Who isn’t envious of Formula 1 drivers? Bravery, stunning ability, physical supremacy and gold-plated glamour make the likes of Lewis Hamilton categorical superstars.
They are paid for putting their lives on the line in would-be death machines for our entertainment. Their salary is often as mind-blowing as street circuit top speeds.
F1 is the pinnacle of motorsport for prestige but other series are just as demanding. Championships like NASCAR and IndyCar require similar levels of courage and honed craft, but how does the lifestyle of their drivers live up to that of F1’s feted stars?
Based on estimates from the 2022 season, let’s compare the pay packet a talented racer can expect stepping into Formula 1, IndyCar or NASCAR.
F1 salaries – $11.4 million average (£9.4m)
F1 drivers are the highest-paid athletes in motorsports, taking home $11.4 million on average across all 20 drivers on the 2022 grid – a figure set to slightly reduce this year with high-earners Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo stepping away.
But that number omits the contractual bonuses and multitude of lucrative sponsorship contracts each driver receives in a year.
Back-to-back World Champion Max Verstappen was the highest earning F1 star last year, the Dutchman reportedly pocketing $60m from his Red Bull deal including $20m of bonuses.
Verstappen signed an unprecedented six-year extension with the Austrian team that secures his F1 seat until 2028 and brings him into Lewis Hamilton’s previously unchallenged realm of earning power.
The Hertfordshire-born seven-time champion’s base salary is believed to be higher than Verstappen’s at $55m but with no race victories in 2022, the Dutchman even upstaged his great rival on finances.
At the low end, China’s first F1 driver Zhou Guanyu, Nicolas Latifi and Mick Schumacher earned a reported $1m while Alpha Tauri’s Yuki Tsunoda pocketed $750,000.
Verstappen was among the athletes who disagreed with implementing a ceiling on driver salaries within the wider budget cap that was introduced for the 2022 season. No limit exists for the moment, but the FIA could consider it in future.
“I think no one really knows where it is going to go but from my side, it’s completely wrong,’ F1’s No.1 told the press in June.
“I think at the moment, F1 is becoming more and more popular and everyone is making more and more money, including the teams and FOM [Formula One Management].
“Everyone is benefitting, so why should the drivers, with their IP rights and everything, be capped? We actually bring the show and put our lives at risk, because we do, eventually. So for me, it’s completely wrong.”
Reported top five F1 earners in 2022 at-a-glance:
Max Verstappen – $60m
Lewis Hamilton – $55m
Fernando Alonso – $30m
Sergio Perez – $26m
Charles Leclerc – $23m
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NASCAR salaries – $4.5 million average (£3.7m)
Although top-earning stars like Kyle Busch are paid a salary to edge that of Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz, drivers towards the rear of NASCAR’s grid don’t expect to scoop a salary in the F1 realm.
NASCAR is a staple of the United States’ unique sporting culture, with a proud all-American history. It is the smallest of the four US mainstream sports, behind billion-dollar industries the NFL, NHL, and NBA.
Considering the series lacks the global reach of F1 – aside from rare breakout moments like Ross Chastain’s unbelievable wall-ride – and is barely recognised in some US states, there is still plenty of money to go around.
NASCAR is contested by double the number of drivers on F1’s grid, including some part-time competitors who make much less than $1million.
However, all of the top-five earners in NASCAR pocket more than $9million with two-time champion Busch’s $16.9m leading the way.
Busch’s Joe Gibbs Racing team-mates Denny Hamlin ($13.1) and Martin Truex Jr ($10.4m) join him among the leading four money-makers.
Reported top five NASCAR earners in 2022 at-a-glance:
Kyle Busch – $16.9m
Denny Hamlin – $13.1m
Kevin Harvick – $10.9m
Martin Truex Jr – $10.4m
Brad Keselowski – $9.4m
[Source: Flow Racers]
IndyCar – $750,000 average (£616,000)
While Formula 1 stars like Kimi Raikkonen, Juan Pablo Montoya and Daniil Kvyat have dipped into NASCAR, a more common alternative is IndyCar.
A former F1 star is earning the largest salary in IndyCar right now, too. Marcus Ericsson, who contested four unremarkable F1 seasons with Caterham and Sauber and triumphed at the Indy 500 in 2022, pockets $3.1million driving in the North American series.
Although IndyCar’s popularity has been on the rise in the last decade – while NASCAR’s viewership dropped in the 2010s only to rally since 2020 – it is still dwarfed by the stock racing series on all key metrics.
IndyCar does offer a higher minimum wage than NASCAR, with its least expensive drivers earning $300,000 annually compared to its rivals’ $200,000.
Only two drivers make six figures from IndyCar though, with Arrow McLaren’s 23-year-old star Pato O’Ward taking home $1million. Scott Dixon ($707,000), Felix Rosenqvist ($570,500) and $569,600) round-out the top five earners.
Reported top five IndyCar earners in 2022 at-a-glance:
Marcus Ericsson – $3.1m
Pato O’Ward – $1m
Scott Dixon – $707,000
Felix Rosenqvist – $570,500
Alex Palou – $569,600
[Source: Flow Racers]