Driver ratings cause controversy once again

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Dri­ver rat­ings have arguably been one of the most con­tro­ver­sial aspects of the FIA World Endurance Cham­pi­onship in recent years. For the unini­ti­at­ed, dri­ver rat­ings may seem like a rel­a­tive­ly unim­por­tant issue in the grand scheme of things, but in real­i­ty they can play a major role in whether or not dri­vers – and indeed teams – com­pete in top-lev­el endurance rac­ing.

Dri­ver rat­ings are the FIA’s way of deter­min­ing whether a dri­ver is an ama­teur or a pro­fes­sion­al. There are four dif­fer­ent grades: plat­inum, gold, sil­ver and bronze. The cri­te­ria vary from age to gen­er­al expe­ri­ence and vic­to­ries in cham­pi­onships such as the ELMS, the IMSA Sports­car Cham­pi­onship, Super GT and DTM.

In terms of the WEC, the dri­ver rat­ings come into play in the two “pro-am” class­es, LMP2 and GTE Am. In LMP2, at least one dri­ver in any dri­ver line-up must be a sil­ver- or a bronze-rat­ed dri­ver, while GTE Am crews must field at least one bronze and one bronze or sil­ver dri­ver.

As the old adage goes, you’re only as quick as the slow­est man, and so the non-pro­fes­sion­al dri­vers rac­ing in LMP2 and GTE Am, which in 2016 includ­ed Roman Rusi­nov for G-Dri­ve Rac­ing, Nick Lev­en­tis for Strak­ka Rac­ing and Paul Dal­la Lana for Aston Mar­tin Rac­ing, play a vital role in how com­pet­i­tive a team can per­form. The prob­lem is, dri­ver rank­ings don’t just lend them­selves to dis­tin­guish­ing between pro­fes­sion­al and non-pro­fes­sion­al dri­vers. Young dri­vers just start­ing out on their careers may meet the same cri­te­ria as old­er dri­vers who just go rac­ing for fun, but will invari­ably be con­sid­er­ably quick­er. And this is where the advan­tage can be gained.

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Rui Aguas (right) helped AF Corse take the GTE Am title in 2016.

In 2016, a num­ber of teams enjoyed con­sid­er­able suc­cess in the WEC by max­imis­ing dri­ver rank­ings to their advan­tage. Rui Aguas, for instance, was con­sis­tent­ly one of the fastest dri­vers in the GTE Am – often quick­er than gold-rat­ed Pedro Lamy –, and duly helped the #83 AF Corse crew secure the teams title in the class. 22-year-old Gus­ta­vo Menezes, also a sil­ver-ranked dri­ver, is con­sid­ered to have so much poten­tial that he was award­ed an end-of-sea­son run-out in the Porsche 919 Hybrid at the WEC rook­ie test; he, too, helped his team to title hon­ours, along­side Nico­las Lapierre and Stéphane Richel­mi in the #36 Sig­nat­e­ch Alpine machine.

Some of these wrongs have indeed been right­ed for 2017, includ­ing Aguas and Menezes being moved up to gold and sil­ver respec­tive­ly, but the con­tro­ver­sy remains. In essence, there are still a con­sid­er­able num­ber of pro­fes­sion­al dri­vers who con­tin­ue to be ranked as sil­ver dri­vers, even though they make a liv­ing through rac­ing. This cre­ates enor­mous com­pe­ti­tion for seats across all forms of FIA rac­ing, not least the WEC.

The 2017 rank­ings are still pro­vi­sion­al, and will be finalised by the FIA in March. Until then, teams up and down the LMP2 and GTE Am grid will be look­ing to secure the best pos­si­ble non-pro­fes­sion­al dri­ver tal­ent on the mar­ket. The full list can be browsed here.

Images © WEC-Mag­a­zin (Wal­ter Schruff)