This is the time of year when the music stops and drivers start inking their deals with teams for the rapidly approaching season.
When mutual attraction strikes between team and driver, both parties inevitably just want to dive straight into bed together and get on with the fun bit and go racing.
Racing driver contracts are like contraception: an interruptive hassle, yet essential protection if you want to avoid nasty surprises.
You can proceed without of course and hope for the best, but what happens when the season starts and you find that your engineer has been switched to your team mate's car? Or the two days of 'private' testing you'd been promised turn out to be a couple of 45min sessions squeezed in during a lunchtime at Snetterton? How about the extra car or two that the team sign up at the last minute which they promise "won't compromise your programme" - until a team mate's shunt leaves you without access to spares in the middle of a race weekend?
These have all happened to me and, along with countless other examples, have helped me learn that there are some essential issues to be ironed out up front and enshrined in writing before the season starts - particularly if you are an amateur ‘gentleman’ driver, or a young single-seater aspirant, paying a not inconsiderable sum of money for your seat.
I’ve been asked a lot lately to help such drivers find and negotiate drives and below is a typical list of questions I would normally ask teams on their behalf. Not all of them are relevant to every situation, and some needn’t be brought up at all when dealing with highly established and capable outfits whose reputation precedes them. But I take the view that it costs nothing to ask and, in my experience, the only people who take offence to these kind of queries are the ones without a suitable answer.
(In no particular order...)
1. How many cars do you propose to run?
2. Who are the co-drivers/team mates (and, if applicable, what are their driver ratings - gold/silver/bronze etc)?
3. How old is the exact car you anticipate providing the driver, and what - if any - updates are available from the manufacturer that you don’t yet have for it?
4. What tyres will you use (if open tyre formula)?
5. What is the budget requirement from the driver?
6. Does the figure include relevant taxes (e.g. VAT)?
7. How many sets of tyres are included in the budget?
8. How many test days?
9. What type of test days will they be - general, semi-exclusive, or exclusive?
10. How many kilometres (or ECU-measured engine hours) and new sets of tyres can the driver expect to be given in testing?
11. What is the team’s policy regards data sharing between team drivers and cars?
12. (Sportscars) Who do you anticipate qualifying the car and starting the races?
13. Does the deal include insurance?
14. If so, what is the premium and excess?
15. What does the insurance policy NOT cover (fire damage for example)?
16. Exactly what spares will you carry to the races? (Engine? Gearbox? Tub/chassis?)
17. Will the car be used in any other series or by any other drivers for testing/racing during the season?
18. If so, what happens if it is shunted and cannot be repaired in time?
19. (Sportscars) If the car is retired for any reason from a race before the driver gets to drive, can you refund any of budget?
20. How about if the car fails pre or post race scruitineering?
21. What will be the staffing structure of the team - how many engineers/mechanics will be on each car?
22. Who exactly are the proposed engineers/mechanics and what are their backgrounds?
23. Will there be any support staff - driver coach/physio etc?
24. What branding space is available on the car/team/driver suits etc and what will be the base colour and livery?
25. Does the deal include any extra passes or hospitality for guests? How much can they be purchased for?
26. Does the team have a marketing programme of any kind?
27. If so, does it include the production of posters/flyers/hero-cards etc that I can give to my sponsors?
28. What are the payment terms/schedule?
29. What happens with any prize money?
30. If the driver is unable to race for any reason (force-majeure), would he be able to nominate a replacement (and thereby sell his seat to recoup some of the fees)?
31. What, if any, travel expenses are included for both race weekends and tests?
32. If by the end of the season the anticipated number of test days has not been completed, will there be a refund or credit? If so, how much?
Now, what you make of the answers to these questions is up to you - but be wary of a team that can’t give a straight answer or is unwilling to put certain things in writing. Almost always there will be a reason, but not often one that you will like.
Remember also though, that it’s a two-way street. Race teams have huge upfront costs and, when they commit to a driver, they too are making a significant investment in you. By the time they have paid for entry fees, hotels, flights, wages, workshop overheads, tyres, mileage and depreciation on the car, there is precious little that can be recouped if the driver defaults on payment. So don’t BS them by making promises you can’t fulfil - it’s a small world and if you get a reputation as a time-waster, doors start closing pretty quickly.
Instead, invest in a lawyer, make a fair contract and don’t be put off if the team’s initial draft feels a little one-sided, you can be sure they’ve been ‘burned’ before. With the good teams there’s always a suitable middle ground - and if there’s not, walk away.