FEBRUARY 14, 2006
Promotion, relegation and reality
FIA President Max Mosley continues his press lunch campaign and told specialist journalists today that he would like to introduce promotion and relegation into the sport in 2008. This is just what they want to hear because it is a good idea and would be good for the sport and would create more interest in F1 and in GP2. One can praise Mosley for having the idea but achieving it is going to be quite a different matter. One can praise Jules Verne for having written a clear description in 1865 of how to send man to the moon in his brilliant "From the Earth to The Moon" but it took mankind 104 years and many billions of dollars before that became a reality. The task of bridging the gap between the budgets of $4m for the biggest teams in GP2 and the budgetary requirements for F1 which currently begin at about $50m may not be quite that dramatic but it still a massive gap.
GP2 teams employ about a dozen people and buy their cars and engines off the shelf. Formula 1 teams design and build their own cars and require big staffs to run the design, manufacture and run the cars and to find money to pay for it all. In GP2, as a recent spare of announcements have proved, even the top teams like Super Nova Racing are now taking on pay-drivers to balance their books. Super Nova International, Fisichella Motor Sport and Durango have all announced drivers in recent days and it is worth noting that Supernova's Jose Maria Lopez and Fairuz Fauzy both come with cash: Lopez from Renault and Fauzy with a pile of cash from Malaysia. Fisichella Motor Sport is basically the Coloni team with a lick of new paint and this is employing Luca Filippi to race and Turkey's Jason Tahinci, the son of the country's chief FIA official, to pay. Durango has taken on Lucas DiGrassi, who comes with money from Renault. Elsewhere in the GP2 field McLaren is paying for Lewis Hamilton at ART, Toyota is paying for Franck Perera at DAMS and Red Bull is paying for a number of drivers as usual.
Mosley's problem is that even if he manages to bring down the costs of F1 to $100m per team - which is his stated goal and is in no way guaranteed - there is still an impossibly huge gap between GP2 and F1.
There is no harm in showing that one thinks this is good idea but it would be better if there was some clear illustration of how this pipe dream could one day become a reality. GP2 teams have a fraction of the budget of organisations such as non-F1 operations such as Prodrive and Penske and even they baulk at the idea of entering F1. Reducing F1 cost levels to $100m is no help at all, unless there is a mechanism by which GP2 winners receive so much money that they can then seriously think about F1. The only place this can come from is from monies generated by F1 and the teams are going to baulk at the idea that they must pay to create more opposition for themselves.
Formula One Management, which has the cash, is not likely to suddenly be bowled over by a fit of generosity on the kind of scale needed to turn $4m into $50m. Such an investment would more than likely be wasted anyway as it takes a long time to build the infrastructure necessary to be competitive in F1 and GP2 team bosses in such situations are far more likely to take the money and be relegated a year later as rich men.
The other problem with the idea is that relegation would do serious damage to the smaller F1 teams. The British Premier League soccer found that relegation cost clubs around $40m a year in income and had to create payments to act as cushions for these teams.
In short, it is going to take a pile of money create promotion and relegation and the only people with piles of money in F1 are not going to give it away - even if the FIA asks them very nicely.
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