July 27, 2021

Is F1 “a club of billionaire little boys”?

Before the Monaco Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton defined F1 as “a club of billionaire little boys”.

Interviewed by the Spanish newspaper AS, Lewis Hamilton gave his opinion on today’s F1 and the new generation of drivers.

“For me, personally, we live in a time when it has become a club of billionaire little boys. If I were to go back, from my background coming from a working-class family, it would be impossible for me to be here today. Because the other kids would have a lot more money, ” he explains.

F1, a sport of the rich for decades

If Lewis Hamilton indirectly targets Nikita Mazepin, whose father pays for his wheel at Haas this season, or drivers like Nicholas Latifi, son of a McLaren team shareholder, or Lance Stroll, son of the team owner Aston Martin F1, F1 has often been a business of millionaires, even billionaires.

Let’s go back to the 1950s. Birabongse Bhanutej Bhanubandh, known as Prince Bira of Siam, lines up on the grid for the first Grand Prix in F1 history, behind the wheel of a Maserati. The pilot of Thai origin is none other than the son of King Mongkut.

In 1964, Peter Revson joined F1. The son, heir to the empire of the cosmetics brand Revlon, entered six races, taking the start only at four Grands Prix. He returned to F1 in 1971 but died three years later in an accident at the Kyalami circuit in South Africa.

In 1973, Lord Alexander Hesketh, third baron Hesketh, founded his team, without sponsorship. He hired James Hunt from his debut in F1. The adventure ended in 1978, a year after the arrival of multimillionaire Walter Wolf.

The Austrian businessman made his fortune in Canada, operating the underwater drilling platforms. At first, he comes to the aid of Frank Williams, in debt for 120,000 pounds, before buying the team from him. He retired from F1 in 1979, counting three wins to his credit.

And there have been “sons of” or wealthy landowners in every decade. We can quote, on the fly, Paolo Barilla, heir to the family famous for its pasta, Rikky von Opel, great-grandson of the founder of the German brand, Hiro Matsushita, son of the founder of Panasonic.

On the team side, we can talk about the adventure of Benetton, of which Luciano is one of the founders, who had enormous success in F1 before selling his team to Renault or more recently Gene Haas who built his team from scratch. . There are so many examples that one could devote an article to each of them.

And helped them by millionaires?

Besides those who arrived in F1 thanks to their family’s fortune, others have managed to join F1 thanks to a patron. Take the most famous example of the paddock: Red Bull. Behind the energy drink hides Dietrich Mateschitz.

The Austrian businessman invests heavily in F1, initially sponsoring Sauber (in which he later bought half of the shares), then Arrows and Jaguar before taking over the latter for a symbolic sum. But Red Bull is known for its pool of young drivers, including Sebastian Vettel, Daniel Ricciardo, and Carlos Sainz Jr.

But Red Bull is not the only one to have financed the career of pilots. We can talk about McLaren who for many years helped a certain … Lewis Hamilton! Mansour Ojjeh, son of Saudi multibillionaire Akram Ojjeh, founder of TAG, has been a shareholder in the Woking team since 1985, although the aid was spurred on by Ron Dennis.

Lewis Hamilton

Today, we can cite many pilots helped by wealthy people. Sergio Pérez is supported by the son of Carlos Slim, one of the world’s greatest fortunes; Lando Norris, whose father’s fortune is around £ 200million.

Then comes our starting examples, namely Nikita Mazepin (supported by her father, owner of Uralkali), Nicholas Latifi (whose father is the head of Sofina Foods) or Lance Stroll. F1 has been, is and will continue to be a story of millionaires, if not billionaires, eager to spend money.