Mark Webber believes the quality of the Formula 1 grid has dropped since he made his debut in 2002 because of the prevalence of pay drivers.
The Australian feels that financial concerns are forcing teams to focus on budget rather than talent, and that some of the most worthy drivers are being overlooked.
In what he labeled a "sad state" of affairs, Webber believes that lesser drivers have diluted the quality of the current grid to the extent it is actually weaker than it was 13 years ago when he made a homeland debut with Minardi.
"When I was on the grid at the back with Minardi, you had Irvine, Salo—all those guys had been on podiums," Webber said.
"The grid was just packed full of guys who had won in F3000, won a lot of impressive races.
"[Now] there are a lot of talented guys out there, but a lot are slipping through the net, unfortunately. That's a sad state. [Robin] Frijns for example is a phenomenal young talent, [but] has got no cash."
Webber remains focused on ensuring that his protégé Mitch Evans reaches F1, but he admitted he is wary of the 19-year-old being promoted too early.
Evans won last year's GP3 championship and has taken four podiums for Arden in his maiden GP2 campaign in 2013.
When asked about the example of Sergey Sirotkin, who will race for next year, Webber reasoned that entering the sport so young could present a safety concern: "Maybe it's a safety worry, we'll see."
"You can drive the car, but for sure it's not the optimal point to enter, I don't think.
"My job is to get Mitch there to show what he can do, [but] there's not much testing going on at the moment, [so] you have to see what they can do in the period they have.
"Is he [Sirotkin], a Kimi, or Sebastian? We'll find out."
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