-more prevalent and means young hopefuls from the sport's more traditional European heartland – where sponsorship streams have conversely run dry – are finding themselves squeezed out-of-contention.
“Nico Hülkenberg's case shows that there are no guarantees,” Klien told Vorarlberg Online
. “He had a great debut year with a pole position in Brazil, and he's out. In my own case, I have some options. The most obvious one of course is HRT, who are on the verge of establishing themselves as a serious competitor, even if there are some setbacks from time-to-time. In February there was not much of a team, and I would not have believed I would contest three grands prix this year.
“There's still some time until March, but it is pretty hard when you are from central Europe. F1 has internationalised very quickly and previously as a Briton, an Italian, a Frenchman, you had a good chance. Today there are more cockpits than before, but the driver market is being fed from many more countries – Russia, India, the south-east Asian region and now probably Korea and China.
“If you're the eighth German, then it is very difficult. Look at France and Italy – 20 years ago there were ten of each, and today..? Even a big name like Kimi Raikkonen in the World Rally Championship is relying on sponsors to get his cockpit, and in F1 the teams are under enormous cost pressure.”