Is it to give the smaller teams a chance? To make sure it isn’t the team with the biggest wallet that always wins?
Or is it to stop the car manufacturers from leaving the sport? F1 is faced with complaints that it is a frivolous, environmentally-unfriendly waste, as the global economy teeters on the edge of a recession.
Cost cutting used to be about allowing the smaller teams to compete. But now the justification is different. Now it’s about reducing the financial burden on the major manufacturers that comprise the majority of the F1 grid and supply engines to all the teams.
This could be a sign of a subtle and potentially very damaging change in attitudes to Formula 1.
Car manufacturers were attracted to Formula 1 on the first place because it was desirable – glamorous, popular, a technological tour de force.
Now the sports’ governing body is trying to help them justify their place in the sport by making it defensible – not too expensive and not too damaging for the environment.
Last week the FIA and the manufacturers sat down and brokered compromises on various radical changes to the future of Formula 1.
Budget capping was mooted as one solution to escalating costs. I’ve always been very cynical about this simplistic idea because I can’t imagine how it could be enforced. I’ve read that new economic laws following various Enron-type financial scandals have made it a realistic option.
The proposed restriction on engine development has also been agreed, though reduced from 10 years to five so that more environmentally-friendly power plants can be introduced in 2013.
All of this is many years too late to spare the like of Arrows, Prost and Minardi from going to the wall. It can only be out of concern that the car manufacturers might leave that these new rules have been brought in.
Concerns are growing about the state of the global economy. The United States Congress slashed taxes by $145bn last week in a bid to stimulate growth but on Monday the value of the FTSE 100 index fell by 5.5% ($163bn).
FIA President Max Mosley has claimed that because he deals with the top directors of the car makers, rather than their racing divisions, he is better placed to judge if and when they might want to leave the sport.
But should there be a recession I’m not sure that car manufacturers will stay in Formula 1 because it’s costing them $150m instead of $300m.
This would not be so alarming if the teams had customer chassis and customer engine supplies to fall back on. But the FIA fumbled its attempt to legalise customer chassis in Formula 1. The Prodrive team, which might have been a model of how to run a competitive outfit on a fraction of a typical F1 budget, now may never see the light of day.
Customer engines are gone too. At the end of 2006 Cosworth, F1’s last independent engine builder, left the sport. Not because their engine was un-competitive, but because Williams, the only team using the V8 unit, needed the support of a manufacturer.
This may prove a serious problem if the car manufacturers start leaving the sport in large numbers.
Photo copyright: Williams / Lorenzo Bellanca / LAT Photographic