Formula 1 is an elitist sport known as the playground for the rich and famous. It’s clear that everyone in Formula 1 is wealthy, but what about their roots? Many wonder if all F1 drivers come from rich families, and whether being rich is the only way to get into Formula One.
Not all F1 drivers come from rich families. Many of the best drivers have come from middle class families. It’s impossible for a driver to make it to Formula 1 on their family’s money alone – with some exceptions. Having talent and attracting sponsors is the key to getting into Formula 1.
Making it to F1 is not an easy task at all, and money plays a big role in the sport. Moving up the junior motorsport ladder is expensive, and most drivers need some form of financial support. We take a closer look at how much it takes to race in F1 below.
How Much Does It Cost To Race In Formula 1?
It doesn’t cost drivers to race in Formula 1, but it does cost them a lot to get there. From their early days in karting through to the junior formulas, motor racing requires a lot of investment. Drivers that make it to F1 are usually helped out by sponsors from the start.
Racing in Formula 1 is not cheap. However, drivers don’t need to pay to race when they reach Formula 1. Drivers sign contracts with Formula 1 teams and once they are employed by the team to race full time, they star to earn a salary.
The Importance Of Sponsors
However, the drivers have to bring sponsors on board. F1 sponsors are essentially paying for them to race in Formula 1. Drivers on the Formula 1 grid tend to have their own personal sponsors as well, but they’ll also help attract attention from new ones that can help the team.
The costs involved in racing in Formula 1 are extreme though. There are lots of expenses to consider, from race fees to the consumables on the cars and the repair damage if the driver crashes the car or if the car has a mechanical failure.
If the drivers or their families had to pay for them to race in Formula 1 there would be a much smaller grid! Moreover, it would only consist of the world’s richest and most elite families. It would be impossible for the average person to make into Formula 1 and stay there, but luckily this is not the case.
How Much Does Go Karting Cost?
For many years karting has been at the start of any Formula 1 driver’s career. It is by far the cheapest and most basic form of motorsport that you can find. It’s considered to be the grassroots of motorsport, and it’s where drivers develop their ability and their racecraft.
However, it’s not actually a cheap sport. In order to start karting you can expect to spend at least $10,000. This includes buying a kart, (second hand) safety gear, all the equipment you need, as well as the race fees and consumables you need to pay for in order to compete in each race.
The sport only becomes more expensive if you want to become more competitive or move up the motorsport ladder. In order to become a recognized driver and make your way to the top you will need to compete in prestigious and competitive events.
Some of these events, such as the under-18 karting world championships, take place at different circuits all around the world. You would need to pay for your kart, competition fees as well as travel and accommodation costs. So, before even moving up the motorsport ladder, would-be F1 drivers need to spend a lot of money from the beginning.
How Much Do The Junior Formulas Like F4, F3 And F2 Cost?
Cost Of Racing In Formula 4
The next step is often Formula 4, which is a global junior series with divisions all around the world, such as Formula 4 US, Formula 4 UK, and Formula 4 UAE. Competing in one of these series can easily cost upwards of $200,000,even though you don’t have to buy your own car or equipment. The competition fees alone are very expensive.
F3 Racing Cost
Formula 3 is a big step up and it’s the series where the driver begins to be recognized by other drivers and motorsport fans. At this point many drivers will already belong to a Formula 1 academy. However, competing in Formula 3 can still cost up to $1 million or more for the driver.
What About The Cost Of F2?
The next step after this is Formula 2, and this is where the driver is just outside of Formula 1. In a series that travels with and races on the same tracks as Formula 1, there is a lot more attention on the drivers, with their races being broadcast all around the world and watched by Formula 1 drivers and teams (and plenty of fans too).
However, the entry fees for Formula 2 can easily be more than $3 million even for an average team. Drivers do not get paid by F4, F3, or F2 teams to race, and instead rely on their own funding and sponsorships. Drivers will usually work their way up through each of these racing series, and sometimes spend multiple years in each, making the total cost well into the millions of dollars.
Do You Have To Be Rich To Be A Formula 1 Driver?
You don’t have to be rich to be a Formula 1 driver, but you do need to have money behind you. While pay drivers do exist, the majority of F1 drivers, while they may come from relatively well-off backgrounds, bring their money to the sport in the form of big sponsorships.
The truth is that a driver that is not good enough will never make it to Formula 1. Drivers will only make it past Formula 4 if they have won some races and championships in the past. While talent and skill are important, money is unfortunately more important.
Drivers from rich families, or ones that have more financial backing, have more money to spend on better resources and have the opportunity to get into a better team than others. This gives them a distinct advantage over others that don’t have the same financial backing available.
What Is A Pay Driver?
A pay driver is a driver who essentially ‘buys’ their seat in Formula 1. These drivers will have accrued enough Super License points to be allowed to race in Formula 1, but they might be chosen over another driver simply because they can offer the team more money.
From the team’s point of view, money is crucial, because they can use it in the development race to improve their car’s performance over the course of the season, and they can put it towards other general business costs. So, as a long-term solution, a pay driver can be good for a team to bring in more money.
Why Are Pay Drivers So Controversial?
The pay driver controversy has been raging on for years. Many fans do not believe that these drivers should be in Formula 1 as their money bought the seat for them rather than their talent.
The argument, however, is not that the driver should not be in Formula 1 at all. In fact, they worked hard to get there when fighting through the feeder series. Instead, it usually only becomes a problem when a pay driver is chosen over another driver that is clearly a better driver and more deserving of the Formula 1 seat.
What Current F1 Drivers Are Not From Wealthy Families?
There are some of the current crop of Formula 1 drivers that come from wealthy families and have never truly had to worry too much about hunting for sponsorship for their career in motorsport. This has certainly been a huge help to them, but it by no means takes away from their achievements.
Aston Martin driver Lance Stroll for example is the son of billionaire businessman and the team owner Lawrence Stroll. Nicholas Latifi is the son of Michael Latifi, another billionaire businessman. Even Lando Norris’ father Adam Norris is a millionaire business owner. However, not every driver has had a wealthy family to back them into Formula 1.
Lewis Hamilton is a 7-time world champion and a driver that just keeps breaking record after record. He might have been competitive from the very start of his Formula 1 career, but it certainly did not start out in an easy way at all.
Hamilton comes from an average background with his father Anthony Hamilton working two, sometimes three jobs just to fund the start of his son’s motorsport career. Hamilton started out with remote control car racing before moving on to karting in the UK.
His big break came when he was sponsored by McLaren as a teenager. Despite the backing from a major Formula 1 team, Hamilton’s journey to Formula 1 was still not easy. He still had to fight his way through the feeder series and into his first Formula 1 race seat in 2007.
Sebastian Vettel is a four-time world champion, and he took the Formula 1 world by storm when he became the youngest ever race winner, and to this day he remains the youngest ever Formula 1 world champion with Red Bull Racing.
However, Vettel did not come from a family with a lot of wealth. His father Norbert was a carpenter in his hometown of Heppenheim in Germany. It took a lot of saving and budgeting in order to get Vettel’s career started at a young age.
Vettel’s big break came when he was backed by BMW, and he moved from karting into the German Formula BMW series where he excelled. He was quickly propelled into a Formula 1 seat with BMW Sauber, replacing the injured Robert Kubica at the 2007 US Grand Prix. He was then picked up by Red Bull, and won his four world championships with the team.
Fernando Alonso, a two-time Formula 1 world champion with Renault, is the hero for many Spanish Formula 1 fans. His recent return to the sport has been exciting, with many fans experiencing a sense of nostalgia seeing his name back on the grid.
However, Alonso did not have a smooth ride into Formula 1 either. His parents had average jobs, his father working in quarries and his mother working at the local store. The family practically gave up everything to start Alonso’s karting career.
Alonso’s father had a massive passion for motorsport, and he was able to get creative when finding sponsors for his son to go and race. Alonso’s first big sponsorship came when he was still in karting, and from there his talent could shine.
One of the drivers that is known for not being from a privileged background is Esteban Ocon. The man from France, who took his first victory with Alpine at the 2021 Hungarian Grand Prix, had a difficult time growing up.
Ocon’s father was a mechanic with his own small workshop, but their family was struggling. In order to support Ocon’s racing career his father had sold their house and did all of the mechanical work on his cars by himself to help save money.
Esteban and his father also lived in a caravan for a while in order to save as much money as they could for his racing career. Eventually, Ocon’s talents were spotted by Mercedes, and he received backing from the German automotive giant which helped him get into F1.
Valtteri Bottas has been well known as one of the most talented drivers in Formula 1. He served alongside Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes for several years before leaving for Alfa Romeo in 2022. Although he’s clearly a talented driver, he did have his struggles when starting out.
Valtteri’s father was a small business owner. He owned a local cleaning business while his mother was an undertaker. The family lived an average life and were not wealthy in any way. They saved as much money as possible in order to support Bottas on his racing career.
He managed to get sponsors and showcased his talents in some of the most impressive junior motorsport series in the world, racing against the likes of Daniel Ricciardo in Formula 3 and showing enough promise to receive backing from Mercedes.
Daniel Ricciardo is yet another driver who did not have an easy road into Formula 1. Being from Australia it was already difficult for Daniel to get noticed in motorsport. Europe is the motorsport capital and the place to be if a driver wants to get into Formula 1.
Daniel Ricciardo’s father used to run a small transport business in Australia. His father had saved a lot of money and had to live frugally to support his son’s journey to Formula 1. When Ricciardo was a teenager, he set out to live in Europe all by himself with the support of his mother and father.
Ricciardo’s talents were recognized by Red Bull, and he was drafted into the Red Bull young driver academy. The academy supported his journey to Formula 1 and eventually he got his break in the sport when he started his career with HRT at the 2011 British Grand Prix.
Is F1 Only For The Rich?
F1 is not only for the rich, although clearly having money helps a lot. There have been many drivers who have not come from traditionally rich families, with some winning world championships. Some of the best drivers in the history of the sport have come from average families without much wealth.
However, it must be said that coming from a wealthy family is a huge advantage for any racing driver. Lack of finances and funding are the biggest killers of a racing driver’s career, and they have ended the careers of some incredibly talented drivers over the years.
Having a wealthy family removes this element and allows the driver to focus entirely on their own abilities and developing their skills as much as possible. Any driver can make it to Formula 1 as long as they find the required financial backing from somewhere.
Many F1 drivers come from rich families, but there are lots of successful drivers who have come from average backgrounds too. Money is an important factor in a driver’s journey into F1, but drivers can find financial backing from sources other than their family to make it into the sport.