Derek Warwick, vice-president of the British Racing Drivers’ Club, has echoed Lewis Hamilton’s concern that reaching Formula One is in danger of becoming beyond the reach of talented working-class youngsters.
In December Hamilton stated his belief that only drivers supported by wealthy families or backers can make it through the ranks of racing. Warwick concurred, suggesting that even drivers with exceptional talent might fail to progress due to the difficulty of meeting the expense of modern racing.
“If we are not careful, we are not going to get the next Lewis Hamilton because he is not going to be able to afford it unless his father or mother is a multimillionaire,” he said.
While no one will talk about how much drivers bring to the table in Formula One, it costs £270,000-£350,000 to race in British F3, rising to at least £750,000-£1m to switch to F3. Drivers would need around £1.5m to race in F2.
Hamilton grew up on a council estate in Stevenage and his father funded his career until McLaren took him on as part of their programme when he was 13. “My dad spent something like £20,000 and remortgaged the house several times in the first years,” he said. “But today it’s just got so expensive. There are very few, if [any] working-class families on their way up. It’s all wealthy families.”
Warwick, who raced in F1 between 1981 and 1993 has long promoted the sport in Great Britain and is a former president of the BRDC, which supports British talent with its Aston Martin young driver of the year award.
Last year it was won by 19-year-old Jonathan Hoggard. With the award comes £200,000, a test in a Red Bull F1 car and a drive in an Aston Martin Vantage World Endurance Championship car and membership of the BRDC. However Warwick believes Hoggard’s task remains mountainous.
“We are doing our little bit to try and help British motorsport but it is difficult,” he said. “With Jonathan I fear he might not be able to carry on his career because he hasn’t got enough money to make the next step. Which is really disappointing for me because he looks something special and it is rare you get someone so special coming through in British motorsport.”
Hoggard was runner-up in the British F3 championship last year and, in so doing, he also won the Sunoco Whelen Challenge, earning him a drive in the Daytona 24 Hours for Rick Ware Racing. He will make his debut at the race in the LMP2 category on 25 January. Hoggard beat Enaam Ahmed, Jamie Chadwick and Ayrton Simmons to the BRDC award but Warwick was concerned that his skills alone would not be enough.
“Jonathan has no money behind him,” he said. “He is an extreme talent but whether he can make it into F1 I am not really sure. If you have a big budget behind you or a wealthy family, it makes it easier but it is not impossible. It is possible but it is more luck or circumstances.”
Costs involved in racing have increased exponentially in the last 20 years, with teams from karting all the way to F1 becoming increasingly reliant on drivers bringing funding. Hamilton has said he wants to work with the FIA, F1 and British motorsport organisations to investigate ways to make racing more accessible.