Honda website
Honda website

JUNE 17, 2005

The relevance of F1

If you nose around on the Web, you can find a teeshirt which is designed to resemble an FBI-style Wanted poster. The subject of the poster is FIA President Max Mosley, wanted allegedly for "crimes against F1". A cheap shot, perhaps, but an indication that some F1 fans feel that the FIA meddling in the rule-making process is doing the sport no good at all.

Now that Ferrari is being beaten on a regular basis, the TV viewing figures of F1 are rising again and looking around the F1 paddock one sees a fundamentally healthy sport, but for the quibbling of the blinkered folk who have quibbled for the last 25 years. There is no shortage of money in F1.

Thus Max Mosley's press release about why F1 costs need to be slashed seems almost out of place. Formula 1 regulates itself when it comes to money. If the money does not exist the budgets go down. If money is available the budgets go up. If a manufacturer leaves the sport, as happened last year with Jaguar, a rich man comes along and buys the team. It was ever thus. One can argue that the day will come when the manufacturers depart and F1 will be left with nothing but it does not ring true. As Ferrari and Toyota have proved, if smaller teams need engines, there is someone who will supply them. The manufacturers will take care of the sport if only because to do otherwise would be to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs.

One can argue that the young and ambitious never get a chance in F1 but the appearance this year of Christian Horner and Trevor Carlin proves that this is not correct. Good men will always get a chance. The important thing for F1 is to make sure that the ambitious youngsters remain ambitious about F1. The day they start talking about going NASCAR instead will be the day that F1's decline will really begin. If one takes away the technology and the glamour of F1, the danger is that it will become a racing series like all the others.

Thus there is a fundamental question as to why the FIA thinks that budgets need to be slashed by 90% and the sport regulated to such an extent. And one must question whether the plans put forward leave something worthy of being called Formula 1. There are some who believe that the plan is really to destroy F1 in order to open the way for some nebulous series called GP1, a more manageable championship without all these pesky F1 team bosses who think that democracy is a good idea. That seems a little far-fetched as one would have to be a marketing dunce not to understand the value of the F1 brand, even if it has never been exploited properly. The brand values that typify F1 are, in no particular order: technology, excitement, glamour, speed, innovation and excess. But apparently the FIA now wants to prune away excess, technology and innovation.

Cutting budgets and moving away from technological innovation by the use of common parts goes against all the traditions of the sport. Moving towards the IRL-NASCAR model because it seems to offer a better future is, in our opinion, a bad idea. It has all the glitter of Fool's Gold. If one looks at NASCAR these days one can see that the model is flawed. Right now, NASCAR is fighting the onset of more and more F1-style technology as manufacturers try to take advantage of the circus. NASCAR teams are all in the process of building windtunnels, doing manufacturer deals and hiring F1 engine experts. The big teams are getting bigger and the small teams are being forced out of the business.

Thus the low-tech route for F1 may lead to commercial success but commercial success leads to high-tech solutions and along the way, the F1 image will have been damaged. It is perhaps better to let the market regulate itself, as it always has done.

Surely it would be better to move F1 in a direction which makes it easier for car manufacturers to justify an involvement. Rather than cut costs, is it not better to give better value for money? Perhaps it is a better solution to pursue rules for the future which would have some relevance to the automobile industry. Why is F1 looking at V8s with massive restrictions on the cars when there is a discernible opportunity for the sport to embark on something useful such as hybrid or diesel technology. Why fight against a more equitable sharing of F1 revenues? Why should the money generated in the sport be going to banks and offshore trust funds?

The announcement this week that Peugeot is to go to Le Mans in 2007 with a plan to win the French classic with a diesel-powered prototype is a story which highlights the fact that there is amongst car manufacturers the desire to be seen to be technically innovative in competition. There is a technical challenge that will help Peugeot to win market share. Winning Le Mans with a diesel will be a great PR coup and will no doubt bring benefits in the marketplace. Environmentally, it is hard to argue in favour of diesels but there is a very strong case that F1 should be embracing hybrid development.