The FIA must solve the customer car problem

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

Sebastian Vettel, David Coulthard, 2008 pre-season | Red Bull / GEPAOnce again the Super Aguri transporters have departed a testing session with the teams’ F1 cars not even having turned a wheel. The teams presence in the 2008 championship looks less likely with every passing day.

They could be the second team to announce their non-participation in F1 this year, following Prodrive who were originally supposed to increase the grid size to 24. It could end up being as little as 20.

And unless something is done to allow more teams into Formula 1 grid sizes could become smaller still.

When the FIA announced plans to allow teams to buy and run customer chassis in the 2008 championship there was outcry from some of the smaller teams, not least of which Williams. The team along with Spyker launched an arbitration case against the FIA, but it now seems the purpose of that case is to stall the legalisation of customer cars as long as possible.

That has already forced Prodrive to abandon their plans to race in F1 this year. Team boss David Richards has since used the FIA’s discussions about budget capping to launch a thinly-veiled attack on the governing body, calling budget capping an “excuse for poor technical regulations”:

I don’t believe [budget capping] is going to work. I don’t think it is a viable proposition. I have seen it in Australia where it has been abandoned. I think budget capping is an excuse for poor technical regulations. With proper technical controls, you should be able to manage the costs of F1. It is also about sporting regulations as well.

I haven’t got the time to spend or the finances to invest in a start-up. A start-up will take five years to get right and get competitive, and that is not even winning Grands Prix. I don’t believe that is viable. There might be a possibility of acquiring one of the teams in the future and coming in at that level, but the solution we came to of acquiring a complete package from a team was the only viable solution.

What I find frustrating as a fan is that there is clearly a growing number of teams at sub-F1 level that could make the step up to the sport if they were able to use customer chassis, even if only for the first few years. Many of them applied to be the 12th team in 2008 alongside Prodrive.

GP2 teams like FMS International (Giancarlo Fisichella’s team) and DAMS (co-founded by ex-F1 driver Rene Arnoux) are expanding their F1 connections this year by running teams in the new Formula BMW Europe series which will support F1 at several European rounds.

Others such as ART (run by Felipe Massa’s manager Nicolas Todt, son of Ferrari’s Jean Todt) run Formula Three and GP2 teams and have propelled the likes of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg into Formula 1.

In GP2 and Formula BMW Europe F1 has a ladder for young drivers to make their way into the sport while racing at the same venues as the F1 teams. The next step is to get the teams that are running in these championships into Formula 1. But without customer cars, or some more imaginative technical regulations than the crude tool of budget capping, I can’t see that happening.

Photo copyright: Red Bull / GEPA

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