Why customer cars and third cars are wrong

The current debacle going on in Formula 1 has raised the question of whether there should be customer cars.  I have written about this before, but I think it bears repeating. Customer cars was where F1 came from and it should not be where it is going to. If one analyses the sport and asks what’s wrong, the answer is very simple: the sport generates $1.8 billion in revenues and it cannot maintain 11 teams making 20 appearances each year.

That is insane.

To understand why this happens one must look at history. Bernie grabbed the rights to promote the sport and has done an amazing job to build the sport up to the level it is at today. There is still loads of potential for more. However, in doing this Mr E buttered his own toast before anyone else got a taste and at one point he was taking about 65 percent of the revenues and the teams were left with the leftovers. They tried to get together to force him to change but on each occasion Ferrari accepted an offer and split away from the other teams. Ferrari is a key player in the sport and everyone accepts that the Italian car firm is a bit special. F1 and Ferrari go together. Ferrari did what was best for Ferrari. After Ferrari left the opposition crumbled. The end result of this is that Ecclestone has been able to whip the teams into line and keep more of the money for himself and those who have bought into his business.

The problem with that is that over time other teams have, quite rightly, argued that this is not fair and so Bernie has had to make concessions for them as well. Thus today we have a system that is skewed in favour of the big teams. How skewed? Well, read this and weep.

The main prize funds in F1 give the teams a fund of around $800. This is divided in two. One of the two parts in then divided into 10 and so each team gets about $40 million. The other part is divided up based on results, with established percentages for positions 1-10. The championship winners get about $80 million, the least successful get about $10 million. Thus added together, the top team would get around $120 million, the bottom one around $50. The 11th team got a one-off payment of $10 million. These percentages do not change but the revenues go up each year.

In the most recent round of negotiations Ecclestone had to increase Ferrari’s bonus payments to a total of five percent of the revenues: two and a half percent from the team’s overall share of the money and two and a half percent from the promoter’s share. Thus Ferrari gained $90 million before the prize fund was taken into consideration.

In addition to that, there was a new Constructor’s Championship Bonus fund , made up of 7.5 percent of the sport’s revenues (believed to come from the promoter’s share), which is given to the top three teams, based on the number of race wins achieved in the previous four seasons. It is not clear which seasons are included in this calculation, but if we take the period 2010 – 2013 as the guide, we see that the fund (worth around $135 million in 2015) will have been divided between Red Bull, McLaren and Ferrari. There were 77 races in that period, Red Bull won 41, McLaren 18, Ferrari 11, Mercedes 4, Lotus 2 and Williams 1. This meant that Red Bull took home about $80 million in addition to the regular prize money, McLaren took around $35 million and Ferrari took another $15 million. This will change in 2015 as Ferrari’s total between 2011 – 2014 will drop to five, Mercedes will sprint to around 20 and so Ferrari will drop out of the top three and lose its share of this fund.

However, there is also a thing called the Ferrari Protection Right, which gives the team a right of veto in respect of the introduction/modification of any technical or sporting regulations.

Although the Formula One group may now say that they get only 40 percent of the overall revenues ($720 million), it is still a massive amount compared to the 10th team in the Constructors’ Championship which took about $50 million and the 11th, which got just $10 million. There is still a very definite need for a budget cap – imposed by the FIA and not negotiated (although this may no longer be possible because of the need to go through the F1 Strategy Group) and for a redistribution of wealth. There is a strong sense in F1 circles at the moment that the FIA is weak. They won’t say it out loud for obvious reasons but they will say it to people like me and that is the overriding message at the moment: the FIA needs to lead to protect its most important asset.

Customers cars and third cars are simply the start of a slippery slope. Formula 1 is all about excellence. It is about being the best in the world, against the best in the world. If one can buy the most successful car then the competition is devalued – and has less interest for the public. To be the best of the best, you need to earn that status and allowing new teams who have access to cash to usurp teams that have battled for decades to be successful is simply unfair, whether it helps the marketing of the sport or not.

Imagine the situation if the top four teams were allowed to sell two cars to customers. Any more than that and the disaster would happen even more quickly. IndyCar has already been down this path and failed as a result. Once the CART series featured all manner of competing chassis: Chaparral, Penske, Longhorn, Wildcat, Coyote, McLaren, Eagle, March and Lola. Within a few years of open competition the car supply had reduced to just two chassis because the small guys could not compete with the big operations and, in the end, the series ended up with a single supplier.

Formula 1 has always been about constructors – it is what makes it different – and opening the field to customer cars would mean that the back half of the grid would have to make a decision whether to continue to try to climb the ladder, or simply give in and buy success. By doing so they would become dependent on the big teams at the front. There would be little choice because if Johnny-come-Latelys  turned up, the smaller teams would be displaced. With four teams providing four others with the best chassis, the effect would be that the fifth placed team, which currently competes for top 10 points, would suddenly become the ninth best team, fighting for 17th place at best. This would impact on the team’s ability to score points, and thus its ability to make money.

In reality, it would be worse than that because the top teams would always be keen to protect their brands and so as to ensure that their customers did as well as possible they would become more and more involved so that the eight two-car teams would very rapidly become four four-car teams. This would have two serious effects: it would increase the power of the big teams – which would be dangerous for the promoters and regulators – and it would wipe out the smaller teams. At the same time it would also destroy the manufacturing base of F1 so that if one day a couple of the big teams had to close down, the sport would instantly lose eight cars.

It is much healthier for the sport to have 11 teams who are independent of one another. Not all may be competitive, but all have ambition to succeed, rather than settling for customer status. The best way to strengthen the F1 grid is to find a way to restrict ridiculous spending on irrelevant parts and at the same time try to ensure that the money that the sport generates remains in the sport, rather than going off to faceless financiers who do not know nor care about the business, as is currently the case.

102 thoughts on “Why customer cars and third cars are wrong

  1. get rid of all the teams but the top 6. it will not make any difference. at least we will not be passing back markers after the 5th lap. no one cares about those other teams without serious money backing them.

        1. Yes, they were all small teams at one time… but that time was before you needed to spend a bazillion dollars to have a prayer…

        2. Even Ferrari was small at one point. He was just a guy who entered an old Alfa Romeo in a few races, if i recall correctly…

          Of course, by the time F1 rules were conceived, his team had grown somewhat. 😉

              1. No, both things are correct. It was a little team. And Ferrari was not a pauper. It’s just that the wealth requirements were several orders of magnitude less back then. Back then, a wealthy individual could do it (and sometimes did). Now, that’s not enough. A wealthy corporation is required, one with wealth measured in the billions, not just mere millions…

    1. get rid of all the teams but the top 6. it will not make any difference. at least we will not be passing back markers after the 5th lap. no one cares about those other teams without serious money backing them.

      Bernie, as I’ve said before, as a consideration to the rest of us, when you sneak over here, please comment using your RealName™ if you plan to spout such self-serving BS…

  2. What are your thoughts on the recent Race Car Engineering article, specifically the parts about single car teams and allowing smaller teams to buy a bare year-old tub from another team (a la Super Aguri), but with no bodywork, data, or designs included in the sale. The chassis would come cheap, but they would still have to design the rest of the car, and therefore still have an engineering team.

      1. If a team was only allowed to sell one bare tub, supply would be limited and the risk of a “spec” series would be limited. Right now, that would only add up to 4 top tubs, MB, Red Bull and either Williams or Ferrari. It would also allow a team who purchased the tub to engineer it. They may come up with a better idea. At least some of the capital required for tub development could be used for aero R&D.

      2. No, you can’t simply jump from one to the other. You’re missing a few critical differences.

        The whole point is to allow for an in for the small teams, not to limit the likes of Ferrari and McLaren. Innovation for the top teams should be open, and chassis are a big part of that.

        You could take it a step further and say that teams that finish in the top three or top five in WCC cannot resell their tubs. That way, only the Saubers, Force Indias, etc, would have the ability to capitalise on that revenue stream (not possible with spec chassis).

        1. I am not in favour of any of it. I am saying there could be a common tub. They are all pretty similar these days. That’s all.

  3. Well ‘irrelevant spending’ can certainly be levelled at the stupid amount of support staff it takes to rig motorhomes for instance! 16 trucks to cart around each the average teams crap!

    I came from an era when we had two artics, maybe a support 7.5 tonner or something, and a decent motorhome staffed by some hard working ‘couples’.

    Ok the rose tinted specs are on here, and I’m getting old and wistful, but can anyone really tell me that the racing was worse than it is now in the days of Senna, Mansell, Prost, Piquet etc etc etc?? 36 cars at the track, 10 being kicked out after pre qualifying on a Friday morning.

    There were some crap teams, I know, I worked for a few, but the grandstands were full, the racing was second to none, and the whole thing worked. It just did what it was supposed to do.

    We won’t go back to those days, but maybe some more manufacturers would be interested if it wasn’t just so damn punitive to push yourself even half way up the grid!

    1. There were some crap teams, I know, I worked for a few, but the grandstands were full, the racing was second to none, and the whole thing worked. It just did what it was supposed to do.

      What are you trying to say, actually? Or just having a general lament about how frakked F1 is?

      Keep in mind as well that part of the reason why stands are less full now is that there is a plethora of competing entertainment options and channels through which to consume them that simply didn’t exist 30-40 years ago.

      How many TV networks were there in UK in 1976? 1986? Now F1 has its own dedicated PPV channel in UK! But if you don’t want to pay whatever the extortionate rate is to subscribe, one can still obtain the coverage – legally or otherwise.

      In light of this, F1 has to focus on actually producing relevant, compelling spectacle that people other than ultra-passionate superfans who live(d)&breathe(d) F1 want to spend their time and money on and can do so conveniently and w/o hassle. (ie, the antithesis of the Bernie way)

    2. There was once a time when you could buy a bunch of Cosworths and build a decent chassis, stick some Gurney flaps on and do OK on a millionaire’s expense account. Not any more. Aerodynamics is not a black art anymore, it’s a ton of money just to get parity. Engines are a huge expense. It used to be a millionaires playground. Racing was awesome. However, we know too much now. No more garagistas.

    3. I think you’re right Rocksteddie, how much fun would it be if someone like Lord Hesketh could rock up these days, buy a Willaims-Merc, put a young slightly crazy Brit in it and race in the Top 6 at every GP? Nowadays it’s all about Billions £ spent by faceless accountants at multinational car companies, running grey teams…..it was better once.

  4. Joe, what do think of Will Buxton’s suggestion that teams be allowed to buy the previous year’s model of another constructor’s car? He suggests a cost scale based on the success of that car in the previous year, meaning the better the car the more expensive it is. Since it’s a year-old car, it presumably wouldn’t allow customer teams to destroy teams that are building new cars each year, but would still give them a base level of competitiveness. Although, I must say that I don’t see how the system would function under changes in the technical regulations from one year to the next (e.g., 2013 cars being faster than 2014 cars for obvious reasons).

    1. It is the same as customer cars. If you are going to do that then have a common chassis and only allow the teams to do aero. That would work.

      1. I would be interested in your thoughts on a variation on that theme

        – Any new team (Or existing team under 5 years old) can exercise a one off option to purchase full technical details of a car of their choosing from the previous season (Or maybe 2 year old?) for a set price $xx million
        – They are only purchasing access to the car and technical details, they cannot use or race the car themselves
        – The team would still have to design, construct and evolve their car (eg: Keeping up with rule changes) , importantly being a constructor and not a customer car
        – Over several years, as they cannot use the option again, their car would start to evolutionary diverge and become an obviously different design (Assuming most teams would base their first design very very closely to the source car)
        – By de-valuing the big team’s investment it works as a cost cap incentive, as there is less incentive to sink billions in when a new team can gain access to the knowledge for a set price
        – Importantly it gives a leg up, but not an unfair advantage.
        – As an alternative- Make all teams publicly publish full technical details after a time limit (eg: 3 years)

        Hmm – just typed all this up and realised its very similar to Will Buxton’s idea.
        I had read his previous article, but not the current one when I started.

  5. I’m not disagreeing with you Joe, but there was a time when a rich privateer could buy a customer car and develop it themselves, a la Hesketh and Doctor Harvey with the March.

    Even further back, Ken Tyrrell ran Matra’s and then a March chassis as semi works private entries before developing his own car. Mario Andretti was also in a private STP March for some of the races.

    We used to have people buying third car drives like Hector Rebaque with a Hesketh, Lotus 78, Lotus 79, his own design and latterly Brabhams, in a drive bought from no less than Bernie himself. All right he wasn’t that successful but there was the opportunity back then.

    Is there not a case for allowing single car teams, with a year old car bought from one of the bigger teams. It would provide the established teams with a revenue stream and destination for their last seasons cars, if they were good enough. It would also allow someone from the lower formula’s with cash to step up and perhaps make a name for themselves learning how the system works before having to develop their own design. I put the thought out there for discussion.

    1. What’s being missed here when people look back to the ’70’s is that aluminium monocoques or (spaceframes from the 60’s) were capable of being modified with a pretty standard set of tools & there was no crash testing. Modern carbon tubs can’t be modified & even if they could they would need to be crash tested again so there it is irrelevant to look back to the 70’s

  6. I disagree. F-1 has been about building your own car, but to a point. in the 70’s you could buy a March and go racing, but most of the guys modified the car so much it was not really a March… ( Merzerio for one…) Lotus used to sell cars to privateers… Walker and Rebaque come to mind. If you can give a team the opportunity to get a base, then they can spend money on making the car go better in stead of just showing up… As for third cars – yes. their should not be a limit on cars competing from one team. I agree have a “factory effort” all in the same livery but then if you want to run 4 Ferrari’s at Monza open it up to the new comers, etc… invite a local driver to race.
    For Austin put in a NASCAR driver for the race that would crank up the exposure and potential sponsorship….F-1 is strangling it self by being a business… Greed is good, to a point. that point in F-1 was reached back in 1995.

    1. In the modern age (the last 30 years) it has been about constructors. You cannot compare the eras because the money is so different.

      1. I think the money factor is about the same… Stewart showed it can be done with proper planning… imagine if he could have started with a Mclaren Chassis…

    2. This case was perfectly demonstrated with CART. Penske was building their own chassis until it became obvious that it was better to run a Reynard. They shut down their tech side. Other teams did the same. Over time, the manufacturers that were losing dropped out (like Swift). Then we were down to just Reynard and Lola. Then one said “enough” and dropped out, and the other couldn’t supply the whole grid. That’s when ChampCar became a one-make series, with the Panoz chassis, I believe.

      It wouldn’t make any sense for most of the midfield teams to build cars when they could buy McLarens and Red Bulls. They would end up buying chassis, and then when Red Bull says they’ve had enough of F1, suddenly they lose 8 cars, unless other manufacturers can pick up the slack.

      Basically, it just creates a very unstable formula. It might be great for 10 years, but then it would gradually decline as each team tries to buy the best chassis.

  7. As a 20 year old who has watched f1 for the past 7-8 years, and with a number of friends who are in similar positions, I do not feel that Ferrari adds anything to my experience of F1. If they were not there I wouldn’t really care as long as another team was there to take its place. I think this opinion is common between people of my age group.

    Now I know Ferrari get privileges because of there longevity and supposed benefit to the sport, but I feel this is related to the older audience (and Italy ofcourse).

    If F1 were to better embrace social media and do more to appeal to a younger audience, I’m sure viewership would not suffer and less could be done to appease Ferrari because of it’s supposed importance. But that’s just my opinion.

    1. I do not feel that Ferrari adds anything to my experience of F1.

      Amen, brother.

      This is why only Ferrari and FOM ultimately would oppose FIA reclaiming the commercial rights. Because in no sane world would Ferrari ever again be awarded both a special veto power and 10s of millions of extortionate fees to continually enter uncompetitive cars into modern F1.

    2. Great to hear the thoughts from someone with a relatively fresh perspective on F1. It’d be interesting to see whether any demographic focused canvassing and/or study has been conducted by the FIA or FOM to understand what generation Y want to see in F1. Those who have a voice are from earlier generations and what may interest a 50, 40 or even 30 year old (such as the politics of the FIA, BE and the teams) will simply have no sway or appeal to the younger potential audience.

    3. Oliver makes a good point and his generational perspective is interesting for the rest of us ‘oldies’! What needs to happen in F1 is for Bernie to gracefully retire and a new supremo or panel of commercial leaders with proven track records in business/sport to take the helm. It will be their stated aim to re-distribute the $800m revenues more equitably, telling the likes of Ferrari that if they don’t like it they can market their product elsewhere. The good people at Maranello will comply and if they don’t, who cares?

      The result of this would be a much more equitable distribution of funds, allowing ALL teams to participate with a realistic chance of success, better racing for the fans and ultimately a more successful and profitable sport. There are plenty of other sports business models out there to emulate; Premiership footie and NFL, to name but two.

      This would negate all discussions about tinkering with the regulations on chassis supply, third cars and cost capping as all teams would have a fair crack of the whip. In fact, with better distribution of funds, we could even consider a minimum participation cost of, say, $70m coming from FOM and additional team income from sponsorship revenues.

      It ain’t difficult people; just requires some decent leadership!

  8. F1 and IndyCar are coming from very different directions and there is no question that F1 is much healthier than IndyCar. But I think the two series are moving together. One is North America only, the other wants to break into the US. Both are popular in Canada, Australia and South America. One has Monaco and Singapore as flagship events, the other has Indy and Long Beach. One is moving toward single make chassis and needs a cost cap, the other is just launching aero kits for its single make chassis and needs sponsors. Both will have Honda V6 engines in 2015. One has General Motors, another has Renault and Ferrari/Crysler. They all have McLaren ECUs! So when will the merger happen?

  9. I have never liked customer cars. I would prefer to see formula 1 return to a full constructor series. If you want to contain costs, then make sure everyone uses a production engine block as a base for the engine. I think there is too much emphasis on aero efficiency, and all that computing power and wind tunnels have done nothing but create ugly cars and increase the cost of development while reducing the competitiveness of the sport.

    1. What do you mean. “I would prefer to see formula 1 return to a full constructor series” that’s what it is now.

      1. Not all the teams are full constructors. When I say I want to see a full constructor team, I mean chassis, engine, transmission, everything should be built by individual teams, no purchasing chassis or “power units” allowed.

  10. Random thought’s….
    Now: GP2 and GP3, spec cars not team constructed and limited development. No experience for teams in constructing.

    Then: F3 and F2 teams developing thier own cars. Teams get experience in developing and constructing cars.

    So, in the day, Cooper, and Lotus to Toleman could make thier mistakes and learn in a less expensive and public environment and then move into F1.

    Yes, you could quote Manor to Marussia but and F3 Dallara with a production based engine to a current F1 car is a huge leap tecnologically. Which maybe proves my point……

  11. Promoter gets no more than 30% of revenues – period. Watch how quickly they will become very careful with there money.

    Rest of the 50% is divided up amongst the teams on position in constructors table at the end of the year. Sliding scale from winner on down. 20% is split amongst the teams that have been in F1 the longest based on years competing.

    Introduce a cost cap of $100m, per team for anything car and car development\operations related. Violating the cost cap results in a payment of 300% of the overrun to a fund that is divided amongst the lowest three teams of the season. When you are paying back markers to compete watch how careful the teams become on spending and sticking to the cost cap. You want to take 1000 people to each event to entertain people, knock yourself out. But car and car operating costs are limited to $100m.

    $100m is enough for real innovation, but not enough to do real harm to the back markers. Back markers can innovate well technically to push to the front of the grid.

    Make all the software and firmware run in a car open source at the end of the season. Same for aero codes and CFD data. You have one season to capitalize on innovations, but you cant dominate for year after year. This will cut the value of poaching engineers and allow teams to get some stability in hiring costs. If you are an innovative engineer you will still be in demand. Especially if you can make a difference within the one season. It will also make it where there is more public domain info on what the teams are doing to explain to the public.

    Engine supply to other teams can be no more than $20m per year. Required to supply at least one other team, but no more than 33% of the field. All engines from a supplier must be identical for all teams. Engine manufacturers get $100m cost cap on operations for a season, other than revenues for customer engines. IE they can get additional budget from supplying engines to other teams.

    No limits on CFD or wind tunnels except the cost cap. No limits on engine development from the current formula, but the engine cost cap. IE open up innovation. You want more power, but run out of gas at the end of a race, go for it. You can make as much power out of less gas, get on with it. You want to spend all your money on aero….. then do that. Just don’t break the cost caps. Oh and remember all the teams will know your tricky bits at the end of the season, so you wont dominate forever, but maybe you have a way to show the world what you innovated and promote the team and sponsors with it…..

    1. They get more than that. If they have to spend some on repaying the loans they took out that is another matter. They have had that money. But they get more than 30 percent.

    2. Spot on analysis – very good write up!!! The risk to your approach, as Joe has alluded to in many posts, is that the well funded teams (Ferrari &Red Bull) will spend to protect their brands. In a way their spending crowds out many interested parties from entering or winning in F1.

      Your approach should be the way to go but the rule makers write rules based on who is paying them. All we can hope for is F1 to collapse and be replaced by something different.

    3. Problem with this is auditing. Teams will have outside agency’s spending the money on development and selling it cheap to the team, financed by other parts of the group.

      For example, Porsche could develop an engine in the back of a WEC car for Audi to use. Nissan spending countless hours in the wind tunnel for Renault. Mercedes paying suppliers £1m for a gearbox that took £20m to develop, that also sell cup holders to Daimler for £40m.

      Point is, its a nightmare to police.

      1. Forensic accounting is a very advanced science, in any case it will self-police if it is an FIA rule, as big corporations cannot afford to be caught cheating.

        1. You cannot be that naive. A VERY simplistic example: Airbus & Boeing each argue the other gets unfair government assistance. Airbus “above the table” while Boeing recieves government business that subsidizes fixed costs that are in some way shared on commercial programs. That is a trivial example of what goes on everywhere with people WAY smarter than FIA auditors. It’s not cheating – its interpretation. Daniel provides some (again very simple) motorsport examples.
          Our point is that only the people paying the money can decide the value of it. Only Nissan can decide if the wind tunnel time that might help Renault is valuable to the corporation. Or how much of the capital investment should be allocated to motorsport vs road cars vs “basic research” that just happens to expand aeroelastic knowledge to extend fuel economy that improves racecar performance.

      2. UEFA manage to audit football teams in the Champions League, and if they can manage it I’m sure the FIA could. The teams tried to fabricate sponsorship deals to stay under the cost cap in football and UEFA told them to stop being so silly.

        The issue is political will. Perhaps it will happen when Fiat’s financial troubles start to bite in Maranello.

  12. Isn’t it the case that a restructure beyond F1 needs to happen? Most of the teams in F1’s history evolved from junior formulae, where they built their own cars, as well as others for customers.

    Now, the junior formulae are all effectively one-make series. Prospective F1 teams now have no manufacturing base and no infrastructure of young engineers and designers ready to make the step up. Therefore the barriers to entry – namely, start-up costs – are much higher for any potential participant, and the business of building a car from scratch, as opposed to buying one off the shelf is a whole new beast .

    F1 is not the place to make your mistakes as a faltering constructor, and the teams which have come and gone in recent years have been doomed from the start. Only Stewart have come in and made an immediate impact, and no incomer will have JYS’ contacts, track record or attention to detail.

    Add that in to the problem of half your money disappearing into a faceless banker’s bank account before you’ve turned a wheel, and F1 has real, structural problems.

    1. No, the junior formulae have been using customer cars since the 1960s. Ferrari always built its own cars, Sauber came up through sport cars and built their own chassis. Minardi (Toro Rosso) built its own Formula 2 cars, Williams started in F2 with customer cars, McLaren and Manor (Marussia) bought chassis in the junior formulae. Lotus, Mercedes, Red Bull, Force India and Caterham are all F1 inventions.

      1. His point is with GP2, GP3, Super Formula, Indy Lights, Indy Car, FR3.5, FR2.0, FBMW, they’re all single-make. Only F3 allows customer chassis to be sold. His point is that, unless you start in F3 or sports cars, there’s no way for a constructor to get in the game and build themselves up from a technology standpoint. It’s straight to F1, or F3 or sports cars… Nowhere else for a team to work up the ladder.

        Also, if we want to nitpick, Mercedes came from Tyrrell and they started off running Matra chassis… 😉

        1. Also, strictly speaking ‘Lotus’ came from Toleman who built their own F2 cars. 😉 Proper Lotus came up through sportscars and F2.

          My larger point though, was that the barriers to entry are now so huge for a new team, to go from nothing to a factory in double quick time prevents teams from making the step up, and even if they manage it, they often then fail due to most of their initial budget being eaten by those start-up costs.

          Having a business structure where a whole team of hundreds of people are dependent upon the largesse and interest of some billionaire or the honesty of a cartel of ‘investors’ until he gets bored or finds another billionaire or the cartel runs out of money is ridiculous for a sport that generates billions of dollars every year.

          That could be overcome with a more even distribution of income and a budget cap, but motor racing is now dominated by one-make formulae, and that in itself diminishes the engineering talent pool.

  13. As a fan, it’s just sad that massive greed and self-interest are creating this mess. The racing this year has been great, the new tech is fantastic. It would only get even better if we had 12 teams all operating under the same budget.

  14. Half the problem is the restriction in technical regulations. Look at the soap box and lightweight solar powered “formulas” etc to see some variety. Each GP to have 2 cars per competitor and one pit stop, one car a single make and one a Formula Libre.

  15. So there are some very clever people that read this blog. Why don’t we set up our own ‘strategy’ or ‘working group’ and hammer out what we want to see as the future of our sport? I have some ideas for the qualifiying and the race format that I know would make Joe vomit the Penzoil from his guts but let’s set something up where we can get all ideas on the table and work towards a really exciting series. If we get somewhere we could even put it together and present it the Powers That Be.

  16. This might be leftist mumbo jumbo, but couldn’t some sort of “tax” on R&D spending work? The more a team spends, the more it pays into a common fund that could be used for all sorts of things, preferably some sort of redistribution. It should not be a restrictive tax to punish spending, but if the amounts were public it could become a sort of calling card: “we’ve achieved X while spending only Y” to encourage smart spending in stead of huge lump sums.

    All this provided it could be policed of course, but the same would go for a spending cap.

  17. A bare tub is the limit, or to be more precise, a standard chassis/survival cell which delivers the basic requirements of safety and strength. This should offer significant savings over today’s design and development costs. Such a tub should not have an aerodynamic external surface, leaving each team to create all its own bodywork. And before anyone asks, there are some clever ways to ensure that a spec tub does not overly restrict variables such as suspension geometry, powertrain layout, etc.

    1. Not sure about the variables, Peter. When the chassis is built hard points have to be inserted for suspension mounting, etc. That really limits suspension geometry.

  18. How about a control or common front wing it would save many millions and still leave room for plenty of innovation .
    It would be nice if BE could put his hand in his pocket and rescue the 2 casualties to live another day they are competent and sincere no more problems of the 107% rule says a lot to my mind . If they go it will take so much more to replace them we all know Joe so right it’s the minnows that need the support.
    It not as though there was a shortage of revenue it just needs to be more fairly apportioned
    And somehow get one of those spare cars to Austin and give Rossi a break

    1. Joe sorry I can see I left out an ” is” . you normally have no hesitation in pouring scorn on idiotic ideas or nonsensical posts .

      It is a sport we are all addicted to and some changes are now essential. as far as I can see.
      I have long thought teams without any points after both 5 and 10 races should be allowed the opportunity for 2 or 3 days testing it is not going to anything other than help close the gap in performance. I see it has been suggested by others so could be I am not the only mad man .

  19. I kinda disagree on the customer chassis. With at least 1-year old cars (also needs stability in the rules which will also save money) I think it would work for now. Eventually if you want to be successful you’d have to build your own car anyways.

    But how do you feel about the idea of ditching the rule that both cars must sport the same livery? In my opinion its an outdated rule and especially the smaller teams can earn an extra buck by painting the car into the colors of the personal sponsors. Sauber did it this year when Simona deSilvestre tested for them. I’m sure her sponsors paid a little extra just to have their colors on it.

    I’d even go as far as allowing a limited amount of one-off paintjobs so, for example, local sponsors can pay for 1 or 2 cars during the home race of said sponsor.

    The only real argument against it that I heard is that the fans won’t know what car their favorite driver is in. Frankly, if you have a favorite driver you will know what car he’s in and you’d seen his special paintjob for the weekend well before the race on the web.
    And those who don’t are the casual viewers and they don’t really care about those things in the first place.

    1. Would be OK if they had the race number large enough in three prominent places on the car. Then the sponsor livery could be changed to suit as required.

      1. Ì’m following F1 since the late 80’s and I never really cared for the numbers with the only exception that 3&4= Tyrrell, 5&6= Williams, 11&12 =Lotus and 27&28=Ferrari.
        Since they dropped it I couldn’t care less for the numbers..
        The only thing I cared about where the helmets but thats the one thing they change whenever they get the chance. We all know the iconic helmet of Senna, Prost and Mansell. but I couldn’t tell which helmet belongs to todays driver.

  20. Excellent writing Joe.

    Unfortunately greed dominates F1 and has done since Bernie has taken it over. F1 is my sport, I love it but I want Williams, Lotus, Sauber etc to remain as independents, that is the essence of F1.

    You hear the stories of people sharing parts in the 60s (someone broke an axle so they borrowed an axle off another team in order to race), I know that the cars are so bespoke now that you couldn’t do that today, but if they could do you think they would? Self interest dominates and dictates the stakeholders agendas unfortunately.

    It’s all very sombre, if F1 becomes Indycar we all lose…..

    The next item for discussion lets have a breakaway series….and around and around we go…..

    1. The difference is that cars don’t have common parts but teams still borrow stuff from one another. It’s still a village

  21. “Customers cars and third cars are simply the start of a slippery slope. Formula 1 is all about excellence. It is about being the best in the world, against the best in the world. If one can buy the most successful car then the competition is devalued – and has less interest for the public.”

    It ceased being about the best in the world competing against the best in the world when the drivers were required to bring money with them. I think that’s half the grid this year. It’s nice idealism, but it doesn’t stand up to reality.

    “Formula 1 has always been about constructors…”

    If we took a straw poll of the world F1 fanbase, do you think they’d agree? The sport is no longer the property of a small British constructor base, hasn’t been for awhile. If you want it to be about the car, ditch F1 and watch sportscars.

    One solution which I understand will not be implemented: If a person is going to argue motorsport should be relevant, all aerodynamic research done on a rear engine single seater with front and rear wings has zero relevance to the rest of the world. If you’re going to argue it’s good to know that stuff, the aerodynamic research done by the likes of JPL, Boeing, BAE, Sukhoi, the Chinese aircraft manufacturer, etc. completely dwarfs anything done by a Formula One team in a wind tunnel.

      1. There’s little positive about F1 in the year 2014. You want the sport to die like it is currently doing, power to you. It’s been eating on the underclass for a long time – British Formula Three has officially ceased to exist in the past two weeks.

        What do you think is going to happen? CVC one day are suddenly going to have an epiphany and give the teams more money? No, that’s not how bankers work. Ferrari and Mercedes are going to see the light and give the other teams more money? That could happen, but we’re talking long into the future when they realize they’re running out of jobbers to beat, so Sauber, Force India, Williams would likely have to disappear and Toro Rosso officially merge with Red Bull. The back half of the grid could strike, but that’s too 2005 USGP-ish for me.

        And please don’t ever talk about Indycar. The next time you write a post understanding how Indycar works will be the first. If people on this blog want to read racing journalists that actually understand Indycar, google search Robin Miller, Marshall Pruett, Joe Oreovicz, and Curt Cavin, and none of them are the type that sugarcoat problems.

        1. I don’t know if you have noticed but it is entirely possible to keep an eye on another sport as well as being focussed on one. I don’t disagree with you about the junior formulae, I think it is disgraceful, but to think that the sport will simply die is just plain silly. It will change and move on. If it changes in the way that IndyCar did, then it will suffer the same fate. Intelligent people learn from history and anyone who knows about the 1930s knows that the sport is currently heading in the wrong direction, but what is required now is intelligent people pointing this out, not Jonahs walking the streets with sandwich boards that say “The end of the world is nigh”.

          1. > but what is required now is intelligent people pointing
            > this out, not Jonahs walking the streets with sandwich
            > boards that say “The end of the world is nigh”.

            Your off-the-cuff remarks are among the several good things about your blog.

            2 questions:

            1. If you were to wear a sandwich board while roaming the grid in Austin, what pithy phrase would be on it?

            2. Do you know where to get the necessary materials? 😉

  22. I wouldn’t mind if manufacturers were limited to providing one other team, that way you could hopefully have six manufacturers and six customer teams. But I agree we don’t want to see six Ferraris and eight Mercedes on the grid, with only a McLaren, Williams and Red Bull built by their own team members.

  23. Well said Joe I just wish those involved in F1 were not so selfish and could see the bigger picture for the betterment of the sport.

  24. Joe, your argument about this has merit… but that merit rests largely on the smaller teams having a legit chance at climbing the ladder to the point where they have actual hope of winning a damn race.

    IMO, F1 deludes itself if it thinks that many people get excited about some backmarker team earning the odd point or two. Only a very few hard core fans care about that. Regular people don’t want to hear about points for 7th place, they want to see who’s up front.

    While the last 30 years might be the golden age in terms of how much gold Bernie could take, in many ways the golden age preceded that, and included the era of customer cars. What’s important about that is not the behind-the-scenes issues of the small teams growing mechanics and designers, but rather that the small teams could pose a legitimate challenge to the big boys on any given Sunday. When looking at the sports’ need to be popular, *that* is the important part… but F1 acts like it’s not important. (And seemingly, so do you?) Which is just plain incorrect.

    While I’m not recommending customer cars, the one big issue that must somehow be addressed is that fans would much prefer to have seen Kobayashi in a good customer car, fighting with the drivers of its manufacturer, than to have seen him trundling around pointlessly in a Caterham. *THIS* is one of the problems that F1 must somehow address. It is also the one point that your argument in opposition to customer cars seemingly ignores.

    Beyond abstract claims that little guys can somehow become successful despite all evidence to the contrary, what’s your solution to that?

  25. Three of the most exciting ‘F1’ races that it has been my privilege to witness were mixed formula because the number of F1 entries was too low. These include the 1973 Race of Champions (won by Peter Gethin in a Chevron F5000 car with Denny Hulme second in a McLaren M23) and the 66 and 67 German Grand Prix where F2 cars were also allowed (Jacky Ickx qualified third in a F2 Matra and got up to 4th in 67 despite starting after all the F1 cars). Also, this year GP2 cars have often qualified (same day same track) at speeds which were embarrassingly close to the tail end of the F1 grid and it wouldn’t take much to make these a bit faster, at a fraction of the cost of F1.
    Two different classes would allow the spendthrifts to keep spending whilst creating full grids, some ‘giant killing’ potential a bit further down the grid and an affordable entry point for new teams.

    1. Yes! I loved seeing those old races where Ickx would play giant-killer on the ‘ring.

      I wonder what it would take to fit a GP2 car with a bigger fuel cell, etc.

      I had to laugh the times when the Dallara GP2 car was quicker than the Dallara (HRT) F1 car!

  26. Simtek, Pacific, Larousse, March, Leyton House, Fondmetal, Forti, Eurobrun. There is an extremely long list of constructors who are no longer part of F1. They usually went busy or got bought up by someone else. People do not mourn these teams beyond a slight reminisce, and I think that will be the same with Caterham and Marussia.

    If you introduced a budget cap of 40 million quid, you can gauruntee some1 would try and fail to do it with less money because the history of F1 shows us that no matter what era, there are teams who turn up without solid financial backing in the hope that they can win races and go in adventures and 2 back market teams folding is not the end if the world. Not like 09 when teams with major budgets and large investments left the sport. That really was drastic in comparison and the sport survived in spite of it.

    In much the same way that the commercial folk take their pound of flesh from the sport, so too do these small teams. They compete and offer cheaper rate cards to sponsors, thus devaluing the space sold. They take prize money and payments etc and now we have a situation where every penny of that money has been lost to debts and costs which provide no benefit to F1. Those R&D budgets that Caterham and Marussia spent millions on all down the pan. All those huge investments in the sport have all been lost. That’s why customer teams aren’t necessarily a bad idea, because you know that if Ferrari spend £100million on developing a new car, That they will build upon that development. The audience will see cars going faster and being more competetive. Not cars going out if business. It would be better for all the teams currently involved to have 3 cars each for a 27 car grid. And it would actually cost less per car than it does now as much of the R+D, logistics etc wouldn’t increase in cost by 50%, allowing for better value for money per car.

    1. Sounds lovely and that would boost the sport for a few years. Then Sauber, Williams, Lotus, Toro Rosso, Caterham and Marussia would stop making their own chassis, because it’s cheaper to buy a faster car than to make your own uncompetitive one.

      Then we’re left with Mercedes, Ferrari, Red Bull and McLaren making chassis. Then the unthinkable happens, and McLaren decides to buy a Mercedes chassis (Penske shocked everyone and bought a Reynard in CART). Red Bull decides that F1 isn’t for them anymore and shuts down. Now F1 is only Ferrari vs Mercedes. Mercedes loses a few years in a row and realises the budget isn’t worth the exposure and they pull out. Suddenly F1 is stuck with one manufacturer that isn’t interested in being a one-make series supplier.

      “Preposterous!”, you say… But that’s exactly what happened with CART. Swift, Reynard, Penske, March and Lola all fought, but one by one they dropped out.

      Customer cars worked in 1970, because the cars were far from optimised and relatively cheap. A smart mechanic with some engineering savvy could take an off-the-shelf March or Lola, make a few tweaks and turn it into a world-beater. At the same time, it wasn’t so expensive or difficult to build your own with all the knowledge you gained.

      Now it’s so expensive and so optimised that if you don’t have the resources to design and develop an incredibly complex beast into a top-flight F1 car, you could cut 200 jobs, a vast composites department, wind tunnel, etc, out of your budget and just buy a car. The incentive to give up on building your own car is too high, as was proven in CART.

      Lastly, you’ll get into the nasty side of teams dropping their uncompetitive McLaren and buying up the Ferrari chassis, leaving McLaren with a ton of R&D costs but no customers. That’s likely another reason why all those CART manufacturers pulled out.

      It’d be great for a few years… The term “dead cat bounce” comes to mind.

    2. Reminds me of the loop hole in the prize fund beautifully exploited by Minardi in Brazil in 1986, when the prize money was paid at quarter distance, half distance and on finishing positions.

      Andrea de Cesaris starting 22nd for his first race for Minardi rocketed through the field to 6th just on quarter distance and then coasted to a halt on that long back straight with apparent turbo failure, or possibly he’d just run out of fuel. After which the regulations on running light where forbidden. Paid for the trip to Brazil though.

      I seem to recall the Hakkinen, Herbert partnership at Lotus finishing 4th and 6th in France in 1992 netted them a million dollars. Magny-Cours was also the scene of Andreas’ final championship points finish in 1994 with 6th place and a pay day for Sauber.

      Rest in peace Andrea.

  27. It strikes me that the smaller teams need some way of generating income. This isn’t fully thought through but how about some sort of reverse order prize like awarding extra testing days for the following season for the bottom 3 teams. If they want to use them to improve their car then fine. However they could also sell them to other teams to raise a bit of cash. I know probably unworkable but an idea?

    1. Well, I would think that if F1 shares Joe’s concern about the need to have small teams be the place where new talent enters the behind-the-scenes aspects of racing, then F1 must find some way to support that. If the long-term good of the sport is aided by that kind of personnel development, then leaving it to the Caterhams of the world seems insufficient.

      Perhaps it does make sense to not only allow, but maybe even subsidize, extra testing days for the underdogs. Despite the motivation for having essentially banned testing (reducing costs), the actual effect has been to reward the rich teams, as they can afford to develop better simulators. Nonetheless, simulators are just that: simulators.

      I would think it a very good thing if the small teams’ role as a supply chain of technical talent were to be supported by allowing them extra opportunity to actually get on track and test their cars. It would good for the teams, good for their often-less-experienced drivers, and good for the engineers and mechanics who are learning how to make the cars go faster. I don’t see how simulators are a good substitute for actually getting on-track dirty with the issues of making the car go faster.

      1. Maybe you should get the same number of test days as your WCC finishing position. Finished second? Get two days of in-season testing. Finished 10th? Get ten days of in-season testing. First? Better make due with your one and only test day!

  28. option 1) Given the extra money Ferrari gets and that f1 is just as important to them as they are to f1, twist their arm to buy out one of the failed teams and run it the way red bull runs toro rossi. 20 cars, done in one.

    option 2) split the series into two divisions, gold and silver teams. Qualifying and race position results stay the same, i.e. if a silver car wins, it wins. However, points are awarded differently. The top teams run for gold points, and silver teams run for silver points. Points are awarded relative to finish within the division. Now there would be gold driver and constructor champions, and silver champions. Both gold and silver points get prize money. The catch is- at the end of the season the top silver team moves up, and the bottom gold team moves down. New teams start in the silver group.

    Silver teams now have a chance to score some prize paying points. This makes it easier for small teams to get into and stay in the series. And to develop stronger fan bases.

    option 3) You have to start 20 cars, you don’t have to finish 20 cars. Run third cars, but only run them 1/2 distance. Third cars score gold, silver, and bronze medals for position at half distance. (half distance is half the laps actually run). There is an appearance fee pool. Equal appearance fees are paid to each third car that enters. The catch is the third car driver can only run 25 third car grands prix in a three year period. (Then they must be promoted or sent packing). Third team cars are allowed one new engine and two new transmissions to start the season. After that, used engines/trannies must be handed down from the 2 primary cars.

    This does several things.
    1) opens more seats for young drivers against other young drivers. Alternatively,
    retired drivers can make a short comeback or a one off promotional drive
    2) gives small teams a third seat to sell
    3) appearance fees help pay small team bills
    4) third cars don’t influence end of race drama
    5) third cars add some mid race drama
    6) big teams can use it as test time
    7) The engine rule keeps costs down and forces engine manufactures to improve reliability.

    Just my 2 cents

  29. The Ecclestone/Todt strategy of basing F1’s future on a few top-tier teams fielding three cars is potentially disasterous. Ferrari and McLaren will “always” be in F1. But what about the rest? Red Bull, with its Senior & Junior teams, could be in for a long state of decline. In addition, highly caffeinated “energy drinks” are under scrutiny worldwide for health reasons. All it would take is one devastating “health report” for Red Bull to potentially pull in the reigns and abandon part, if not all, of their F1 racing program. Mercedes at the moment is on top of the F1 world. But if, say, they were to win a second consecutive championship in 2015 who’s to say their BOD wouldn’t decide to pull the plug on the obscene sums of money it takes to be a top-tier team in F1. Wouldn’t be the first time. Moreover, the Caterham & Marussia failures are taking place in a time of “economic recovery” following a near worldwide Depression. Who’s to say they’re not harbingers of things to come? History tells us recessions occur about every 7 years or so. That would put us at about 2016 for the next one. In my opinion F1 needs a TOTAL RETHINK if the sport is to prosper in the coming decades. And this RETHINK is certainly not going to come from rich self-satisfied old fossils like Ecclestone and Todt. New, forward-looking blood is needed. Vision is needed. Steve Jobs was in his early 40’s when he reinvented Apple. He wasn’t 85.

  30. Hey Joe what do you think of allowing customer cars where only the midfield teams are allowed to be suppliers, like the 5th-8th place teams from the previous season? Then you wouldn’t have the issue of the lowest teams suddenly with the fastest cars and the midfield teams could get some much needed additional revenue by supplying these cars for a profit and the lowest teams could run leaner operations by only running race personnel and not r & d

  31. >> With four teams providing four others with the best chassis, the effect would be that the fifth placed team, which currently competes for top 10 points, would suddenly become the ninth best team, fighting for 17th place at best. This would impact on the team’s ability to score points, and thus its ability to make money.
    According to this logic before 2003 (when top 10 started to score points) only three teams should had survived. Which is not true as far as I know.

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