The cost-cutting plans: development

Posted on Author Keith Collantine

Wind tunnel use will be restricted in 2009
Wind tunnel use will be restricted in 2009

Perhaps the most significant aspect of the cost-cutting plan for F1 approved by the World Motor Sports Council today is the restrictions on development.

Not only are dramatic changes planned for 2009, but even tighter controls are envisioned for the future to keep costs down. Is it enough to prevent more teams leaving Formula 1?

Nine-month testing ban

From the first day of practice for the Australian Grand Prix on March 27th until the final round of the season at Abu Dhabi on November 1st, F1 cars will only be allowed to test at Grand Prix weekends.

This is bad news for the circuits that usually hold these tests, particularly Spanish tracks like Catalunya and Jerez, and the newly-built Algarve Motor Park in Portugal. But it will achieve an instant and dramatic reduction in operating costs for teams.

There will be little consequence for the average fan ?ǣ in fact, it could turn out to have a beneficial effect. On several occasions this year we saw teams turn up at race weekends having tested at the same track only a week or so earlier. They therefore did little running on Fridays. Now Fridays will be a prime opportunity to test new parts, meaning more action for the fans at the track.

Development cuts

Teams will have to use models to work on aerodynamics development
Teams will have to use models to work on aerodynamics development

Other restrictions on development will hit the biggest-spending teams especially hard. From next year teams will be limited to using wind tunnels at a maximum size of 60% scale and a maximum wind speed of 50m/s. Further cutting operating costs, factories will be closed for six weeks per year.

It?s obvious how these moves will cut costs for the teams but the question here is how can these rules be enforced? Presumably the FIA will have to send inspectors to each team?s headquarters on a regular basis. That will have a cost attached to it as well, though surely not as much as running a full size wind tunnel for 24 hours a day.

At race meetings teams will have to make tyre and fuel information publicly available. This will render the need for ??spotters? who spy on what their rivals are doing unnecessary. Hopefully the public will also get told, and the final session of qualifying will actually make sense if we know how much fuel is in the cars when it starts.

How much will it save?

The FIA estimates these steps will cut team budgets by 30%. That?s some way short of the 80-90% reduction Mosley was aiming for, but it?s still going to be in the region of $120m (??80m) saved. Given that it cost Honda a reported $150m (??100m) to leave F1, it puts a significant dent in any perceived financial benefit to be had from leaving the sport.

However a lot of this saving is going to come from staff layoffs. Mosley suggested over the following years team sizes could fall to 200 (at present they are often over 700 and some are approaching 1,000). Even in an ideal scenario where the reduced costs eventually encourages more teams to join F1, it?s still going to leave a lot of talented people out of work.

The future

The FIA statement referred to other areas of discussion for the future, including limits on Computational Fluid Dynamics research.

There will also be more consideration given to standardising car parts that are not ??performance differentiators?. This could even extend to components such as transmissions.

And Mosley may yet relent over the controversial Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems. Although he has been adamant that teams must be free to develop KERS as it highlights F1?s contribution to improving environmentally-friendly car technologies, the possibility of teams using a standard KERS for 2010 remains.

Mosley believes that:

When you walk down the pit lane, or you sit in a grandstand or watch on television, you will notice no difference at all. It will be Formula 1 as we know it, but clearly much less expensive.

But for many fans this will be a further step away from Formula 1 as they know it. To them these changes will mark another step by F1 away from the white heat of technological progress and towards being just another specification series. Sadly, in the present financial climate, that may be unavoidable.

In a sense, F1 is gambling part of its heritage in order to safeguard its future. If this concession to cutting costs does not keep the manufacturers in the sport it will be considered a failure. And the first test will be whether this gives the likes of David Richards an economic justification to pick up the remains of Honda?s F1 team and carry it into 2009.

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26 comments on “The cost-cutting plans: development”

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  1. Bernie and Max have their ways…

    They see all, know all, control all …

  2. @ Garyc

    How can an in season testing ban be enforced ? Ferrari owns two tracks close to the factory (Fiorano and Mugello). I’m sure the other big teams have equal facilities somewhere (or they will acquire them). The fools at the FIA will need spy satellites for this one.

    Well, I would have thought a testing ban is relatively simple to enforce: to test, first you need to have tyres, and since Bridgestone is the sole supplier they can easily ensure this by only allocating the tyres at race weekends. The counting them all out and counting them all back in again principle.

  3. The proposition that people walking the paddock or watching TV won’t notice is disturbing. That’s the entire theory of a series, which shall remain nameless, where a “toyota” has precisely the mechanicals and same actual physical form as a “chevrolet.” And they are all made out of fiberglass and metal tubes, just like a jacuzzi. From there, its only a short step to “competition” and “debris” safety car periods. I’m going to go watch some video of active suspension 1000hp F1 cars from the 90s now because I am feeling really sad.

  4. Yes, this will save money, but these proposals have come too late to save either SuperAguri or Honda – the massive saving to be made by only testing at race weekends is really good to hear, and the fans get more cars for their ticket price too – and the publication of technical information will be good too – and we can always use the BBC and Martin Brundle to push for it to be available to the media and the fans!
    However, I agree with the comments about the FIA checking on what the teams are doing in their factories and wind tunnels on a weekly basis. The ‘Stepneygate’ scandal highlighted the fact that the FIA don’t check on what goes into the cars at the factory, and in fact doesn’t appear to be set up with inspectors to handle such a thing. If an FIA steward can make up the rules in a race, would an FIA inspector turn a blind eye to Old Schuey taking a car round a test track?
    And if the teams are being allowed to spend money on KERS development, what is to stop them putting all engine development under KERS?
    This also brings me back to an earlier point – if the teams are racing a standard engine, but are developing a KERS engine, doesn’t that mean they are spending more in 2009, not less?

  5. @Adrian:

    Am I missing something here, they’re not allowed to use 100% models, but can’t they put 60% models in their 100% wind tunnels??

    They can’t use models bigger than 60%, regardless of the wind tunnel they have (and always using it below 50m/s). If you use small models you have to also scale-down many parameters of the physical theory you use, in particular the speed of the air. This have two results: on the one hand, your needed air speed will be sensibly lower (at least 40%, if not more) and, in consequence, cheaper to achieve (the 50m/s limit goes in that direction also). On the other hand you have to trust at some point in a theory (they’re really good, but is always better to have the ‘real thing’ working, that’s way they spend so much in 100% scale wind tunnels).

    In short: they will have to use their fancy 350km/h wind tunnels at 180km/h, and think a little bit more…

  6. I feel this will be hardest area to police and the one where more details need to be made public. I suppose the limit on wind tunnels could be enforced by looking at computer logs etc.

    How is the six weeks factory closure going to work? Like I mentioned in an earlier post, will only the cleaning staff be allowed in and how do you stop designers taking work home with them? Will it be the same time period for each team or do they get to choose when they shut their factories themselves, so they could pick one day a week until they reach the total. One of the reports I read said this was subject to local law, I assume this is to do with bank holidays and local employment law, so if one country has more bank holidays then they can’t claim that as part of their six weeks total.

    If the FIA try to impose a limit on staff numbers, how do they stop the teams using people employed by different firms? McLaren already have a different firm for catering don’t they?

    Are there currently any rules stopping teams using Fridays at race meetings as test days, in terms of trying any modifications they wish and trying out new drivers. I suppose that teams may not wish to waste track time before a GP to do things such as this though.

    I think they won’t get the total cost savings they are aiming for as there are always unforeseen circumstances which pop up, and teams with the money will just find somewhere else to spend it. We won’t see Ferrari and McLaren suddenly have the same budget as Force India even ignoring driver salaries.

    The main problem is trying to maintain Formula 1 as the pinnacle of motorsport in terms of technology while having a competitive series and cutting costs.

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