Formula 1 as a spec series

Sebastien Bourdais, David Coulthard, Takuma Sato, Kazuki Nakajima, Bahrain, 2008, 470150

Yesterday I considered what would happen to Formula 1 if the economic crisis caused teams to leave the sport. Before I wrote that reader Scott Newton had sent in his thoughts on how F1 could work with just a few manufacturers supplying all the chassis.

My idea stems from the concern that customer cars will turn F1 into a spec series (with everyone driving either Ferraris, McLarens or BMWs).

What if we only allowed constructors to supply customer chassis depending on where they finished in the constructors’ championship?

For example:

  • First – third place constructors: No customer cars allowed
  • Fourth – sixth place constructors: Each team in these positions is allowed one customer team
  • Sixth place ore lower: Can supply as many customer teams as they like.

Taking the 2007 championship as an example this would mean that:

  • Nobody but Ferrari, BMW & Renault would be driving Ferrari, BMW or Renault cars.
  • Williams, Red Bull & Toyota would each be allowed one customer team.
  • Toro Rosso would not be allowed a customer team (they’re Red Bull’s customer team).
  • Honda could have as many customer teams as they like (allowing them to bring back Super Aguri).
  • Force India and McLaren would be allowed unlimited customer teams.

This could also effectively help control dynasties. If Williams were allowed to share development (and testing) with a customer team, they could use it to their advantage to topple a top 3 team. Of course, once they do this, their customer team would need to forfeit their Williams chassis, but could pick up chassis from the new 4th place team.

It gives advantages to constructor teams, as the only way to effectively be a top 3 team is to be an outright constructor. A customer team could feasibly win the championship, but they would be chassis-less the following year (as their constructor would then be banned from having customer teams), and would need to start all over as a customer for a different constructor.

Problems?

Possible downsides would be sandbagging. A team could try to forfeit 3rd place and retain 4th place so that it could maintain constructor/customer status the following year. This could easily be defeated by making 3rd place pay enough to make it not worthwhile.

Another downside is issues like McLaren’s current eleventh place status. This could be avoided by disallowing excluded teams from entering a constructor/customer status. This would also place a larger penalty on exclusion.

The third downside is the uncertainty this creates for customer teams. Nobody will want to invest millions of dollars into a customer relationship, only to have the fear of loosing your constructor the following year.

This could be tackled in a few ways, one of which is to allow constructor’s in a constructor/customer relationship a one year ‘grace period’, where they would be allowed to continue as a parent constructor, even after finishing in a position which would normally disallow them.

What do you think of Scott’s proposal? If you want to write a guest article for F1 Fanatic see the information for guest writers here.

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11 comments on Formula 1 as a spec series

  1. On American television, before the start of the Turkish Grand Prix, Steve Windsor went on about how despite that Super Aguri will be missed, there is still lots of money being made in Formula 1 that apparently didn’t stay in Aguri Suzuki’s hands for a long enough period of time.

    Scott’s proposal is a road to hell paved with great intentions, consider instead that the headline of A1GP made me think about something.

    Why don’t Elan/Panoz or Dallara have teams in F1? Similarly, if the teams of F1 are so elite, why are Renault and Ferrari the only ones building cars for other (spec) GP series?

    Why don’t all the teams of F1 construct and sell F3 chassis as a means of supplementing their income, especially teams that are not based on a gigantic alternate income source? (Williams, that means you…) This should provide much the same as customer cars and engines within the same series do, without having the effect of feeding your competitor the stuff that might (but probably won’t) defeat you.

    On the other hand, why haven’t the groups that construct the chassis commonly seen in F3 and other GP formulae been able to come up with enough resources to become a full-fledged F1 constructor? (Dallara, that means you…) Isn’t that what the whole “pinnacle of motorsport” mantra is supposed to mean?

    Windsor’s air shows only one thing: right now, the money is there to be made. The question is, is that money being so poorly mismanaged that soon there won’t be anyone of note competing in the sport?

  2. ctm said on 15th May 2008, 22:01

    Problems:

    “First – third place constructors: No customer cars allowed”

    Winning the championship is only possible if you have a good chassis that is easy to tune, can handle the spec tires, and so on. So the rule here is that if you win, nobody else is allowed to drive the same car next year. In reality, the winner probably don’t want any other team to use their chassis next year. Why share the winning formula with a competitor? So this will actually benefit the top 3.

    “The third downside is the uncertainty this creates for customer teams.”

    This is a major problem. One of the reason new teams have problems is the uncertainty of how long the will have the sponsors while not producing any results, which leads to bad results, which leads to fewer sponsors, and so on… This would cause the same problem. You learn a chassis and start producing results, only to be forced to change to something new and learn everything again, which of course will have a big impact on the results – and then the spiral down the drain will start again…

  3. DG said on 16th May 2008, 8:51

    Following on from Chunter, I thought the F1 rules were that the Teams (or is it Manufacturers?) are not allowed to compete in any other race series. Surely this means that Ferrari and Renault cannot be allowed to supply chassis to similar race series either – A1GP is F1 without the sponsors, and GP2 is F1 with a single chassis. Surely this gives them an advantage when it comes to testing brakes, engines and aerodynamics? And if that’s the case, why haven’t McLaren and BMW, with their technological background taken such an advantage?
    Strictly speaking, I suppose that Honda supplying the IRL engines must also been seen as an advantage too…
    It does seem strange, that at a time when all Bernie talks about is the Teams cutting costs, that he has made ‘Customers’ such a bad thing, when sharing costs is surely the only way to keep them down? After all, in any other business, a ‘Customer’ pays for what they get!
    I think it would liven up the grids and the races if smaller teams had access to the Big Boys Toys too, and to see an offical Ferrari team racing against Forza Dansk or Scuderia Andretti-Green would be great to watch – like it was in the 50s and 60s? – after all in GT Racing and Touring Cars there are lots of what Bernie would call ‘Customer’ teams racing the Manufacturers already.

  4. I can’t imagine something like this to work … It is way too complicated. there are also big advantages and disadvantages between finishing 1 place up or down in constructor / team table and that would bring lots of fishy stuff happening …

  5. I never heard of any rule banning teams/manufacturers from competing in other sports; it’s just that F1 is so expensive that boards tend to hesitate about funding activities in other series (apart from driver development).

  6. William Wilgus said on 16th May 2008, 15:35

    So unless you build your own car, you automatically have NO CHANCE of WINNING: Ridiculous!

  7. unworkable – if you win you can’t sell youre know how to offset costs – down to third place – no customers cars – has he been having a word with frank – williams/ toyota would be earning a fortune – I suggested main constuctors could run protype and customers could have a part to play by running alongside as production cars – fills the grid teams and gets income for experimentation /refinement and maybe the fia and bernie dont impose any more stupid rules – night racing fr example

  8. MarathonMan801 said on 17th May 2008, 11:09

    It’s not a bad idea, but the one aspect that I don’t think is workable is the timing. If the season doesn’t finish until October, a team won’t necessarily know if they are allowed to supply customer cars or not.
    If the next year’s season starts in March, it doesn’t give much time to write contracts, finalise a team, collect sponsors and train staff, does it?

  9. Jonov said on 18th May 2008, 0:03

    Use rules similiar to the American Grand-Am series. A chassis manufacturer can only make major changes every three years. I’m not sure of all the details but basically the idea is that different constructors and engine builders are allowed, but development is severely restricted, keeping costs down.

  10. That’s a fair idea but I don’t think it would work in Formula 1. The reason is because the teams are so large that they are often developing cars more than a year in advance in anticipation of a future season’s regs, so even if you could only introduce a car every three years, you have three years to waste gargantuan amounts of money on secretly developing and testing it.

  11. theRoswellite said on 23rd May 2008, 14:16

    @ Scott Newton

    As outlined the specifics of this proposal are beyond practical application. However, the original concept…the customer car….is always a viable alternative to the present regulations.

    This is when you would/will see customer cars.

    The major car companies withdraw from the sport, for any or all of the obvious reasons.

    Grand Prix fields drop to very low numbers literally overnight.

    To make up the grids teams are allowed to field additional cars , or sell their cars to other teams.

    The sport has a rich history of doing just this.

    It can increase, not decrease, the competitive nature of the field.

    A driver can find himself outside the factory team, and yet in a very competitive situation.

    Formula One isn’t going away, even if ALL the major car makers withdraw.

    The most important dynamic insuring good economic health in F1 is………………fan interest i.e., an enormous world wide TV audience. (which is of course a reason why car makers won’t withdraw).

    Scott….good article for consideration, keep them coming.

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