Ideas that F1 ought to consider

I hear that the F1 Strategy Group meeting managed to get through a few points on their agenda yesterday, leaving about 20 undiscussed. It is good to see that the new streamlined decision-making body is working as well as the old system used to… I am of the opinion that this whole new system is fundamentally flawed and that before too long it will all fall apart, if only because the smart F1 teams will all now be asking serious European Commission-level lawyers whether or not the arrangements that exist are within the boundaries of the European Union competition law. If they are told that they are in trouble I would not be surprised if there was a race to get to Commission first because the competition people operate a very clever system under which the first member of an alleged cartel to confess gets to go unpunished, a system that is designed to rip unfair competition apart.

I may be wrong but I’ll bet there is a lot of legal advice being taken on the matter at the moment.

In the meantime it has come to light in company paperwork in Jersey that Ferrari and three other teams have the opportunity to get a shareholding in Formula One group in the future. The Delta Topco Ltd company (95136) agreed a special resolution a year ago that allowed for the creation of two new classes of redeemable ordinary shares known as LST Shares and Team Shares. LST (which means longest serving team) basically means Ferrari and there are three similar shares for other teams, in addition to the FIA’s share of the business. It is all there on paper, albeit hidden away in the back of beyond in St Helier.

The team principals the other day gave some hints about there being financial penalties if the members of the Strategy Group decided to quit the sport before 2020 but – inevitably – no-one was willing to say anything out loud. All the teams are committed to the championship but some are bound with financial penalties, which they believe give them more rights. The shares seem to be the rights they wanted.

What is clear amongst all this skullduggery is that no-one gives a toss about the small teams. This is not a smart approach because small teams can stir up all manner of trouble and, at the end of the day, the big teams need small teams to compete against if they want their achievements to look good. The teams should really know better, because several of them were small teams not so long ago and were simply fortunate that someone was able to pour endless streams of money into them which allowed them to be made successful. Money, of course, is not the only answer but if it is used sensibly then a team should be able to become a challenger if it does the right things. Williams is showing how it is done right now…

So what can be done? If the teams will not accept a cost cap and the FIA will not/cannot impose one, the best thing to do (apart from changing the FIA) is to find a way to slash the costs that are hurting the small teams. The manufacturers whinge and whine about it not being fair that they should foot the bills – even if they neglect to say that F1 budgets are nothing much in the overall scheme of things.

Well, here’s an idea to solve that problem. The big players in F1 are all sharing platforms with other automobile companies in order to cut R&D costs. It is the thing in the industry these days and they do not care because they believe the customer does not know. Mercedes, for example, has AMG and is sharing a platform with Infiniti and with Aston Martin. Renault has a string of brands that use the same platforms and technologies: Nissan, Infiniti, Dacia, Samsung and Nismo. Ferrari is part of the Fiat group and that means that it is linked to Abarth, Alfa Romeo, Chrysler, Dodge, Fiat, Jeep, Lancia, Maserati, Ram Trucks, and SRT. Honda also has the Acura brand and uses Mugen too.

So if we need cheaper F1 engines what is wrong with these companies passing on their engines to their sister brands and allowing them to kick in some cash to buy their way into F1. In that way we could have a Red Bull-Nismo, a Williams-Astin Martin or a Sauber-Maserati competing against a Haas-Chrysler and a Lotus-AMG. Let’s be honest, here, how many members of the general public know which car company is owned by another car company? How many know that Porsche and Skoda are in the same group? Or that GM owns Cadillac? So F1 could very quickly expand in terms of manufacturers even without any new engines being built and each company could kick in moderate funding to be involved. That way the investment made could be spread between the car companies and they would still have cash to put into the teams to improve their performance. The law of diminishing returns means that the engines will, in any case, close up in terms of performance in the course of the next couple of years. The hard work is done. Such activities are absolutely in line with what the industry is doing at the moment.

An even more radical solution would be to what Tesla has recently done in the electric car industry and make all their technology open-source in order to spread the existing knowledge and allow other car manufacturers to join the development race – and in doing so strengthen the industry as a whole.

If only one of the F1 manufacturers was to make its engine technology available to all it would save newcomers having to go around buying up the people who know how to do it and thus get more people involved. The original players would still have the advantage, but the sport would be better off.

The latest wittering from some about changing the whole engine formula is plain stupid, as this would simply mean going back to engines that are not good any longer, or would add to the costs. F1 exists to highlight automotive technology and it could do that much more effectively than it already does. And that would benefit the entire industry, while leaving those with the in-depth knowledge with the advantage. Others could save money catching up but getting ahead would be tough.

39 thoughts on “Ideas that F1 ought to consider

  1. I don’t know whether you’ve seen the article on autosport by Dieter Rencken but he seems to be of the belief that as a percentage of total spend engine packages are cheaper than they were 15-20 years ago.

    Either way I think the bigger spend that is less relevant to the road is the aero race. The front wings these days are ridiculous and teams spend so much money on throw away parts to eek out more downforce. This is the area the smaller teams are struggling to compete in.

    1. Well, they were using up 5 engines this year per car, 15-20 years ago it must have been at least 20-25. So there’s that cost, but at the same time, back then it was more of an engine war rather than aerodynamics. I’m quite sure teams now are spending much more on aerodynamics than engines, so – at least proportionally – engines should be cheaper than they used to be.

      Yes, this year was about the engines, but aerodynamics have come a long-long way (just think double diffusor, F-duct, double DRS, flexible wings, flexible nose, front exhaust, hot blown diffuser, cold blown diffuser – these are just tidbits compared to the real thing that’s going on in the aero department)

  2. The cost of developing the technology has been spent. The engine mfg. now need several years of relative stability to amortize those costs.

    Changing the engine designs, including reverting back to old formulae, will do nothing but piss away more money.

    Could this be a strategy to drive Honda back out of the sport? If I were Honda mgmt I would not be thrilled with the engine direction some are suggesting.

    1. I do not think that Mercedes would be very impressed with a change in direction. What they have learnt about hybrids could be used in the WEC.

  3. Multi-branding of the same components is walking very near to customer cars … the only diff being the carbon tub. I don’t see what’s so special about carbon tubs. What do carbon tubs have to do with cars anyway? The only reason they define a constructor is because the goofy rules say so. If we’re going to address goofy rules, that might be a good place to start.

    Re: spending, I’d vote for a Luxury Tax (ala MLB but perhaps done better)… anybody can spend however much they want, but above a certain threshold each dollar of additional spending is matched by a dollar of Luxury Tax that goes into a fund which is then distributed among the teams who live below that threshold… perhaps with a second, higher threshold that calls for two dollars in Luxury Tax per additional dollar of profligacy. There are near-infinite ways to tweak it to best suit circumstances, which is part of why I prefer the concept to a hard cap. (Nobody who matters would vote for it, but I would…)

  4. May I propose JS to submit his intention to oppose JT in 2017. One can but dream as I believe sense would then prevail.

  5. Petronas AMG Mercedes-Benz

    RedBull Infiniti

    Martini Williams Aston Martin

    Ferrari

    McLaren Honda

    Sahara Force India BharatBenz

    Scuderia Toro Rosso Renault

    Lotus Smart

    Manor Lancia

    Sauber Alfa Romeo

    Caterham Dacia

    Haas Chrysler

    It already works!

  6. In this age of european austerity these Formula One budgets appear politically obscene.

    Teams spend vast amounts of money to make their cars lighter only to add ballast to comply with regulations.

    Formula One should not be about excess.

  7. Tesla’s open-source route would be the most beneficial option.
    Coupled with ‘open-rules’ for teams entering the sport . . .
    That is –
    Required only to meet current safety standards, fuel use limits, maximum dimensions and the 107% qualifying cut-off.
    Exempt from minimum weight, engine configuration, aero design constraints and so forth.
    The equivalent of ‘Garage 56’ for F1.

    It might lead to the introduction of cars with half the weight, fuel consumption and aerodynamic drag.
    Any superior alternative technology could then filter its way up and be incorporated into the mainstream rule book.
    Maybe F1 could then truly proclaim to be the pinnacle of motorsport.

    1. would love to see that. but being a natural cynic I think the cornering speeds achieved would be so great that the tracks themselves wouldn’t be safe enough and the drivers would be subject to medically unsafe constant g loading.

    2. Can Am in North America had a fairly open rule book. One of the main requirements was a drivers seat, and a passenger seat, although I think that what ended up passing for a passenger seat wouldn’t have fitted a passenger.

      Not sure what the other rules were but it became a hotbed of innovation, some ideas obviously better than others. Bruce McLaren built a string of unbeatable cars, I believe the prize money was pretty good and helped fund the F1 team. Porsche tested an early version of an adjustable rear wing, controlled by a foot mechanism I think. There is a story about Mark Donohue straightening the rear wing as he came onto the straight and his 917/30 (? – I should look these things up before typing them) spinning down the straight.

      Awesome machines, brute horsepower, some brilliant designers. From what I’ve read though the racing tended to be pretty one sided, with whichever team getting a tech/mech breakthrough completely dominating the season.

      I love the general concept, but I guess it is harder these days as tech usually means spending more money than anyone else, whereas in the 50’s/60’s/70’s it appeared to be more concerned with doing things smarter. Finding a new way of doing something, or engineering around a problem not just throwing millions of dollars and a team of lab engineers at it, which seems largely to be the way that things get done today. Individuals can still think their way into innovation, Newey, Brawn, etc. but they need money behind them to test and evaluate all the ideas they come up with.

      Back in Bruce’s day the strength or validity of an idea was usually determined testing the idea on a track. I guess the sad footnote to all his is that Bruce died in his last Can Am beast whilst doing exactly that, testing it on track. Then again, F1 hardly does testing these days, due to budget issues…

      I don’t know if Can Am was ever regarded as the pinnacle of Motorsport. Given the lack of close racing it makes me wonder if a lot of the tech that we cherish in F1 simply keeps the cars further apart. Having said that, does the pinnacle of motor racing require close racing? Is domination a significant portion of F1 DNA? The desire for edge of the seat competition sometimes seems at odds with the history of marque/driver domination in the sport. Maybe this is simply a result of the vastly different budgets the teams run throughout the field, but it seemed in the past that a smaller team, with clever people, could slay a manufacturing giant. Isn’t this part of our love affair with the garagistes ?

      1. If F1 is to survive I believe that innovation should come from smaller teams willing to ‘think outside the box’ and being explicitly encouraged to do so by a structured and revised rule system.

  8. From the point of view of the world at large it makes sense. From the point of view of the empire builders it would, I imagine, look like smaller empires…….Unless of course, someone came along who was really visionary. Perhaps we need The Bolt Mk II.

    By the way, thanks continuing post season, I expected you to disappear 😉

  9. On the whole I agree, but I can’t see the Nismo CEO being eager to rebrand the slowest F1 engine as a Nismo.

  10. I can’t really see Ferrari selling their engines other than under their own name, although it happened before.

    It also puzzles me why Red Bull’s Renault engine hasn’t been called an Infiniti despite heavy sponsorship, but they could do an Alpine or Gordini, perhaps for old-timers. I don’t think they would go as far to call their engines Dacia.

    Mercedes: the Aston connection is maybe too far-fetched, same thing as Ferrari.

    Honda: well, there’s not much to do here. The Mügen thing has been done before, but Mügen is a relatively small operation to grasp.

    There were these brands as Playlife, Acer, Petronas, TAG, etc. – brands that didn’t have to do anything with motoring either. Something on that side could happen. It’s just another way of sponsorship, getting the name in the listings as well.

  11. ” I would not be surprised if there was a race to get to Commission first because the competition people operate a very clever system under which the first member of an alleged cartel to confess gets to go unpunished, a system that is designed to rip unfair competition apart.”
    Huhuh, I love that. This is where the real racing will be!

    1. The smaller teams have already reached out to the EU Commission to make their case of competition distortion induced by the current commercial agreement.
      People within the Commission I spoke to believe the case has merit. However, an inquiry by the Commission is resource intensive and it can only take on so much cases per year. Therefore, the Commission tends to focus resources on cases where breach of competition rules affects the end consumers (eg roaming costs). This is missing here, small teams do not qualify as consumers. Plaintiffs will be told to challenge the governance of the sport in court.

  12. Rather than change the engine formula – how about simplifying it…

    I thin that part of the problem was that with the engine regs FIA went for a revolution rather than the evolution they should have settled for.

    Get rid of the mgu-h and all the overly complicated brake by wire stuff.

    Just a 1.6L turbo with Kers

    Have them run an alternator on the engine for road relevant ERS (reducing the amount of heavy batteries they carry) And allow unlimited Kers use.

    The 100kilo fuel flow limit is ok – just up it every year depending on how much the teams are short filling.

    And how about having the cars be self-starting if they really want to tie into road relevance…

    And in 2016, with the usual caveats about exotic materials; open up the regs and let them make any 1.6L turbo engine configuration they want with 4-6 cylinders.

    With the defacto cost cap of only being able to charge the teams a specific amount of course…

    1. Interesting idea but all manufacturers are committed to the current engine format up to 2020.

      But this format you propose would be an interesting choice for the GP2 when Mecachromes contract ends in 2016. Instead of the Dino V8 a V6 TwinTurbo with simple KERS??

  13. On provisions for Ferrari and three other teams taking shareholdings in Delta Topco:
    …Wow. What next!?! Surely this would mean such chosen teams, as shareholders, would have extra disproportionate influence (simple open pressure and/or hidden undercounter?) over decisions affecting their *less anointed* competitors. And they would obviously be likely to often side with the Delta Topco powers, rights or wrongs bedamned, for fear of devaluing their own payouts.

    A recipe for some shameful business.
    Not what one hopes for in a sporting context.

  14. I somehow understand selfishness and winning-at-all-cost attitude amongst the teams. So they not really caring for the others isn’t such a big surprise.

    But what I really don’t get is this: if all the small teams are gone

    WHO IS GOING TO BE LAST???

    Has anybody ever asked them that questions?

    If we remove Sauber, Lotus and Force India I from this years standing and also assume that there is no place for B-Teams like Toro Rosso in the new order, then step forward McLaren.You are the loser! Ferrari? Not much better. What a failure you are as a team …

    How long are the manufacturers in the sport when the chances of coming lat are greatly increased. How long is a board funding a team, which only brings bad PR and is associated with failure?

    By definition, there can only be one winner and everyone else is a loser. But the smaller teams provide a buffer for the bigger ones in case of failure. It’s not something the small teams strive for, but in reality this is often the case.

  15. I think the reason why there aren’t many manufacturers is because the rules and parameters of the engine are so well defined that eventually they will just converge on the same solution, which means a lot of money is wasted for nothing. They should just state the only limit is the 100kg of fuel and let the manufacturers design whatever configuration they want and is interesting to them. That would open up the possibility for someone coming up with a giant killing solution.

  16. It seems the strategy group wield an unfair advantage over those not within it, through appearance money / historical payments and the promise of equity should the float ever be realised. Although 2 wrongs don’t make a right, maybe those teams outside the strategy group get concessions eg. double deck diffuser, more DRS time etc

  17. Big teams don’t aggrandize themselves by beating up on little teams…tied to chairs in some back room.

    Big or small, there is no excuse for F1 not fielding x number of teams that all reasonably have a shot at winning races and the championship each season…and all be full constructors.

    Formula 1 is complex, but it needn’t be complicated. The only business model that matters in F1 is the sport’s own business model. Everything else flows out of that.

    An F1 team or venue should ultimately be considered a property of the sport; part of what makes it valuable. They should be the things that F1 works to strengthen. A whole lot could change, rather quickly, if that notion were to somehow trickle into the heads of a few key people.

    Ross Brawn’s excellent example (selling an F1 team for a profit) should not be a single rare exception. It should be the rule. F1 teams should be valuable assets that can be traded and sold, not picked up on the cheap from an Administrator.

    There are too many talented and hard working people, families and communities that depend on the sport for it to be treated with so little care. It is simply unnecessary.

    1. Good post, particularly the last two paragraphs.

      Your comment about Brawn carries weight when I think of all the teams that have been rebranded at a time when their stocks were low. What a great philosophy, a team, it’s employees, it’s assets, be sold as assets, with a real value.

      Too often we see a team crippled by debt, it’s name dragged through the mud as a non performer, whilst people desperately try to find new owners. Admittedly this is probably symptomatic of the F1 business model and unbalanced revenue distribution. Compounded in some cases by a lack of historical brand legacy, ie Ferrari/McLaren/Williams should generate more sale interest due to their branding than Marussia. I guess also that sometimes a team continues to trade into debt in the hopes of surviving, and runs it’s chances of resale into the ground along the way.

      Not to disprove your example, but as a genuine question for more knowledgable minds than mine…
      was it easier to sell Brawn GP at a profit due to the years of investment by Honda, and Ross picking up the team for far less than the infrastructure and assets were worth? Being sold directly after winning their “debut” season would obviously up the value as well. The Brawn branding must have had limited recognition beyond F1, it’s neither product nor service, but winners are grinners and would have received a lot of coverage that season.

      Jackie Stewart claims his team made a profit every year, and appeared to be climbing up the ladder when Ford bought them out. Surely Stewart GP must have been sold at a profit, unlike it’s next incarnation Jaguar Racing, which I’m guessing went at a loss after four years of bad results.

      Maybe it’s best to sell within the first 1-3 years in order to minimise the debt trap? No time to build a lasting name, although Ross may well have proved otherwise. Be an interesting study if we had all the relevant financial info.

        1. Thanks Joe, that’s a really good point that I didn’t stop to consider. Whilst it wasn’t “Ford Formula 1”, I think it was close to being a de facto factory team, with some kind of development plan. Am I correct in believing Ford approached Stewart Racing to step up to F1, or am I just imagining this. Anyway, it was no doubt a very financially secure deal, Jackie having an enviable reputation within Ford, and therefore a poor example for me to bring to the table.

  18. With regards to the open source concept – I think F1 did that already, it’s just that it was called the Cosworth DFV!

  19. The price of engines should be set on a scale which depends on points scored the previous year, rather like how the entry fee is set. This would mean the leading teams would pay much more, and the back markers much less, thereby reducing the burden on the back markers.

    This would also mean taking away the power of the four engine makers to set their prices and do deals, so they would probably resist it, unless the FIA was to set the scale in such a way as to give them a return for their (enormous) investment. The total paid for engines could remain in the ballpark of where it is now – or, hopefully, start to decline – just make the big teams carry more of the burden.

    Oh, I just woke from my dream and realized I used an active verb in reference to the FIA, so this will never happen….

  20. It appears to me that the F1 teams should, as Joe said, exploit their commercial partnerships. Why not go one step further and use the very powerful engines already in use by these companies in their production cars. There are many production (read homologated) engines around that produce around 1000Hp. I for one would be more interested in F1 if it used relevant production engines. I am sure more manufacturers would be interested too.

  21. I think the concept of various engine names to hide only Merc/Renault/Ferrari/Honda involvement, rather helps to justify having only 4 makes of car, Merc/RBR/Ferrari/Mac. Which in turn leads one to the conclusion that there would really be no reason for that, and only 1 make would do!
    I think that a lot of the public, and 95% of fans would know that a Maserati engine or a Lancia engine, was just badging for Ferrari, and that just demeans the whole idea.
    I understand the point of making engines affordable, however that would be a corollary of revamping the rules to produce a cheaper design. Joe and others think that the 1600 Hybrids are the way forward and are vital to create motor manufacturer interest, and that F1 is vital to the car industry.
    I think that this is not the case, the Hybrid concept is a marketing tool for the car industry, mainly for MB really, as they have a large range of awfully fuel thirsty cars, and need to have an Offset so that they can still sell in weird places like California, that have absurd laws on such vehicles. They have sucked Renault in, a company that has little in their range that is in anyway comparable to MB, Ferrari, who don’t make anything like MB do, and Honda, who were probably sold on the small engines as sub 2000cc is their forte in production.
    Hybrid isn’t vital to car production, nor is it sustainable, it’s just the current fad, and in 10 years or so, there will be another fad which replaces it.
    At present, F1 seems to exist as a means of some people making huge sums of money, some of those people being ones that the ordinary man in the street would not want to share a beer with at all. What it needs to do is realise that it is just a sport.
    The car industry aspect has no more relevance to F1 than say the Premiership League has to the Leather Industry ( footballs & boots ), or the sport of Swimming has to Chlorine production.
    To get F1 back to relevance as a Sport, needs cheap, simple engine manufacturing, and cheap items like simple gearboxes and so on. Simple chassis production could be carried out by 1 contractor, say Dallara, with 1 tub designed to FIA rules and supplied for maybe £150,000 each to the teams. They could then make their own aero kits, with front radiator, or side rads, wings would be ruled to one max size, but shapes would be upto the teams. The overall plan of the cars would be a max size, but the shape could be anything people want, including enclosed bodywork or exposed wheels. Brakes would be standardised, as much of the electronic aspects be dumped. Teams would be allowed to use quali cars, and have 2 spare cars ready built at the track so if there is a driver who crashes out in practice/quali, he can run in a spare, which gives the crowd proper value for money. Tyres would just be like road tyres, i.e. rubber and in slick/wet patterns nothing else, and grids restricted to 30 cars….still it won’t happen, instead everyone will carry on as it has been going until F1 disappears as too expensive for even car makers to justify being participants.

  22. There are probably as many good solutions for F1 as there are readers of Joe’s blog. However until the EU breaks the cartel – see Joe’s latest post – then nothing will change for the better.

    There are just too many vested interests for anyone to think seriously about small teams, costs and acquiring new long term fans who can afford to attend events, held in places that sensible people would actually want to visit.

  23. I was reflecting on the double points issue and I believe F1 has missed another trick here to engage fans. Yes it was cancelled but rather than having double points just on the last race we could have had maybe 3 double points scoring events. These would be picked by fans (like Fan Boost in Formula E) prior to the season starting. This way it would engage the fans and reward different teams/drivers at different events (i.e. if you had Spa, Monza and Abu Dhabi the team finishing order is different).

  24. To me this looks like a well laid contingency in case FOM are forced into a fair distribution of loot. This enables them to make up the top teams loss
    That he laid the means a year ago, shows just how bloody brilliant he is.

    Well all the team managers and representatives seemed to have their arms firmly glues to their sides when Joe asked anyone to put their hand up ….. You have to read it, its hilarious, its on the FIA website

  25. “F1 exists to highlight automotive technology and it could do that much more effectively than it already does.”

    I disagree with the first part, and agree with the second. ABS, traction control, active suspension, CVT, etc. are all technologies that came about because they provided a performance gain, not because teams and engineers thought “we’d better show people around the world how clever we are”.

    The engine manufacturers confuse me on this point, as they were the ones pushing for hybrid technology (which I don’t think is the future for the car industry), yet to me are so shortsighted in their rationale behind it. Battery technology at the moment is absolutely woeful, and in terms of its manufacturing process, is far more pollutive than the net gain in the automotive industry. Of course, this might change in the future, but the FIA insist on limiting engine R&D. The hypocrisy of the whole “green image” F1 has adopted is sickening. If they were serious about actually making a difference they’d revamp the calendar to minimise the air travel between events. Better still, they could go back to holding more Grand Prix in Europe! Like fun that’ll happen, though.

    F1 is arguably more of a business than a sport these days, and as a passionate fan I lament the route it’s currently going down. Technological creation and innovation should come about as a result of the competition, not because certain people feel morally obliged to make changes that appear to be contributing to the betterment of cars and environment.

  26. I would prefer to see the teams go back to a full constructor series and reduce the aero package through rule changes, and for the engines; make all the teams run an engine package from a “sponsored” automotive group. The engine package would be a production long block, rebuilt by each team to “F1 racing spec” using stock production parts available on today’s consumer vehicles. I would not specifically ban the Kers, but restrict its use. If the kers system was available through homologation and built into a certain percentage of sales to the consumer, then kers would be allowed.

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