Mark Webber is really letting loose now that he's announced he's retiring at the end of this Formula One season. The Australian offered a few scathing remarks about his soon-to-be-former teammate on the latest episode of Top Gear (set to air on Monday, August 12 in the US), and now the outspoken driver is arguing that the quality of the grid has dropped significantly since his first race in 2002.
The concern rests with the advent of pay drivers – racers who bring large sponsorship deals to the table – like Pastor Maldonado, Vitaly Petrov, Sergio Perez and Charles Pic. Webber, who isn't the only one to have voiced similar concerns and thinks this trend is overvaluing cash and undervaluing talent. Citing the grid for his first race, Webber told Autosport, "When I was on the grid at the back with Minardi you had Irvine, Salo - all those guys had been on podiums. The grid was just packed full of guys who had won in F3000, won a lot of impressive races."
Webber specifically mentioned Robin Frijns, a Dutch driver that won Formula Renault in his debut season, who Webber called "a phenomenal young talent, [but] has got no cash." The Aussie, who will be joining Porsche's Le Mans efforts at the end of this Formula One season, also expressed concern for Sergey Sirotkin, a 17-year-old Russian pay driver that will work as a development driver for Sauber before taking a possible race seat in 2014. He'd be turning 19 midway through next season. "You can drive the car, but for sure it's not the optimal point to enter, I don't think."
Webber isn't he first to voice concerns about cash versus talent, and he surely won't be the last. But with some inside F1 worried about spiraling costs, including the cost of the switch to the new turbocharged engines, this surely isn't the last we'll see of pay drivers. We only hope a balance can be reached between the talent that Formula One demands and the economics that allow it to be accessible to all teams.