Ex-F1 racer hits out at shocking ‘10 per cent’ driver influence in modern racing era

Thomas Maher
F1 drivers line up for national anthem.

Arturo Merzario believes modern day F1 drivers play a much reduced role in the outcome of a Grand Prix.

A former Ferrari F1 driver believes the impact current drivers make on the outcome of a race has shrunk to a minimal input.

Arturo Merzario, who drove for Ferrari in 1972 and 1973 after impressing Enzo Ferrari, believes modern-day drivers make very little impact on the outcome of a grand prix and that results are largely determined by the machinery quality.

The 80-year-old Italian was speaking in an extensive interview with Italy’s La Gazzetta dello Sport as he outlined how he believes every driver now has talent that has been honed to within thousandths of their outright potential, and that the differences between drivers are minimal.

Arturo Merzario: Drivers account for 10 percent of the final result

Asked which drivers he would like to hire for his own personal team in F1, Merzario was blunt in his answer.

“In recent times, with the advent of electronics and technology, the differences are really minimal,” he said.

“In [Tazio] Nuvolari’s time, the driver was 70 per cent of the final result. Little by little, it disappeared. In my time, it was 50 per cent.

“Now we have reached 10 per cent, without offending anyone. The born talented will always make a difference.

“First, we talked about seconds, then tenths, and now even thousandths. They all reach great perfection, thanks to simulators, karting training that began at seven or eight years old, and prepared teams.

“Being lucky enough to join a team like Ferrari, Mercedes and Red Bull is not easy. There are other motivations and other political and industrial interests.

“In the ’60s and ’70s – I dare say until the end of the ’80s – a team’s choice of drivers was dictated by the abilities that could be seen. Then came the time for briefcases.

“It didn’t matter whose money it was – whether it was from the mother, the grandfather or the sponsor. So the seat was taken away from those who were more talented.”

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Arturo Merzario: Motorsport needs to be more human

Merzario, who became a hero in 1976 as he came to the rescue of Niki Lauda as the Austrian was trapped in his burning Ferrari at the 1976 German Grand Prix, last year explained to Gazzetta that he is no longer a huge fan of F1.

“I don’t like Formula 1 nowadays – not because the drivers are not good enough, but because it all has become too easy,” he said at the 2023 Minardi Day.

“There are lots of electronic parts of the car which make the driver’s job easy, they don’t struggle as we used to and that’s where you lose the good part of motorsport.

“Don’t get me wrong, the best driver will still emerge, win, and make a difference.”

Asked for how he thinks F1 could be improved, Merzario said a change of focus to remove the reliance on the mechanical side and giving back some relevance to the input of the driver would be a step in the right direction.

“There would be many things to say… First of all, motorsport should be made human and no longer just technical,” he said.

“This also applies to minor formulas. The decision rests too much with the [pit] wall. It is a set of opinions – not only personal ones but also of computers and equipment that determine the progress of a race. We should return to human sensation.

“The driver should rely on his abilities by discussing them with his technicians. The figure of the mechanic, then, matters little in F1 compared to before.

“There is no longer the generic one who knew how to do everything, subordinate only to the engineers as they were called to control everything. Again, I don’t want to offend anyone, but it’s a sad reality. It also applies to other sports.”

The current state of play means that some drivers can have “life-changing” moments in their career, Merzario believes, by simply being in the right place at the right time.

“Unfortunately, everyone only sees the car that wins,” he said.

“In recent years, it is Red Bull with [Max] Verstappen. First, it was [Lewis] Hamilton with Mercedes. And, in even earlier years, it had been [Michael] Schumacher at the wheel of Ferrari.

“And the McLaren era… Indeed, the goal of every driver is to get into a mechanical vehicle in order to obtain the best result.

“Something that perhaps had not previously occurred. Regardless of the brand, you always have to go for the best car. This also happens: you can arrive in the right place, but at the wrong time and vice versa. So it can also change your life.”

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