Pay drivers! Everyone loves to moan about them and then there’s always someone that mentions Schumacher paid for his seat at Jordan.
Pay drivers have been in F1 for as long as F1 has existed, often referred to as the much better sounding “gentleman driver” in the early days. In total there have been over 800 drivers in Formula One, 400 of those have entered less than five Grands Prix. Not all 400 will be pay drivers, about 75- 100 of them were Indy 500 entrants when it was part of the F1 calendar but some of those will still have paid to be there. We’re left with around 250-350 pay drivers from the very first race in 1950 to today.
The early gentleman or pay drivers were mostly useless but sometimes a decent driver would have to buy a car and enter it just to show everyone what they could do. Mike Hawthorn, the first British F1 Champion, started out by doing this, he performed quite well and was snapped up by Ferrari for the next season. Stirling Moss did similar, he started F1 in 1951 and then in 1954 it was recommended that he buy a competitive Maserati to show his skills. Moss bought the Maserati, finished on the podium and the next season he was racing for the Mercedes works team and finished 2nd in the championship.
In the early to mid-70s Frank Williams Racing Cars went a bit mental with pay drivers, from 1973 to 1976 the team used 25 drivers. Many of the drivers were only there for a single race, only seven of them did more than three races for Frank Williams in one season.
Luckily these days this isn’t so much of a problem, HRT in their first season went through just four drivers and Marussia this season went through four drivers before the season had even started. But this is rare, last season, with the exception of Grosjean’s race ban, the teams all stayed with just two drivers.
Thanks to the FIA Super Licence requirement for F1 you cannot get to F1 with money alone as you won’t qualify for the licence and therefore cannot race. I’m not sure on how the rules were in the 50s but they were far more relaxed and hundreds of men just bought a car and entered it into their local GP. South Africa is one exception to this though, there were many home entrants but they were often of reasonable quality and took part in the South African Formula One Championship. John Love was one of the best South African drivers, he took his 1965 Cooper T79 (a car designed for Tasman events not F1) to the 2nd step of the podium at the 1967 South African GP.
I wouldn’t really say any of the 2013 drivers are really pay drivers, sure they all bring money but that’s what you need for F1 these days, especially as team sponsors pull out. The drivers all have talent and they’ve proven that in the lower series and in F1. F1 now is much better than the 50s and 60s with wealthy men just buying and entering their own car.