So after the response from my last blog, I’m kind of feeling the pressure to make this one a good ‘un too. However I feel you may be disappointed. There are no amusing stories in this one but hopefully something that will cause interesting conversation and debate.
The British Touring Car Championships made its long awaited return this weekend at Brands Hatch and although I wasn’t there unfortunately, I was watching on the TV. Whilst watching, there was one thing that made me think and concerned me somewhat. It’s not just something that is happening in touring cars, but also in the support races and indeed right throughout motorsport all the way up to the pinnacle, Formula One.
I am of course talking about driver funding and sponsorship. I bring this up now as it is probably most noticeable in the BTCC. Whilst it is great to see a lot of drivers in the BTCC, there are a number of drivers there not because of their ability behind the wheel, but because of the amount of money in their bank account. Whilst I understand the need of funds to run a race team, it concerns me that a lot of young talented drives are missing out due to the lack of financial backing and drives are being given to distinctly average drivers who have wads of cash to help support the team.
Many of you will remember the Silverstone round of the BTCC last year and how the two Team AON Ford Focus’ dominated. Both on the front row of the grid and leading the field come race day. However it was Tom Onslow-Cole leading team mate Tom Chilton until the prior mysteriously slowed to let Chilton through to take the lead and ultimately, victory. There is a lot of speculation as to the reasons why, with the most common being Tom Chilton brings the most money into the team so he got preference. Despite Onslow-Cole’s exemplarily behaviour afterwards in post race interviews, the disappointment was clear. It was he who was ahead of Chilton in the Championship standings and the decisions made by the team that day were pivotal to the remaining couple of races that season and may well have cost Onslow-Cole the championship title. I will point out though that both drivers here are very talented and both very nice guys, but should preference not have been given to the diver ahead in the championship standings?
However, on the flip side of drivers in the series being able to buy their way into a series, there are drivers who have to pull out after the money dries up. You will no doubt notice the amount of small independent teams and drivers coming and going within the BTCC as they can only afford to compete in a few races. A case in point here is young Matt Hamilton. Having competed in a few races in 2009, Matt was ready and rearing to go in 2010 in a somewhat aging Honda Civic. Matt has competed in other race series, proved his worth and had made his way up to BTCC. His talent showed through during one particular race. At a rain soaked Brands Hatch, Matt carved through the field and kept his head whilst all those around were losing theirs and he took a very creditable ninth place and with it his first Championship points. This drive was to earn him the Dunlop Champagne Moment award from that race weekend as voted by the fans and rightly so. Unfortunately, the funds ran out, the car was sold and Matt, his family and friends, who had worked so hard to get him on the grid, were left to see out the remainder of the season as frustrated spectators. Those two championship points left him ahead in the final driving standings of some of those drivers who were able to buy a full season and trundle around happily towards the tail end of the pack.
Having mentioned Matt Hamilton, I couldn’t let the opportunity pass without mentioning, Tom Ingram. Last year Tom was crowned the Ginetta Junior champion, whilst this year he was left trying to get a drive right down to the last minute. In fact, Tom had put a plea on social networking sites to try and help him get the funds together. Luckily it paid off and on Thursday a drive in the Ginetta Supercup at Brands Hatch in the G50 Class was put together and two days later he was in the car and claiming class pole position. Not only that but he then went on to win both G50 Class races. The lad’s talent is obvious yet he is struggling to get a drive. Why is this? I know there are a lot of teams and drivers needing sponsorship and most of the relevant companies already sponsor someone so it can be hard to find funding, but should it not be the responsibility of the team to organise the funding and let the drivers concentrate on the driving? It would be better for a team to have two talented drivers who can mount a challenge for titles rather than having to pick divers who can bring the team money. I’m sure Nico Hulkenburg will agree with this as we all know Williams dropped him from their F1 team because a different driver bought in more money from sponsorship despite Hulkenburg’s visible talent.
I know it is a difficult situation and it costs a lot of money to run a team. This isn’t a topic that I confess to know a lot about but I don’t like to see a talented driver miss out and believe me there are a lot who are. So what can be done? To be honest I don’t really know. But incentives like the Playstation Gran Tourismo Academy are surely a good thing. They spend time plucking out the best driver from a group of hopefuls to compete in a full race season and this ensures that talent doesn’t go unrecognised. This should be done more often. With the backing of major sponsors within the motorsport industry, surely some incentives can be formed to identify young driver talent and then help nurture and fund the driver to become the next big thing. This is why I had such an issue about the SEAT sex drive competition discussed in my last blog. Come on SEAT UK, make a competition to sniff out the real racing talent instead of wasting money on your stupid battle of the sexes gimmick!