The recent speculation over possible contracts arranged to get Kimi Raikkonen to drive for Ferrari, with special clauses in a Renault deal and three drivers signed for Ferrari, makes one wonder about these highly-valued documents. Now that drivers sometimes don’t complete a contracted season, witness Jacques Villeneuve and Juan Pablo Montoya, it seems that any signed agreement can be changed when one or more parties feel like it.
Of course, failure to fulfill a contract has led in the past to large amounts of money changing hands but this seems to be changing. I heard of no monetary deal over Jacques’ departure from BMW Sauber and, although Ron Dennis has muttered about charging any NASCAR team a bundle should they use Montoya before the end of the season, that has not happened yet.
It would seem that contracts in F1 are less binding on the signatories than they used to be. Maybe that is a good thing; I have always felt that sportsmen are treated more like property than employees in some contracts and it is good to see that they can assert their independence when they really need to.
F1 Racing-live has reported some comments of Jenson Button’s that are quite revealing on the matter of contracts and driver loyalty. Commenting on his past wavering between the Honda and Williams teams, Jenson admits that he made mistakes but points out that drivers need to be selfish when considering which offer of a drive to accept.
Button insists that successful sportsmen must be selfish, ‘otherwise you are never going to achieve’. He continued: “It’s either sit there and never win a race, or fight for it and go on to win a race or a championship.”
It is slightly ironic that Jacques Villeneuve was Button’s sternest critic at the time of his Honda/Williams wrangles, suggesting that the Briton lacked team loyalty; Jacques has found out recently just how much loyalty a team can have for a driver. It would be unfair to judge drivers too harshly when the teams are able to swap them in and out of the car as they see fit.
All things considered, I guess it’s just more evidence of the increasing “professionalism” of F1. If you land a drive with a team, you had better produce the goods (and what driver wouldn’t do his utmost to stay in F1?). And, equally, if your team does not give you the equipment to succeed as a driver, just keep an eye out for a seat in another team.