APRIL 24, 2007

Mosley pushes customer car concept

Max Mosley was the man who instigated the idea of customer cars in Formula 1 and it is therefore not really a surprise that he is still in support of the idea. The argument that there is not enough money to support 12 constructors has certain merits but there is clearly sufficient cash for 10 and has been for many years. The teams that are opposed to the idea say that this is a fundamental shift in the philosophy that has made F1 great. This is true but that does not mean that the idea should not be considered.

The concept is not hard to grasp: teams spend huge amounts on research and development and the information gained is then used for just two F1 cars. Expanding to two teams would give the manufacturers twice the number of cars for little extra cost. The logic is that if the F1 manufacturers all go along with the idea there could be six constructors, 12 teams and 24 cars.

The problem is that this theory would probably not be the reality. Switching to customer cars, with testing being limited, means that the progress that one team can make is restricted and thus teams with more cars will make more progress. We have seen this in A1 Grand Prix and in NASCAR and it means that two two-car teams will very rapidly become one four-car team and if the big players wish to compete they will then HAVE to have four cars. And that means there will be no room left for existing non-manufacturer constructors, unless they can find the money to become four-car teams themselves. This is not necessarily a bad idea because as manufacturers have proved over and over they may be good at building and selling road cars but they do not have the right mentality to go racing. Thus the best racing teams could be in a position to convince the manufacturers to have alliances in which the team goes racing and the manufacturer builds the engines and pays the bills. This is more or less the case with McLaren while teams like Renault and Ferrari have significant independence to avoid big car company politics, which ruined Jaguar Racing some years ago.

If such deals are not possible the independent teams will be pushed down the grid, will be unable to score decent results and thus generate income. They will either have to go out of business, sell or merge their operations.

The downside of these four-car teams is that the sport will become even more reliant on those involved and thus more vulnerable if they depart. If two manufacturers decide one day to shut down their F1 operations - and one cannot rule this out, even if there are contracts involved - the grid would be cut by a third overnight and the likelihood of finding a rescuer such as Red Bull to come in and save the day is small indeed.

The other point is that with fewer voices there may be less politics but, at the same time, the sport will become more dependent on the manufacturers. Ultimately this will result in the reduction of the money being taken out of the sport by the commercial rights holder because when it comes to negotiations there will be no smaller teams to form an alternative series and thus the commercial rights holder will be in weaker negotiating position.

Allowing new teams into F1 still remains a problem as the only way that an ambitious operation can now do anything is by finding a vast sum of money to buy an existing team. However, racing teams are often built around one strong character and these people will often sacrifice what they have built if there is a chance to join the big game as a manager for a manufacturer team.

Becoming established as a team owner in Formula 1 has never been easy. Nor should it be.