The Formula 1 World Championship is the most popular and one of the most exciting motorsport competitions in the world. Every year, drivers from various manufacturers battle it out on tracks around the world in the hope to accumulate enough points to take home the Divers’ Championship. Over the last several decades many famous and epic battles have played out on some of the most challenging circuits around the world. Fans will remember the epic and heated clashes of the late 1980s and early 90s between Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna. There was also Michael Schumacher who seemed to get under everyone’s skin and, on more than one occasion, stirred up massive controversy because of his on-track antics. Those not into F1 have probably been exposed to the Niki Lauda / James Hunt battle of the mid-70s thanks to the 2013 film Rush. Of course, most recently, we are being treated to a drama-filled clash between Mercedes teammates Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg. For the race fanatic, it’s a soap opera which tops all others.
Not to be outdone by their drivers, the manufacturers also have a rich history on and off the track. On the track, we’ve seen empires like Ferrari fall away and be replaced by new challengers to the throne, such as Red Bull and Mercedes. Away from the track there has been more than enough spy scandals, allegations of cheating, shady back-room dealings and questionable team strategies to keep even a casual fan entertained. Who needs Game of Thrones when you have the land of Formula 1 with its 11 kingdoms and Bernie Ecclestone as King. But why so much drama and excitement? Yes, the drivers and manufacturers get massive bragging rights and companies like Mercedes, Ferrari and Renault can use success on the track to sell their products to the public. However, there is one big thing driving Formula 1, like most sporting businesses – money.
The following list looks at one aspect of the financial side of Formula 1. Here, according to the figures of Business Book GP2014, you’ll find the 15 drivers who bring in the highest salaries in the Championship. At first you may be inclined to think that some of these wages are ridiculously high. After all, most of us have driven really fast, weaved in and out of highway traffic like a champ– or maybe we have actually gone to a racetrack and paid to do a few laps when it’s been open to the public. Sorry to burst your bubble, but the vast (and I do stress ‘vast’) majority of us come nowhere near the abilities of the F1 driver. These guys get paid to have nerves of steel, reaction times of a cat and the mental and physical endurance to handle a 200mph car over the course of an entire race. This is not Gran Turismo. If they crash, at best a multi-million dollar car is destroyed and the team loses possible points. At worst, the car and driver are lost. This is why for the 2014 season teams have paid their drivers a combined $178.75 million in wages.
*Stats Correct as of September 18th, 2014.
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16 T15. Jean-Eric Vergne, Scuderia Toro Rosso - $1 Million
Starting off our list is Toro Rosso driver Jean-Eric Vergne. The former Formula Renault and British Formula Three champion is currently in his third full year of F1 racing. In thirteen races so far this season, the Frenchman has finished in the top 10 four times and been forced to retire five times. He currently sits 13th in the Drivers’ Championship point tally which is two places higher than last season. Management at Toro Rosso must be pleased with Vergne’s progress as they bumped him up from $534,000 per season in 2013 to a cool $1 million for 2014.
15 T15. Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull - $1 Million
One of the surprises of this season’s F1 campaign is surely the success of Australian driver Daniel Ricciardo. Critics will argue that his successes were down to the failings or mistakes by Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg. Regardless of Mercedes’ issues, Ricciardo still had to perform to secure victory in Canada, Hungary and Belgium. In addition, a trio of third place finishes has seen him boosted to third on the current Drivers’ points tally and helped Red Bull maintain second place in the Constructor’s Championship. That’s a real bargain for $1 million per season and you can’t help but think his salary will be increased noticeably for next season.
14 T13. Valtteri Bottas, Williams - $1.3 Million
Finnish driver Valtteri Bottas is having an excellent season in Formula 1. It’s only his second season in the competition and, heading into the Singapore GP, he currently sits fourth in the Drivers’ Championship race. Other than one retirement at Monaco, Bottas has yet to finish lower than eighth and has been on the podium four times. This consistency combined with the reliability and performance of the Mercedes engine powering his Williams car gives the F1 sophomore a real chance to leave his mark in this season’s campaign. Williams clearly liked Bottas enough to bump him from around $750,000 in 2013 to $1.3 million this season. If he keeps this up, the Finn can expect another pay raise for next season.
13 T13. Kevin Magnussen, McLaren - $1.3 Million
What were you doing when you were 21 years old? Kevin Magnussen can tell his friends that he raced professionally for McLaren in Formula 1. The Formula Ford and Formula Renault champion has had a decent 2014 season, so far. The campaign started out spectacularly for the Dane, grabbing a second-place result in Australia. Since then, results have dropped off but he has managed seven top-10 finishes which sees him sitting 12th in the Drivers’ Championship. McLaren are likely pleased with the progress of their first-year driver and hope he replicates the success of teammate Jenson Button as he develops over the coming seasons.
12 Adrian Sutil, Sauber - $2.7 Million
Sauber’s Adrian Sutil hasn’t had the best of F1 seasons so far. The German had his best season in 2011 when he finished 9th in the Driver standings while driving for Force India. Currently, he sits 17th with no championship points. He has yet to finish higher than 11th this season and, judging by teammate Esteban Gutierrez’ results, the Ferrari-powered Saubers have a way to go if they are going to compete with the rest of the field. Nonetheless, Sauber pay the 31 year old well. It’s just a question of whether such money can recreate the success of 2007 and 2008 when BMW Sauber finished in the top three with the likes of Nick Heidfeld and Robert Kubica. It currently looks like those days will remain a distant memory.
11 T9. Sergio Perez, Force India - $4 Million
Force India have enjoyed a very consistent run of Constructors’ results with Mercedes as their engine supplier. For the past five seasons the UK-based team have hovered around 6th-7th place on the rankings. In Sergio Perez, the team have a driver who has been consistent over the past few seasons. Before joining Force India for the 2014 season, Perez recorded a 10th and 11th place Drivers’ Championship finish with Sauber and McLaren, respectively. This season, the Mexican driver has displayed the same form and currently sits 11th heading into the Singapore Grand Prix. Eight top-10 finishes, including a third place podium finish in Bahrain, make the 24 year old a safe bet to finish in the middle of the pack. Management at Force India must have been impressed enough to double his wages when he joined the team for this season.
10 T9. Pastor Maldonado, Lotus - $4 Million
With his best finishes in the 2014 F1 season being a pair of 12th places in Austria and Germany, Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado is the lowest ranked driver on this list as far as the Driver’s title is concerned. So far, in four F1 seasons, Maldonado has made the podium just once when he claimed first at the Spanish GP in 2012. Since then, he made the move from Williams to Lotus and has steadily posted poorer results. Some have been shocked considering the fact Lotus managed to finish 4th in the Constructors’ Championship last season. Is it the Renault engine? The new aerodynamics? Or is it the drivers? In all likelihood it’s a combination of all three. It still makes you wonder what Lotus were thinking when they tripled Maldonado’s wages from $1.3 to $4 million for this season.
9 T9. Romain Grosjean, Lotus - $4 Million
Like his teammate, Pastor Maldonado, Romain Grosjean saw his season salary boosted from around $1.3 to $4 million for the 2014 season. That said, Grosjean has posted better stats over the last two seasons. Over the 2012 and 2013 seasons, the Frenchman finished 8th and 7th in the Drivers’ Championship, respectively. Last season was particularly impressive with 13 top-10 finishes, including six podium finishes. This season the 28 year old has struggled to replicate that form. His best finishes were at Spain and Monaco wher he finished 8th both times. Beyond that, success has been elusive and Lotus’ best driver has been forced to retire six times so far and sits 14th in the Driver’s Championship.
8 T7. Nico Hulkenberg, Force India - $5.3 Million
So far, Nico Hulkenberg is enjoying a career-best season with Force India. The German driver’s best season to date was in 2013 when he finished the Drivers’ Championship in 10th with 51 points. This season, Hulkenberg has, so far, finished outside the top-10 once and retired once. This consistency sees him sitting 8th with a career high 70 points. All indications are that the 27 year old will add to this tally given the decent performance of the Force India cars and dominance of the Mercedes engines. Force India have rewarded his team loyalty and performances by bumping his pay up by $4 million over last season.
7 T7. Felipe Massa, Williams - $5.3 Million
Felipe Massa has been in Formula 1 since 2002. He has considerable experience, most of which came during his nine seasons with Scuderia Ferrari. His best career stretch, by far, came between 2006 and 2008 when he finished third, fourth and second in the Drivers’ Championship. Over the past few seasons the 33 year old Brazilian has been fairly consistent in Formula 1, finishing between 6th and 8th place. For the 2014 season, Massa made the switch from Ferrari to Williams and took a pay cut, making him the only driver on this list to earn less in 2014 than in 2013. Making approximately $8 million with Ferrari, Massa now gets paid $5.3 million. For Williams, Massa has been a relative bargain, doing his bit to help the team up to 3rd in the Constructors’ Championship.
6 Nico Rosberg, Mercedes - $16 Million
Nico Rosberg will probably be wondering if his name is actually ‘boo’ considering the treatment he received in the last couple of races. Nevertheless, behind the wheel of a dominant Mercedes, the German has shown he is currently one of the best in the world as he sits atop the Drivers’ standings. In general, since 2006 Rosberg has been steadily improving as a driver. From a 17th place with Williams in 2006 to 6th place last season, the 29 year old shows no signs of slowing down. This season, Rosberg has finished 1st or 2nd in all but two races. Of course critics will point out the car failures by Lewis Hamilton and the now-infamous collision at the Belgian Grand Prix. That said, Rosberg has shown that he is a very good driver and deserving of Mercedes’ massive pay cheque.
5 Jenson Button, McLaren - $21.4 Million
British driver Jenson Button has been in Formula 1 since 2000. The 34 year old has had a rewarding career with a championship in 2009 and two podium finishes for the Driver’s title in 2004 and 2011. Since 2010 he has been with McLaren finishing as high as 2nd and as low as 9th in the Driver standings. Currently, Button sits in 7th going into the Singapore Grand Prix thanks to nine top-10 finishes which includes a third place finish in Australia. He sits 34 points behind the next highest driver – Sebastian Vettel – and remains a massive 94 points out of a top-three finish. Despite this, Button’s consistency and experience is valued by McLaren who pay their man $21.4 million a season – the same as last year.
4 Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes - $26.7 Million
Currently 22 points back of Nico Rosberg heading into Singapore, Lewis Hamilton is definitely one of the headliners of this season. The British driver started his Formula 1 career in 2007, ending up an impressive 2nd overall in the Drivers’ Championship. In his second year, Hamilton went on to win the title and show that he would be a force in the Championship. A string of 4th and 5th place Driver’s Championship finishes leads us to this season where only a mix of mechanical issues and one controversial crash keep him from top spot. Perhaps Hamilton’s greatest race so far this season wasn’t even one he won. At the Hungary Grand Prix, Hamilton started in the pit lane and ended up third. It was a feat made even more impressive by the fact that the Hungaroring is notoriously difficult to pass on. Performances like that clearly proved to Mercedes that he deserves his $26.7 million.
3 T1. Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull - $29.4 Million
Remember when Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull beat everything in their path? 2010-2013 was the time of Red Bull Racing and Sebastian Vettel. The German won four straight Drivers’ Championships and set a slew of records, including most podiums in a season, most wins in a season, most wins from pole in a season and most laps led. The 27 year old looked set to continue his domination until new engine regulations were introduced. Now, Vettel is struggling with the new 1.6L turbocharged V6 – as are others. He sits in 6th place in the Drivers’ title chase and 60 points back of teammate Daniel Ricciardo. Despite this, he is a proven winner and Red Bull are banking that Vettel can find his wings again.
2 T1. Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari - $29.4 Million
For the 2014 season, Ferrari re-signed Kimi Raikkonen, a driver who had enjoyed success and won a Driver’s Championship with the Italian team in 2007. With 20 Grand Prix wins, Raikkonen is tied for 14th on the all-time list of winningest F1 drivers. Despite having nine top-10 finishes this season, the Finn’s last GP win came at the 2013 Australian Grand Prix. Nonethless, in Raikkonen Ferrari have placed great faith as they enter the era of the V6 turbocharged car. While the best he has managed this season is a 4th place finish at Spa-Francorchamps, the bump from $4 million to $29.4 million after the move from Lotus probably helps ease the pain.
1 T1. Fernando Alonso, Ferrari - $29.4 Million
Fernando Alonso’s best spell, so far, in Formula 1 came in 2005 and 2006 when he claimed the Drivers’ Championship from Michael Schumacher while driving for Renault. Since then, he hasn’t won again but has come in second to Sebastian Vettel on three occasions. In the 2014 season, Alonso has been relatively consistent, finishing no lower than eighth with only one retirement. This performance sees him in 5th place, just 1 point behind Valtteri Bottas but 117 points back of Nico Rosberg. In all respects, what Alonso has achieved is pretty good considering the weaknesses/bugs in the Ferrari cars when compared with their Mercedes rivals. Realistically, Alonso has an outside shot at third place and can probably help Ferrari secure third place in the Constructors’ Championship if he continues his consistent and $29.4 million-rated performance.
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