Poll: Allow customer teams in F1?

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

Sebastian Vettel, Toro Rosso-Ferrari, Fuji Speedway, 2007 | GEPA / Bildagentur Kraeling

This poll is closed. Results are as follows:

Yes: 115 votes (50%)
No: 107 votes (46%)
I have no opinion: 9 (4%)

The FIA’s plan to allow teams to buy chassis from other teams as of next year appears to have failed, and with it has gone Prodrive’s hopes of competing in 2008.

Allowing teams to run customer chassis potentially lowers the costs of competing in F1. But many of the teams complain that it is not fair to allow other teams to race potentially more competitive chassis without going to the expense of designing them.

I do sympathise with the plight of less well funded teams like Williams and Spyker (nee Force India) who in recent years have struggled to produce competitive cars, and find teams like Super Aguri and Toro Rosso running cars that are ‘customer chassis’ in all but name and taking points (and therefore money) off them.

And I appreciate the position of those who feel that all teams in F1 should be constructors who build their own cars.

But I am at heart a pragmatist, and this is why I think customer chassis should be made legal:

First there is the argument of competition. If more teams have access to the best equipment, then there will be greater competition for victories, and that can only be a good thing.

Customer chassis have been legal in Formula 1 in the past and indeed that is how individuals like Frank Williams became constructors in the first place. He got his F1 team started that way – why shouldn’t David Richards be allowed to do the same?

Most compelling for me is the argument of economics. Formula 1 is hideously expensive and the enormous budgets being thrown around at present can only be sustained as long as the major car manufacturers remain in the sport.

Robert Kubica, BMW, Barcelona, 2007 | BMW MediaBut even makers of popular and expensive cars like BMW are beginning to look at long-term management strategies with an eye on improving profitability – which means cutting costs. In the long or even medium term the dependability of the car makers has to be questioned.

Toyota became the world’s number one car maker earlier this year – would it honestly sell that many fewer cars if it was no longer in F1? What will Renault do if it gets a McLaren-sized penalty in December’s espionage hearing?

Allowing smaller teams to run customer chassis would give Formula 1 a vital reserve of extra teams to fall back on should a recession bite and several of the big names quit.

Of course, allowing customer chassis would not be the remedy to all F1’s ills. I think the governing body would have to take a few things into account if they were to legalise customer chassis.

It would be particularly important to ensure that teams buying chassis off another team did not lend favours to that team on the track. It’s already been claimed that in the 1997 championship decider the Ferrari-supplied Sauber team were ordered to let Michael Schumacher through and hinder Williams’s Jacques Villenueve.

F1 must not turn into a single-seater DTM, featuring only two manufacturers that use the majority of their cars to delay all the other drivers but for their two or three championship contenders.

Nor would it be fair to allow ‘customer’ teams to score ‘constructors’ points, as they are patently not constructors.

This is a highly charged debate that goes right to the heart of what F1 is supposed to be. But I think it’s practical and sensible to allow teams to use customer chassis, given certain restrictions.

Photo: GEPA / Bildagentur Kraeling | BMW Media

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