How do you go about getting into the seemingly impenetrable sport of motor racing? Well, in the case of Lance Stroll and Nikita Mazepin, it certainly helps if your father is a billionaire.
The champagne, podiums, fame and fortune intrinsically linked to the world of Formula 1 are incredibly appealing, as the million UK households who’ve tuned into Netflix’s documentary series Drive to Survive can attest.
The many hundreds of virtual racing games on the market make racing accessible to everyone. However, if you want to swap that games console in your hand for the grip of a carbon fibre wheel, even with determination and a steely work ethic, the obstacles are numerous.
This is a sport in which money talks, allowing drivers who come with the promise of heavy parental funding – known as Daddy Drivers or Pay Drivers – a heavily desired spot on the grid.
The father and son duos of Lawrence and Lance Stroll and Dmitry and Nikita Mazepin are bringing to question the notion of fair sportsmanship as they bankroll their way to the top.
Though F1 is an incredibly expensive sport, Netflix’s documentary gave an insight into the familial sacrifices necessary to sustain a child through karting to racing. Pierre Gasly, Alex Albon, and Lewis Hamilton’s parents, through heart-warming pieces to camera, told of years of hard work, financial sacrifice, and the working of multiple jobs which has led to their sons’ successes. Comparatively, the route taken by Stroll and Mazepin seems ingenuine and, ironically, cheap.
The images showing the Aston Martin F1 team celebrating Lance’s podium at Monza are extremely telling; at first glance, Lawrence’s front and centre positioning could mistake him as the driver, with his son set back from his P3 placard. The message is clear; though Lance is the driver, his team-leader father is the enabler, giving backing to Lance’s unfortunate nickname ‘Daddy Stroll’.
This money does not only buy a seat but also secures control over the driving partner too. In this way, from the inside out, the nepotistic system guarantees stability for those lucky enough to afford it, removing the element of excitement and competition within the inner belly of a team.
Though outperformed by partner Sergio Perez – who was later replaced by Sebastian Vettel – Stroll maintained his place on the grid. It later emerged that it was ‘contractually impossible’ to dismiss Stroll, with team principal Otmar Szafnauer confirming these rumours by affirming that ‘his father does own the team’ in an interview with The Race.
Similarly, the appointment of Nikita Mazepin to Haas’ driver line-up has courted controversy. Allegations against him, including punching F2 driver Callum Illot, being caught on video groping a woman, and defending racist and homophobic abuse, created a moral dilemma for team principal Guenther Steiner.
The comparison between Mazepin and partner Mick Schumacher, who despite his legacy surname, is widely agreed to have earned his place as a fan favourite through a combination of talent and skill, serves to more completely illuminate his graceless entrance into a highly coveted seat.
In background and behaviour, they couldn’t be more different, with Schumacher coming from driving royalty and Mazepin from an oligarch marred with stories of scandal and corruption.
Despite a 50,000 strong petition calling to drop Mazepin from the 2021 driver line-up, this unheeded cry of injustice from the fans highlights the pointed threat to the moral integrity associated with the tenacity and drive of his F1 counterparts, calling in to question the surrendering of standards in return for funding to fuel the machine of the sport.
For young drivers, entering the sport seeing certain people chosen over others who are arguably better due to financial reasons can be frustrating.
Bailey Voisin, 18, is tipped as a talent of the future having won the GT4 European Series at Monza and signed to United Autosports for the 2021 season to drive a McLaren 570S in the European Championship.
‘I wouldn’t necessarily say that people who buy their way in don’t work as hard, but maybe if it were a level playing field certain individuals wouldn’t be in the sport’, he says.
However, he recognises the need to be realistic, ‘motorsport is extremely expensive and certain teams are barely able to survive, so funding is an important factor – none of us want any team to go under which is why they sometimes have to make difficult decisions.’
With 2021’s F1 cost cap of $145 million marking the end of unregulated spending within a team’s calendar year, aiming to level the playing field of the sport whose cost has been rising sharply over the past few years, this begs the question of when the same treatment will be applied to those occupying the seats.
Though the sport is definitely not known for its accessibility, the only way to truly bridge the gap of financial disparity in the sport is to swap money for morals.
Image: Artes Max via Creative Commons