Formula One is at such a crossroads that a radical new way of doing things may be required. “What’s needed is a complete rethink of how we go motor racing. We could talk of a ‘New Deal’ approach, like America had after the Great Depression,” FIA president Jean Todt said in the world governing body’s latest issue of the Auto magazine.
The former Ferrari team boss knows that the coronavirus crisis and the fact the Formula One season has not even started yet endangers the future of his premium product. At the same time, the crisis could also be an opportunity for overdue reforms.
Formula One sports boss Ross Brawn is ready to take on the challenge when it comes to a team budget cap. “The message is clear — we’ve got to cut costs,” he told Sky Sports. “We started at 175mn dollars (for a team cost cap), that was a long battle to get it there. With the current crisis we’re now going to start at 145mn and the discussion really is how much further we can drive (it down) over the next few years.”
Ferrari, in particular, are resisting a further reduction of the limit because otherwise Sebastian Vettel’s team would probably have to lay off many employees. But in the battle between big and small, this time the underdogs have the stronger arguments and the rule makers on their side.
“With the situation we have now, economic sustainability is the priority, and I think that counts as much for the big teams as it does for the small teams,” Brawn said. Even Vettel partially agrees. “As a family, we should look after everyone involved in Formula One,” said the German.
To ensure greater financial equality of opportunity, the prize money is also set to be distributed differently in future. The also-ran teams will receive more from the pot than before. Less expenditure but higher income means the smaller teams might be able to close the gap to top dogs Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull.
The FIA and F1 are also hoping that new teams with a new business model will join the series, knowing that costs would be lower. F1 would be open to two new teams if investors could be found, according to the magazine Auto, Motor und Sport.
Due to the necessary reduction of personnel at current teams, skilled workers would be available. However, it is by no means certain that all teams will still be racing after the coronavirus crisis, despite million-dollar advanced payments from F1.
Private teams are threatened with bankruptcy if they are forced to take a long break. F1 hopes to start the season on July 5 in Austria and cram in as many races as possible — but nothing is certain. Manufacturers such as Renault could also rethink their F1 involvement because of the plight of the general car industry. “I hope team owners and sponsors will keep the motivation. We must encourage them to feel they still like it and need it,” warned Todt.
F1 is not only set to become cheaper. Many participants think it should be fairer and more efficient too. Closer to the fans, more exciting and even more climate-friendly are also aims. Rights owner Liberty Media wanted to achieve all of this even before the Covid-19 pandemic, but now the pressure for rapid change is much greater.
Bernie Ecclestone, the ex-F1 commercial boss, thinks his successors should be more drastic and make the technology less complicated. “Somebody needs to tear up the rulebooks — and really write new rules,” the 89-year-old said in an Autocar interview, demanding that roaring engines are brought back to replace hybrids. “We need to make sure that F1 remains an entertainment package.”
Whatever happens, Todt will not take too many risks. “We must be humble; even if we love motor sport, it is not essential for society,” he said. “So we have to ensure that we make wise decisions.”
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