F1 » 12 January 2013
Surtees calls for scholarships to reward talent, champions
F1 world champion John Surtees says more needs to be done to ensure talented drivers are the ones to make it to the top flight.
John Surtees has added his voice to concerns that there are too many categories littering the road to F1, and suggested that more needs to be done to ensure that the cream of talent rises to the top.
Speaking at the annual Autosport International exhibition in the UK, the 1964 F1 world champion criticised the increasing reliance on 'pay drivers' in the upper echelons of motorsport, particularly when they are afforded seats at the expense of clearly more talented performers.
From karting, drivers are faced with a litany of national series, including the likes of Formula Ford, Formula Renault, as well as other more localised categories such as Formula Abarth, Formula Konig and InterSteps, before progressing to international competition in FRenault and F3. The introduction of GP3 three seasons ago added another option to the international ladder, before drivers are faced with the choice of GP2 or World Series by Renault, following the demise of F2 ahead of the 2013 season. And that is just the European system, with Asia and America having their own, admittedly more streamlined, ladders.
Whilst the over-populated pool dilutes the competition on track, and often means that the most talented drivers can avoid each other until they reach the fringes of F1, of more concern to Surtees is that that talent is being passed over by teams' desire to get as much buck for their bang as possible.
The Briton, whose son Henry had reached F2 before being killed in an accident at Brands Hatch two seasons ago, not only called for the ladder to become more linear, but also suggested that a scholarship system be set up in order to reward the champions and ensure that they can automatically move up to the next level.
"What we need is a structure whereby you have success rewarded by the advancement of career," Surtees insisted, "Where else can you win one series and be rewarded by teams at the next level telling you to find £550,000 for a season? It's terrifying.
"We need a specified number of formulas laid down and recognised internationally so that, if you win one, you get a scholarship to move into the next category. And we keep that going all the way to F1."
Admitting that the 'problem' of pay drivers existed even in his day, Surtees concedes that times have changed with the increased cost of technology and competition.
"When I ran my team, I was frustrated by having to take pay-drivers, but I always tried to make sure I paired them with a driver I really believed in,” he revealed, "But back when I raced, the stopwatch was far more important.”
Although those viewed as pay drivers in F1 are not untalented, the likes of Heikki Kovalainen and Kamui Kobayashi find themselves on the sidelines for 2013, while the top talent in GP2 and WSbR find it increasingly hard to break into the top flight.
Among those likely to miss out on a race seat having won a title in 2012 is GP2 champion Davide Valsecchi, who had hoped to progress to F1 but now looks set to have to settle for a reserve role at best. While the majority of GP2 champions, Giorgio Pantano aside, have moved up successfully, others hoping to use the series as a launching pad have been forced to look elsewhere in order to keep racing within their means. Both Jules Bianchi and Sam Bird, having been team-mates at the crack ART squad in GP2, raced in WSbR last season while holding down F1 reserve roles at Ferrari and Mercedes respectively.
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