Like soap on a rope, F1 driver retainers look like being the one area where the sport’s powerbrokers could struggle to get a firm grip and cut costs.
This week both the FIA president Max Mosley and team owner Sir Frank Williams warned that the issue of driver salaries would become the next F1 battleground after the Honda team’s demise proved that even the most glamorous sport in the world was not immune from the effects of the global economic crisis.
However, while Max believes that cutting driver retainers is an integral element in the process of slashing team budgets from £300m to around £60m by 2010, Williams seems less certain as to how market forces can be effectively suspended in this particular area.
“Drivers’ salaries are the one major snag, an area not addressed in the teams’ unified decision to reduce spending,” said Sir Frank. “If McLaren don’t want to pay Hamilton £15m, then someone else will. Any suggestion of a gentleman’s agreement on this would never happen.”
Top earners in the sport at the present moment include Kimi Raikkonen on a staggering £35m a year, with Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button all on around £15m.
At the end of the day the governing body may be able to dictate the specification of engines, gearboxes and aerodynamics, as well as limiting testing to further cap the costs. But trying to decide who drives what and for how much is going to be a challenge. If top teams want to pay top dollar for the best drivers in the business, then they will find ways of doing it, no matter what.