Today brought new evidence of an impending and potentially massive clash between the FIA and the Formula 1 teams over costs.
While FOTA is already talking about relaxing the restrictions on testing in 2009, Max Mosley is pushing for massive cuts to drastically reduce the cost of competition to around €50m. And rumours claim he’s prepared to force the legislation through if the teams don’t agree.
When Honda announced its withdrawal from F1 at the beginning of December it followed the news that its car sales in America had slumped by 32%. The figures announced yesterday for sales in January revealed total monthly sales at their lowest level since December 1981, and the worst January since 1963.
In short, things are getting worse for the car industry and it may not have hit the bottom yet. Bernie Ecclestone’s suggestion last week that car manufacturers might sign multi-year contracts (with punitive exit clauses so he can “sue the arse off them” if they quit) in exchange for being allowed to spend as much as they like on F1 seems rather out of touch with reality.
Whichever route the FIA takes it faces the prospect of losing some of the manufacturer teams. If it does not drastically cut costs we could see the likes of Toyota and Renault quitting. If it cuts costs, and does so by postponing technologies such as KERS, it could alienate teams like BMW who have invested heavily in the technology.
But it gets harder and harder to make a case for not slashing costs further. If the manufacturer-backed teams quit because costs are too high, who is going to step in to replace them?
Whereas if the FIA successfully brings operating budgets down to the €50m mark, and new teams are able to use engine and gearbox supplies from the remaining manufacturers or using the FIA’s offer of Cosworth engines, we could potentially see teams from formulae such as GP2 stepping up to take their place. This is what the likes of Prodrive’s David Richards have argued for. Over a dozen teams responded to the FIA’s tender for new entrants for 2008 based on using customer chassis at lower costs.
Mosley continues to push his case for greater standardisation of parts. That is anathema to many F1 fans who want the sport to remain a technological pinnacle.
But if the only alternative to increased standardisation is for F1 to price itself out of existence, then there is no choice to be made.
Image (C) GP2 Media Service / Andrew Ferraro