The Ben Evans column: Slowdown

Posted on | Author Ben Evans

Giancarlo Fisichella, Force India F1 Team, Jerez, 2008 pre-season testing | Force India F1 TeamAnyone with even a passing interest in the non-motorsport world cannot failed to have noticed a global recession is on the horizon. Those who like their economics with a whiff of F1 will have noted that the teams are finding it harder to pull in those all important sponsorship dollars. A disaster, surely?

In the short term yes, it is a bad news, with no cash there is no racing, or at least it is much scaled back. Almost certainly there will be some casualties, not such much in F1 (although if people stop buying road cars??), but certainly the junior formulae will take at hit and a number of teams will be forced to close their doors, particularly in series with high team-turnover like F3.

In F1 the world, even the big hitters may be forced to scale back as running an F1 team is a costly business.

If the economic gloom deepens then 2008 will be a bad year for motorsport globally. The Autosport International show hinted this was the case. Sure it was bustling and busy, it always is, but it wasn?t the kind of bustling and busy that reflected at buoyant industry.

There was no co-ordinated promotion of the big national series, previously strong club series had no new competitors registering their interest, and the circuits were notable only by their absence.

A good case study would be Motorsport Vision, owners of Brands Hatch, Cadwell Park, Snetterton and Oulton Park, together with owning and operating the Formula Palmer Audi series. Last year was an excellent year for MSV, showpiece meetings drew huge crowds and FPA was resurgent.

Will 2008 build on this? So far the signs are not encouraging. The provisional FPA entry list in Autosport last week was sparse and low on potential superstars, worrying given that FPA represents great value and is the lowest-cost rung on the professional motor sports ladder.

Likewise the circuits, the ever popular BTCC and British Superbike meetings aside, may struggle. Brands Hatch has minimised club dates in favour of A1GP, DTM and WTCC, but all three series are at a point where the law of diminishing returns is beginning to kick in.

I would be surprised if these three meetings fill the stands in 2008 as they did in 2006 & 07. That said MSV is arguably the best run motor sport business in the country, and have plenty of options to keep the numbers ticking over ?ǣ further promotion of the low gate price meetings would be my starting point.

But it is on the track that it really matters and 2008 will be a tough year. The well funded drivers will always be there and will thrive, but I would imagine that many competitors will be forced to do part seasons, or throw in the towel early.

Bad news in 2008, but I think this will lead to a resurgence in more affordable motor sport. For too long motor sport from F1 downwards has been dangerously expensive. I?m not saying that a season of GP2 will plummet in price, but even if budgets hold steady for a number of years it will make the cost of competing just that bit more affordable.

Current UK Formula Ford budgets are in the region of ??100,000. If these dropped to ??70,000 (or ??5,000 per weekend), more drivers will get the opportunity to prove themselves. In short, talent will hopefully get the opportunity to rise through the ranks more than it has in recent years.

In F1 world Max Mosley has been talking budget capping as way to cut costs. But for Max I think a global recession will take care of business for him. With less sponsorship to go for the teams will be forced to curb their costs and this will force the average cost of competing down.

Sure there will still be the haves and have nots but F1 budgets may drop below the GDPs of most countries once again. It will be a painful year, but I have the feeling that F1 as a sport will be the stronger for it.

Recessions are always bad news for motor sport. After all, it is the ultimate luxury spend for individuals and competitors alike. However as with all industries it forces focus on the essentials and delivers some home truths, something which motor sport may just need right now.

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Ben Evans

Contributing writer.