Written by Ben Jose*
Formula 1 is undeniably one of the most significant sporting events in the world. The billion-dollar motor racing spectacle promises large money to the athletes competing in the sport. Like any other sport, every junior athlete's dream is to reach the highest division of their respective sport, which massively guarantees financial security. Even though this path to the top step of sports is often a long and treacherous one, the consensus among all professional athletes is that 'hard work beats talent.' This may be true for other competitive sports but does not always seem accurate in the world of Formula 1. There is already an undeniable handicap for young drivers who do not have a well-backed economic status. The monetary investment required to raise the ranks of Formula 1 is a seismic one. Top universities are not rushing to offer young racing drivers' scholarships, nor are there a ton of sponsors ready to pay a considerable sum to help the drivers out. Drivers simply need to hope that their parents or guardians can raise enough capital to help them in their karting career, from which even more money needs to be spent on the F4 regional circuit , F3 feeder series and finally F2 feeder series. Until a driver steps foot into a Formula 1 car, they are losing money. Therefore, it is baffling to notice that the champion of the F2 series is not guaranteed a seat in Formula 1 but is instead overlooked by other candidates who finished below them.
When a major investment is made onto a junior driver, the main expectation from the drivers is to compete to the best of their ability and prove that their worthy of an F1 seat. Being an F2 champion should be enough proof that a driver is ready to step up in competition. The F1 seat represents validation for their hard work and the reward for their sacrifices. However, this isn't the reality. F2 champions are not guaranteed an F1 seat simply because they do not have the required financial backing. Formula 1 is an expensive sport. Running a Formula 1 team requires an enormous amount of capital which most teams do not possess. This lack of capital is substituted by signing a driver from the junior series, generally F2, who already has sponsors backing them. Therefore, the top driver in the junior series is not always given a vacant seat. This was visibly seen in the 2019 season when the Formula 2 champion Nyck de Vries .
I did not get a seat in Formula 1 but Nicholas Latifi  had secured his Formula 1 seat even after finishing below De Vries in the standings simply because of his ability to provide better sponsorship. In no other sport does a competitor who has qualified for the next series get denied their rightful spot for not having enough financial backing. When Norwich City won the English Football League Championship, they were guaranteed a spot in the Premier League, irrelevant of the size of investment of the lower finishing teams.
Formula 2 champions need to be given a seat in Formula 1. This must be put into legislation by the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile, the organization overseeing Formula 1. Teams must only be allowed to approach the champion for the vacant seat initially, and only upon rejection can they sign other drivers. Even though this new law may seem fruitful in theory, there are significant arguments to be made against this legislation. Teams need money to compete with the significantly bigger teams. One of the only ways to attain this required money is to sign a driver with large capital. This was controversially the path Haas F1 team chose in the 2021 season when they signed Nikita Mazepin . an F2 driver who finished 5th in the standings and overlooked talented drivers like Callum Illott, who finished 2nd in the standings. Nikita was signed because of his family's willingness to become the title sponsor of the team. Another reason for the disapproval of the law is the lack of Formula 1 seats in general. Formula 1 currently only has ten teams competing with 20 available seats. Top running teams often stay with their driver pairings for more than one season. If most teams are happy with their current driver lineup, there aren't any vacancies for the Formula 2 champion. This is a valid argument but does not affect the new law. The legislation simply asks teams to prioritize the F2 champion over all other junior drivers only if there is a vacancy. There is no need for forceful hiring.
Even though the above issues are primarily pointed out against the new legislation, the FIA has already addressed these issues. The introduction of cost caps for all teams have allowed slower cars to finally have a fighting chance with the same resources, eliminating the need to hire a driver with the focus of monetary resources at the forefront. Formula 1 is a sport where the best drivers in the world compete against each other to determine the best overall. However, there is an argument that the current grid does not consist of the most elite talent around the globe.
The reality that most talented drivers are overlooked because of their lack of financial resources is disheartening. Different sources  the F1 paddock has stated that the current F2 championship leader, Oscar Piastri, is not in talks with any F1 teams for a seat. Instead, current runner up Guanyu Zhou is set to make his F1 debut irrelevant of where he finishes because of his Chinese sponsors. Piastri, in his rookie season, has proven to be a 'generational talent' but is currently being overlooked. If Zhou gets the seat over Piastri, even after Piastri wins the championship, it would be the 2nd time in 3 years that the Formula 2 champion is overlooked for an F1 seat. That is an extremely unfair and poor statistic.
*The author is a Sports Law Analyst, Centre for Sports Law, Economics and Policy, IFIM Law School.
(The image used here is for representational purposes only)
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