THE HAVES AND HAVE-NOTS OF F1
Nothing better illustrates the void between the sharp and blunt ends of the current F1 grid than the teams’ differing responses to cost control. There is competitive inequality, yet several teams have a vested interest in the situation remaining as it is, and are blocking change.
Since expenditure is linked with success, some form of cost control would help less wealthy teams compete on a more level playing field with those for whom money is no object. Cost controls were to be enshrined in the regulations – until the Strategy Group, the sport’s rule-making body, abruptly U-turned. The six teams on the Strategy Group (Red Bull, McLaren, Mercedes, Ferrari, Williams and Lotus) combined their votes with the six held by commercial rights holder FOM to outgun the FIA by 12 votes to six. Following that, independents Sauber, Caterham, Force India and Marussia wrote to FIA president Jean Todt imploring him to re-institute cost-capping. They argued that the prevailing system – whereby six teams, five of which share premium payments totalling £160m, hold the power to frame self-serving regulations “questions the very basis of some of the rules of F1 competition.” They suggested it was in breach of EU laws governing fair competition and abuse of market power, and that it ran counter to International Olympic Committee [IOC] principles of fair competition and transparency, democracy and fair representation. Having signed up to the IOC charter last year, the FIA should abide by it.
Senior figures in these teams have grown vocal about the legality of the premium payments. At a media conference in Spain, Force India’s Bob Fernley stated, “Teams receiving extra payments need to look into it themselves …they need to look at the payments through their legal teams.” Sauber team principal Monisha Kaltenborn added: “It’s more for those teams to know what they’re doing or not, and to assess the legal effects.”
The odd team out was Toro Rosso; neither independent (on account of being owned by Red Bull), nor disenfranchised (by virtue of
“Do you think it’s on our agenda to close the gap between the teams? I think it is not” Toto Wolff
its sisterly relationship with the main team). Hence team boss Franz Tost was utterly diplomatic throughout, expressing his support for the Strategy Group and their alternative proposal to control costs via technical/sporting regulations rather than an outright cap. The FIA called up the remaining team principals for the equivalent press conference in Monaco, where they were unrepentant about the inequality. Mercedes’ Toto Wolff, whose F1 team and power-unit supplier employ 1,200 people – more than the four independents combined – stressed it was not in his team’s interests to level the financial playing field. “Do you think it’s on our agenda to close the gap between the teams? I think it is not on my agenda,” he said. “On my agenda is to win races and win both world championships.”
Red Bull’s Christian Horner defended the situation on the basis that “It’s a brutal competition and it’s survival of the fittest.” Claire Williams simply stated “I don’t want to comment on the division of money in F1” before praising the performance of Mercedes, who supply power units to Williams. That Wolff is the team’s second-largest individual shareholder after the family went unsaid.
Ferrari’s team principal Marco Mattiacci followed the Strategy Group line, saying, “Looking for equality could be something that could harm dramatically the product of F1.”
The only one to lament F1’s revenue divide was Lotus deputy team principal Federico Gastaldi, who said: “We need to work on our budgets. Each of us has different budgets to run the programme, but it’s also about how money is given to each team. It’s not easy.”
Too right: cash-strapped Lotus is the only Strategy Group member not to receive subsidies, being a member of the group only by invitation on the basis of recent performance. On current form they are likely to lose their seat. Thus the yawning gap between the haves and have-nots is unlikely to reduce until the FIA finds a way of introducing regulated cost controls – or FOM introduce equitable payments across the board. The bad news for the four independents – and F1 – is that the current agreement runs to 2020. But EU intervention could change that…
Sauber’s Monisha Kaltenborn and Force India’s Bob Fernley (left) are among independents arguing for cost-cutting; Mercedes’ Toto Wolff and Ferrari’s Marco Mattiacci (right) are on the other side of the fence