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Surtees: We need to support talent, not bow to pay-driver pressure

15 March 2011

Former F1 World Champion John Surtees has called for more support for drivers with the ability to make it all the way to the pinnacle of the sport but lacking the financial clout – revealing that he is 'sorry to see the pay-driver element' returning to the grand prix grid.

Surtees is the only man to have successfully claimed the world title at the very highest level on both two wheels and four, and in recent years he has involved himself in a number of young driver programmes, lending his name and his backing to schemes such as the Racing Steps Foundation – for which he is an ambassador – that seek to financially bolster and assist the careers of talented competitors who might otherwise find themselves having to prematurely hang up their helmet through lack of funds.

Earlier this year, BBC F1 commentator Martin Brundle admitted his concerns that the 'fast-rising escalator' of young drivers is 'blocked at the top – there's nowhere to go', adding that whilst he used to believe that 'if you had the talent, you will get through...now I fear it's all about money' [see separate story – click here]. It is a sentiment that is palpably shared by Surtees.

“There is an ever-widening expansion and commercialisation of F1,” the 77-year-old reflected in an interview with Crash.net, “but I would like to see there be a little more attention paid to the feeder series – the lesser formulae don't really get the exposure that you'd like.

“I believe we should have stepping-stones, and that we should be able to have a system that is linked into F1 where people who are very capable in a formula and win a series get an automatic helping-hand into the next step-up, and that there's not a question that their career may just stop, as is happening to one or two lads out there at the moment. A lad who has shown a lot of promise and has gone through his karting and everything else arrives at a point where he wants to get into GP2, and £2 million is the asking price. That is ridiculous.

“I'm sorry to see the pay-driver element coming back into F1. It would be nice to think that with all the money that is floating around in F1, we could rely on trying to take the best talent and projecting it to the world, but I can also understand these smaller teams being desperate to get the budgets together. That is perhaps a problem.

“I'm not so certain that we shouldn't prefer the idea of [Luca] di Montezemolo where he said about running three cars [per team], but with one of them like a scholarship car to give an opportunity to those that have shown real ability and haven't necessarily had the wherewithal when it comes to finance. There are a number of lads out there who have been knocking on the door, and if we're not careful, time will pass by.”


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