FEBRUARY 5, 2009

Bringing down the F1 budgets

The FIA says it is continuing with its efforts to bring down the budgets in Formula 1 to levels at which teams can survive with minimal sponsorship income. The aim is to reduce spending to around $65m a year. The intention is to achieve this by carefully going through every aspect of the Formula 1 cars and examining which parts should be performance-related and which can be standardised with no harm being done to the spectacle of the sport. Huge amounts of money are being spent on finding minute improvements in individual parts as teams have been unable to find performance from dramatic innovation, which has been curtailed by the regulations in recent years. And while aerodynamic development is an expensive business, it is what makes the biggest difference between the different cars and thus should be retained to a level at which it can still make a difference. Many other parts, notably in the transmissions and suspensions can be standardised without having any effect at all on the show. There is opposition to this, inevitably, but the skill will be to find the right balance between the need for innovation to maintain the F1 traditions of technical excellence and the correct amount of cost-cutting. F1 still needs to have some relevance to the automobile world, assuming that manufacturers wish to continue, but if we see a trend developing of the car makers withdrawing to concentrate on their core businesses, it would be a good moment for the sport to look to new engine configurations, in order to give the sport more relevance in the modern world. If the manufacturers do not wish to invest that is their choice but F1 can always rely on small and ambitious engine companies to come up with new products instead.

The FIA is the rule-maker but it is important that changes are not bludgeoned through against the wishes of the teams. They can be frustrating at times as agreeing things amongst themselves is not always easy, but much has been achieved in recent months with the Formula One Teams' Association (FOTA) and it is best to work with this organisation, rather than trying to force through new rules.

The key point in all of this is that the sport retains its integrity and does not go down the path, advocated by some, that turns it into too much of a show.

People like to complain that F1 is not very exciting but the races last year and the TV viewing figures show that people are still watching. And that is what really matters.

It is a question of balance.