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

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