SEPTEMBER 22, 2005

The balance of power in F1

FIA President Max Mosley was telling the Chinese press the other day that he does not see there being a rival championship in 2008 to challenge the FIA Formula 1 World Championship.

Max Mosley, Japanese GP 2004
© The Cahier Archive

FIA President Max Mosley was telling the Chinese press the other day that he does not see there being a rival championship in 2008 to challenge the FIA Formula 1 World Championship. This is a view but what it fails to address is that there are perceived to be serious problems in the way F1 operates at the moment and although these relate largely to the way that the money raised by the sport is shared, there are very important issues in terms of sports governance as well - at least that is what some of the manufacturers are saying.

Everyone would like to cut costs but no-one is actually going to do it if they think it will effect their performance and indeed more money is being poured into the sport all the time with BAR-Honda and Toyota building huge new windtunnels and BMW pumping up staff numbers in Hinwil. It is also very clear that Red Bull Racing and Red Bull Minardi (or whatever it will be called) are both going to get massive investment in the next few years, which will probably include expensive new facilities. They are teams which are currently on the side of the FIA, Ferrari and Formula One Management. Against this background, Mosley's talk of limiting budgets to $120m a year is just not realistic because teams will go on spending and spending as long as there is money to be spent.

Mosley is right to suggest that a rival series would cost a lot of money to get off the ground but we have heard talk in recent weeks that the manufacturers may be willing to kick in the necessary cash to start up a rival operation, working on the belief that if they go their own way, with all the major teams except Ferrari, the FIA series would not have the cars necessary to put on a decent show. In the end they would have to switch into the manufacturer series where money would be spread around much more and there would be no questions of governance.

That's the theory and while one can hope that it never gets down to counting cars there is no doubt that two Ferraris, two Red Bulls, two Red Bull Minardis and two Jordans is hardly World Championship calibre racing, even if they are supported by a bunch of low-budget customer teams, buying their equipment although only Ferrari and Red Bull are really geared up to provide proper engineering back-up to support customer operations.

If the manufacturers can hold their alliance together they would be able to field two McLaren-Mercedes, two Williams-Cosworths, two BAR-Hondas, two BMW Saubers, two Toyotas and two Renaults. They may also be a new secondary team from McLaren. This would be 14 cars and there would be more openings for other B teams because the teams are bigger and have more industrial capacity. More importantly the manufacturers have all the good brands, bar Ferrari. Red Bull is famous for being an energy drink, rather than running racing teams, an activity it has been doing at F1 level for just a few months. And Jordan (or rather Midland) is not a racing brand of any importance these days, its value having been eroded to nothing.

The quality of the field would therefore be in favour of the manufacturers even if it is too early to say which drivers would be where (although the manufacturers seem to signing up a lot of them - as is Red Bull) but in practice drivers go where the credibility (and the money) goes. Racing circuits may have contracts with the FIA series but if they are offered a better deal and a better field by the manufacturers they might go the other way. The media will go wherever it thinks it will get the most viewers.

Much depends on who commits to the extension of the Concorde Agreement and it is fair to say that the loss of another team would be a serious blow to the automobile manufacturers. We see no signs of that happening at the moment, although in such matters one can rarely trust anyone.

The other big problem, at least from where we are sitting, is that the car manufacturers do not seem to have anyone who has the energy and ability to take the lead and make things happen.

And that means that there is a big opportunity waiting for someone who can show Bernie Ecclestone-like skills and juggle all the players.

Max Mosley does not think that person exists.