As previously discussed, F1 is in the middle of an economic squeeze and in my opinion everything should be done to protect the teams and the sport as whole, lest we end up with even more teams leaving the sport.
However the more I read of the FIA’s technical directives, the more I come to the conclusion that the organisation is wholly ineffective in halting arms-race style spending. The reasons are two-fold. Firstly the FIA continues to fail to stop the teams (particularly Red Bull) in their efforts to make the front wing flex; whilst admittedly I am not nearly clever enough to understand by which process the wings do this, I am aware that it is a rather expensive exercise with lots of money being poured into researching different carbon components in an attempt to beat the FIA’s front wing test clampdown.
In addition it is now the second season in which blown diffusers are meant to be illegal. Whilst I acknowledge that from 2014 onwards the exhaust (singular) is mandated to be in a central position in which it will theoretically be unable to blow into the diffuser, but why was this not mandated from 2012? The current method of using the coanda effect to make the exhaust gases seal the diffuser is clearly in contravention of the FIA’s intentions to eradicate the expensive blown diffusers, is clearly employed by nigh-on every team yet the FIA have allowed this to happen.
These two examples are both expensive avenues of investigation in which the more money poured in will result in greater performance. For Caterham and Marussia they simply cannot compete will the more established teams and cannot catch up, yet others still complain that these ‘new teams’ are a joke. However they are simply suffering from a lack of continuity in FIA policy which appears to say one thing yet do another, or more accurately do nothing at all! It is up to the FIA to more closely police the rules in order to allow the backfield teams to catch up and level the playing field before more teams are priced out of the sport.
Force India seem to be in a pickle. Do they plump for the inexperienced yet commercially attractive Jules Bianchi or go back to the tried and tested Adrian Sutil for their second seat?
The team’s financial situation has been the matter of speculation for a quite a long time with Vijay Mallya’s Kingfisher Airlines in utter turmoil. Whilst there have been repeated assurances that the F1 team in wholly separate they are a team with few sponsors, used to promote Mallya’s brands so the jury’s out as to whether Mallya’s cashflow difficulties will spill over to the team.
If the team is suffering from financial difficulties (and lets face it, who aren’t?) then it’s hard to look past Bianchi for the drive. From what I understand he not only brings sponsors but due to his connections at Ferrari may also get them a discount should they choose to switch from Mercedes power in 2014. Whilst this is only a rumour at the minute, it seems likely that Ferrari will look for a customer replacement since Toro Rosso announced they would be making moving to Renault power next year in order to use the Red Bull gearbox/powertrain.
Sutil will have the car for the third day of testing before handing over to Bianchi and it is not inconceivable that Force India give him the drive. He is very familiar with the team, driving for them from the Midland days right up until 2011. In his last two seasons at the squad he was a consistent performer, regularly scoring points and this could weigh heavily in his favour compared to the relatively inexperienced Bianchi. However Sutil was convicted of assault occasioning grievous bodily harm on Genii Capital CEO Eric Lux and it remains to be seen how this would affect his F1 prospects.
The team need to make up their minds as having no named second driver named by the second test is rather unusual and will not make the team attractive to prospective commercial partners.
It appears that F1 is heading to a crossroads, one which threatens the stability of the sport. F1 is not immune to the trends of the modern world, appearing to begin acutely suffering the effects of a financial system in tatters.
Recently Martin Whitmarsh has expressed concern that teams are in “survival mode” whilst Cyril Abiteboul, Team Principal at Caterham, told how the teams are all “suffering”. With untold numbers of job losses announced in another wave of administration for UK companies, only a fool would think the F1 teams are immune to such economic hardships.
However F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone has denied any and every notion that the teams are in trouble. Whilst a quick glance at the new Concorde Agreement, giving the teams 63% of F1’s profits, may appear to show the teams are bound to profit we know this is not the case.
There are a number of factors in the increasing financial strains placed upon the teams, but none so dangerous as egotism. Mr Ecclestone’s failure to find a 20th Grand Prix shows how he will only play ball when it suits him. Whilst Turkey were publicly open to a return of the race, a failure to find common ground on the issue of race fee sunk any notion of deal without a trace. It is in the teams’ interests to have a 20th race as they get a cut of the race fee and added visibility time for their sponsors, yet they are now stuck with 19 as a result of Ecclestone’s agenda.
F1 is precariously placed; with falling global tv audiences (reported to be down 15m to 500m in 2012), lack of sponsors, the cost of the new engines for 2014 and their own failure to reach an agreement for cost-cutting measures, the teams need all the income they can get. However it is wholly unsustainable situation if they are subject to the rule of Bernie, who will act in the interests of CVC, F1’s owners.
Of course the teams themselves are partly to blame. If they managed to find consensus for cost-cutting measures they would save themselves a small fortune. However trust is an uncommon concept in the cut-throat world of F1 which Ecclestone should recognise. Rather that just furthering the interests and profits of a venture capital firm with no real love of motor racing, action must be taken for the good of the sport before it is too late.