- Oct 27, 2014
So it was announced on Friday that administrators FRP Advisory LLP have decided to close Marussia’s doors despite all that the team had going for it, including a potential $30 million windfall from FOM for finishing ninth in the Constructors’ Championship this year (word is that prize money will now be forfeited to Sauber). And with Caterham now seeking millions of crowdfunding dollars just to get to Abu Dhabi (#RefuelCaterhamF1), plus Force India, Lotus and Sauber with reported financial troubles, it’s safe to say that Formula One is going through one of its most uncertain periods. But from the tone of several of the sport’s key figures, you’d be hard pressed to think there was a crisis at all.
Most vocal on this front has been Red Bull team principal Christian Horner, who has already said at Sao Paulo on Thursday that even mentioning the boycotts that were rumoured between Force India, Lotus and Sauber last weekend in Austin is wrong:
"What F1 has done during the last couple of weeks with the public slanging matches that have gone on is not good for the sport, because the sport should be focusing on what we have seen in America -- good racing, wheel to wheel racing. The politics and the fiscal issues should be dealt with behind closed doors, with the commercial rights holder, and get sorted."
I might feel more inclined towards Horner’s position if it wasn’t for his similar words in the team principals’ press conference in Hungary earlier this year, lambasting the press for focusing on the questionable human rights record of future F1 hosts Azerbaijan:
“It is wrong to make Formula One a political subject. We are a sport, we should be talking about the drivers in these conferences, about the spectacular racing... Yet all we do is focus on the negatives, and it has to be said, it gets pretty boring for us to sit up here and fend off these questions. How about asking some questions about what's going to happen in the race on Sunday, about what's going to happen in qualifying tomorrow. If you've got these questions then please point them at Mr. Todt or Mr. Ecclestone rather than the teams.”
Leaving aside the very specific issue of Azerbaijan’s race, along with discussions on sport and politics, the attitude that emerges here is one of refusing to discuss awkward questions, of just passing these issues along until they become too big to ignore, and too late to solve. It’s the kind of attitude that got F1 into the trouble it’s in now, and Horner’s words demonstrate how small the teams’ wills are for working together and ensuring the grid’s survival. In this case, and with the defunct Teams’ Association (FOTA), individual interests means nothing gets done. And I don’t mean to pick on Horner or Red Bull specifically, but again he’s been the most vocal amongst the big team bosses, including Mercedes’ Toto Wolff and McLaren’s Eric Boullier, who have all urged fans and press to just focus on “the show”. But the biggest teams are on guaranteed financial ground year after year, and can afford to do nothing; what about the teams who suggested a boycott, and indeed those who have already disappeared? It’s actually kind of ironic, considering Red Bull, Mercedes (as Brawn GP) and McLaren were among the eight teams who threatened to break away from F1 completely after the FIA tried introducing a budget cap for 2010 to ease cost pressures.
Racing legend Mario Andretti unhelpfully joined this debate with his comments to The Guardian last weekend about banning anyone who tried to boycott races in the future:
“These people don’t realise that in the end they’re hurting themselves. Who are you punishing? You’re punishing the fans, who pay to come and see you, you’re punishing the sponsors, who support the sport and keep it alive. You are punishing the core of what makes a sport exist… Teams or people who do this should be banned from the sport forever. There is no place for it. It’s so destructive… There will always be lower teams. I remember in 1976, my first full-time season as a Formula One driver, and a young Frank Williams said to me: ‘Mario, some day I’m going to be like Colin Chapman. I’ve never forgotten that. I would like these small teams, instead of crying, say they would like to be like McLaren or Ferrari.”
Andretti’s logic is hilarious (we’ll stop those teams boycotting by banning them forever! That’ll keep grid numbers steady!), but what’s actually grating is how patronizing this all is. I’m sure all the smaller teams ever want to be is on the level of McLaren or Ferrari, but the odds are so stacked against those not already at the top that it’s virtually impossible to make big steps up the grid, bar capitalizing on major rule changes like Brawn GP and Red Bull did in 2009, or Brawn’s newest incarnation Mercedes has done this year. The top teams get the bulk of the prize money, itself a portion of F1's total generated revenue, and Ferrari gets its own annual bonus for being a historical team; how can the others compete in such a self-sustaining hierarchy? And as for punishing the sport in public? Well, honestly that’s perhaps what’s needed, as we’ve seen in years past that behind-closed-doors politics has done nothing to solve F1’s problems. Why do I get the feeling that if people like Bob Fernley (Force India team director) and Monisha Kalternborn (Sauber team principal) keep their objections quiet, they won’t be listened to? As for Bernie, his words appear to sum up the debacle:
“There is too much money being distributed badly - probably my fault… Like lots of agreements people make, they seemed a good idea at the time. I know what's wrong, but don't know how to fix it."
Thanks to this, F1 is currently sleepwalking towards having three-car teams and looks like it’ll be a case of the sport introducing another “good idea”, then asking questions about it later (double points, anyone?). Is it unreasonable to expect the top teams to sacrifice their spending advantages to help out their competitors? Maybe, but if more isn’t done by all parties, more teams and livelihoods could be lost and the show we’re told to concentrate on will suffer as a result.
But enough from me, what do you make of F1’s current problems? Do you think three-car teams are workable, and if so how? Will you be pledging money to Caterham’s fundraiser? Comment below!