Discussions regarding the application of a drivers’ points system were raised in Formula 2 following Mahaveer Raghunathan’s lack of performance, speed and ability.
But is this the correct way to proceed and does this imply a reaction, rather than a clear solution?
‘At what point does a driver’s lack of ability potentially harm the hard-fought reputation of a championship?’
This is a question that gets raised every-so-often. Generally, it is uttered when a driver proves to be so slow or so completely out of their depth, that they hinder not only their own progress, but also that of other competitors.
In years previous, one could easily look to the likes of Sergio Canamasas or Carmen Jorda for drivers promoted well beyond their capabilities. Last season, Mahaveer Raghunathan joined that list.
Raghunathan was regularly the slowest driver in the field, often some 1.5-2s adrift of the next slowest driver in qualifying. During practice and qualifying sessions, he garnered a reputation for blocking and in races, his pace was such he would either be lapped or come close to being lapped.
In reality, the likes of Raghunathan are blips. Rarely do they reach the heights of Formula 2 and for the most part are rarely so slow as to get lapped during what are relatively brief races with identical cars.
Yet, there are those who point to introducing an entry criterion based on earned licence points – similar to Formula One’s Super Licence – for drivers wishing to race in Formula 2.
While this will undoubtedly cut out drivers that are clearly unqualified for such a level and may also tighten up the overall competitiveness of a given field, as lower quality fluff is replaced with apparently able talent, it may prove too hasty a step and too harsh a barrier. Encouraging top talent and increasing competition are laudable, but there may be too many cons for it to truly be a success.
The narrowing of the driver pool could conceivably create a swath of long-termers in the series – drivers that end up as perennial competitors in the 2nd tier: unable to push forward or unwilling to move aside.
Financial pressures could also be an unintended consequence of this points system. In an already daftly expensive category – cars at Formula 2 level require huge investment to be run to their full potential – several teams have experienced some severe financial difficulty. These pressures often manifest themselves as mid-season driver changes, when larger income – real or promised – becomes more attractive than the numbers already offered by existing racers.
The business model below Formula One is utterly different and one needs to examine the structure from another angle. If one looked at this process as drivers hiring teams to deliver a raceable product, then you are getting closer to the mark – at its most basic level, that is what happens.
Back in 2016, I asked Stephanie Tindall – Commercial and PR Manager with Carlin Motorsport – about the relationship between drivers and teams at a junior formula level and how it differs from that of leading championships, such as Formula One.
‘Our business model is that drivers come to us and pay us money for us to race them. You might had presumed that we pay our drivers to try for us, but it is the completely the other way around. We are providing a product and […] we have to make sure that we are providing the best product for our drivers; they are selecting us; we are not selecting them.
‘That budget may come from various different places; it may come from big sponsors, it may come from a collection of smaller sponsors, in some instances it even comes from family funds. An example of a big sponsor and most prominently placed is Red Bull.
‘We are in six championships and have 18 cars in total that are racing. We also have test teams as well for younger drivers. If we are not winning and we’re not getting podiums and we are not able to show drivers how they can improve in the car with the services that we can provide, they are not going to come to us.’
By artificially restricting the number of drivers available, one also risks restricting the budget available for teams to operate and that could ultimately cripple squads and the series as a whole if left unchecked.
Should there be stricter parametres applied to driver quality at Formula 2 (and maybe Formula 3) level? Absolutely, but perhaps that is a decision that should left to the series stewards, flanked by experienced top-level drivers.
New drivers wishing to compete at the Indianapolis 500 must complete a rookie orientation day at the oval before they are allowed to enter practice sessions. In this, drivers record several laps at set average speeds in order to demonstrate consistency, ability and safety.
This can only happen if testing is opened up to allow it to happen. Drivers still need to learn somewhere, somehow and ultimately the testing restrictions are harming those who need more time to develop.
This would be a far more equitable solution than the needless introduction of a driver points system.
In the meantime, Raghunathan will not be returning to Formula 2 for 2020.