Formula 1 – an unfair competition?
Only four days after Caterham entered administration, Marussia followed in its rival’s tyre tracks last Monday. The absence of both teams from the United States GP is an apparent sign of an imminent crisis for the F1 sport. Only nine teams and 18 cars were left on the grid in Austin; there has never been a smaller field since the 2005 Indianapolis GP when a tyre controversy left only six cars in the race; and it is unlikely that the two absentees will make it to the remaining two races of the 2014 season – the Brazil GP and Abu Dhabi GP – which will both take place this month.
Marussia is still reeling from the horrific crash that left its lead driver, Jules Bianchi, in critical condition, and now the fate of its 200 staff is left hanging in the balance while the administrators look for new owners.
Critics have long been saying that the present system is unsustainable, specifically the incredibly high cost of participation. Leading teams – like Red Bull, Mercedes and Ferrari – spend more than €200 million a year on their F1 programmes, while smaller teams like Caterham and Marussia go into financial meltdown just trying to keep up. Lotus and Sauber are also struggling to avoid going down the same route; Williams posted a US$20 million loss for the first half of the year while even the legendary McLaren took over a year to look for a title sponsor.
Former Caterham owner, Tony Fernandes, has openly lambasted the big teams and said it was time that F1 reexamined itself. “People can blame whoever, but the big teams are as much at fault as anyone. The gap has become way too big and it’s money,” he said during a recent interview with Sky Sports News.
Autosports reported the breakdown of cost for the average, mid-field team:
TOTAL – US$120.25 million
In an interview with BBC Radio Five, former International Automobile Federation (FIA) president from 1993 to 2009, Max Mosley, said that he was not surprised by the recent occurrences. Mosley had attempted to put a cost cap in place in 2009, but his plans were rejected. Even attempts by current FIA president, Jean Todt, to implement a cost cap came to naught; back in April, he explained: “the commercial rights holder (ol’ Bernie) and six teams are against it”.
“From a sporting point of view, the sport should split the money equally and then let the teams get as much sponsorship as they can,” Mosley said. “A team like Ferrari will always get more sponsorship than Marussia, but if they all get the same basic money, then they all start on a level playing field, particularly if you have a cost cap where you limit the amount of money each team is allowed to spend.”
In 2010, the FIA did set a spending cap of US$65 million, but it was soon abandoned. Caterham and Marussia is in danger of following the same route as HRT, which folded in 2012 after the owners put the team on sale but failed to find buyers before the deadline for the 2013 entry fees.
Mosley attributes part of Marussia’s and Caterham’s financial woes to the introduction of the new turbo V6 hybrid engines this season, costing €15 to 20 million, double of what they used to. While in favour of less environmentally-damaging engines, Mosley believes that the mistake was not limiting the charge imposed by the manufacturers, stating: “…you can spend as much as you want on research but the maximum you can charge per season is something like €3 to 4 million…”
Meanwhile, the FIA will attempt to reduce cost through sporting regulations instead of a cost cap, a strategy that was agreed upon earlier this year. The F1’s rule-defining strategy group consists of six teams – Ferrari, Red Bull, Mercedes, McLaren, Williams and Lotus – each of which has one vote, while Bernie Ecclestone and Todt has six votes each. No surprise that the majority vote favoured the bigger teams here.