Formula 1 Insight

Circles Within Circles

Today, Autosport has an interesting article entitled Analysis: the state of Formula One. It contains the thoughts of some of the teams' heavyweights on the prospects for the future of F1. What I find surprising is the lack of any consensus or unified thinking from the participants.

Flavio Briatore
Flavio Briatore

We tend to think of the manufacturer teams as being of one mind on most things but that seems to be a misconception. While there is general agreement that costs need to be brought under control, thoughts on how that should be done range from passive acceptance of the coming budget cap to criticism of the constant rule changes as a major expense. If we add Gerhard Berger's recent slating of the budget cap as insufficient to encourage the entry of new teams, it becomes clear that each team tends to concentrate only upon its own problems without any real attempt to consider the good of the sport.

So the manufacturers see things from their own point of view, even putting their faith in such unlikely dreams as the Volkswagen/Audi Group becoming involved, while the independents still look for ways to ensure their own survival and, perhaps, add to their numbers. There is no sympathy for the recent demise of Super Aguri, the defunct team being criticized as artificial and insufficiently funded, at the same time as there being no admission that this is the norm amongst newcomers (including the roots of some of the big teams participating in the discussion). Let Renault think back to its days as Toleman, for instance, or Red Bull admit to its stuttering start as Stewart and then Jaguar Racing. Without such optimistic newcomers, the sport will slowly die for lack of fresh blood but there seems no recognition of the fact by the present contenders.

Perhaps it is natural that those involved in the stress of competing in F1 should find it hard to take their minds from the concerns of the moment and see the future hurrying towards them. We have seen how often this affects the FIA, when adjustments to the rules are made by the self-styled experts years after they have been called for by the fans. And this does make me wonder at my own thoughts for a president to replace Max Mosley.

The most widely suggested candidate has been Sir Jackie Stewart, a man with all the apparent qualifications necessary. Yet I have seen it stated that any leader of the FIA should have credentials in big business rather than motor sport. The sport is a business now, we are told, and needs proper exceutive control as a result.

That may be true but it is a strange business indeed, one so splintered into conflicting interests that I cannot see any heavyweight CEO finding it to his liking. While the FIA itself is supposed to set the rules and oversee them, financial rights have been sold off for the next 100 years; the teams all unite in barely-suppressed rebellion against the strictures imposed on them but fight amongst themselves at the slightest provocation. They talk of business models for any team coming in, yet where is the business model for F1 itself?

If it were money we were talking about, the answer would be easy: Bernie Ecclestone is the model. He is the one who has separated financial matters from the running of the sport and it is he who controls that side of things, in spite of having sold the rights to CVC. While Max writes his letter to delegates, explaining his indispensability, the truly indispensible man is Bernie.

This is hardly a business that a CEO from the world of corporations would recognize as such. I can see any such successful candidate immediately demanding power over financial matters as well as regulatory functions. Max makes much of his negotiations to claw back some of what he has signed over to Bernie but any president worth his salt would be more interested in repudiation of the ill-advised sale.

The fact is that CVC cannot agree to any lessening of its power over financial affairs. It is so deeply in debt as a result of its purchase that it needs years of huge profits to get anywhere near repayment of its investment. So any incoming president is going to have to live with a severe restriction on his powers over the sport as a whole. Bang goes any dream of having a captain of industry guiding this particular ship.

So we must return to the idea of a statesman from motor sport taking on the job. Sir Jackie would probably refuse the appointment and it is difficult to see anyone of comparable stature standing in the wings. Is it possible that we should be thinking in terms of presidential teams instead of one man? The task of setting F1 on the right path again is enormous and requires more skills than any single person is likely to have.

The imminent departure of Max (I cannot bear the thought of the alternative) must be a chance for the FIA to consider such radical approaches to the problem. It has a list of prospective candidates suggested by itself, the teams and the fans - let it consider accepting several of those as candidates and a restructure of the presidential role as a figurehead within a team of able leaders.

This is whistling in the wind, I know. But if it is never said, it will never happen and, judging by the lack of vision evident in Autosport's little discussion, F1 desperately needs an injection of new ideas.


I've never really understood any of this nonsense. This is F1, exotic technology, new alloys, new systems, the best drivers, etc. If the teams want (and they can say that they don't, but everybody knows they lie) to spend millions of dollars in the pursuit of half a second, who is anyone to stop them?

The bloody FIA should let them spend whatever astronomical amount of money they want, and they should spend it happily. We could end with cars powered by nuclear reactions by the end of the decade.

If Super Aguri can't afford to spend money, who cares? They shouldn't be in F1 anyway, the other drivers don't need moving chicanes.
Date Added: 19/05/2008

I know how you feel, Haplo - I hate politics too. The trouble is, unless we have our say and point out where the politicians are going wrong, the gradual degeneration of F1 will continue. There is a good case to be made for restricting costs, if only to make it possible for new teams to enter, but the budget cap is an artificial regulation that is bound to fail. It amazes me that so many so-called experts are unable to come up with any better ideas than that.
Date Added: 19/05/2008

Alianora La Canta
If the regulations allowed more scope for multiple development paths, such that even the wealthiest team could not follow all the good development avenues, then this problem of economy would be solved. Yes you'd have huge gaps between the haves and have-nots financially, but the have-nots would be more than pale shadows of the haves because they would have strengths in different parts of their cars' performance. So smaller teams could get on the ladder and gradually grow.

Link this with a GP2 that developed teams as well as drivers - perhaps a dual-championship series with standard cars in one division and old F1 customer cars in the other? - and I think we could begin to get more teams. The statement that getting a big manufacturer in is different to getting a privateer in is folly; a stable platform with sensible progression would attract both.
Date Added: 19/05/2008

Perhaps I am mistaken, but I have never thought the teams agreed upon anything, even the band of manufacturers.

I'm always reading about the meetings they have where there is one team that isn't in agreement, or they can't quite get a unanimous decision upon anything.

If no one else, Ferrari are usually desperate to go their own way and stand apart from the others.
Date Added: 19/05/2008

Pink Peril
One thing I just don't get is why F1 is run so differently to some of the other formulae the FIA presides over - and I use that term loosely ;)

Both MotoGP and WRC allow factory backed teams, and others using the same equipment which are clearly customer teams. It seems to work there, so why can't it in F1?

I know there is obviously a cost discrepancy, but this should become less of an issue with the 2009 regs.
Date Added: 20/05/2008

Pink, the main difference in MotoGP for the moment, is that I think the bikes are all fairly heavily built to a spec, though most bikes are tuned with the rider in mind. Oh, and they can actually choose any tire they want.

Alianora hit the nail on the head, I think.

Budget caps are going to fail, because the teams are going to cheat and spend money in backhanded ways to get what they want, or report their earnings in devalued currency, or whatever it takes to stay competitive, because that's what they do.

In the days when the cars were really pioneering technologies, you'd see several teams trying different "answers" to the same problem, like the discovery of ground effect and the six-wheeled cars. The problem at the moment is that FIA have banned most kinds of development, so it is fairly obvious where the money must be spent, and all the teams are spending that money there.

Her idea for giving the teams a ladder isn't a bad plan either, though I wonder how many FIA types would say that there is already F3 for developing teams, or that somehow the small budgets of GP2 teams are supposed to somehow magically explode into massive riches, that a group like ART are supposed to suddenly leap into F1 and take Timo Glock and Piquet Jr away from their teams.

I think I hear the alarm clock ringing.
Date Added: 20/05/2008

Alianora La Canta
There is F3 and GP2 for developing teams and committed teams do seem to be able to climb that part of the ladder. For example, my local team JVA has gone from being an F3 Euroseries team to doing A1GP plus European F3000 (basically the remnants of the old F3000) in the space of four years. The FIA officials would be correct to say that part of the ladder works, which would probably lead them to assume that the whole thing works (especially those from countries that have no prospect of a team from their country trying to make the final jump).

Unfortunately the ladder is missing a few rungs near the top because the difference between a €3m budget for a GP2 team and a €120m budget for Force India (currently the lowest-budget team) is massive. That's what needs sorting and it makes sense for F1 to help prospective teams join their number in an organised way. Especially when you consider that the former requires no production facilities of its own (only a race workshop) and the latter needs a factory plus a motorhome and an army of staff.
Date Added: 20/05/2008

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