Tough times for F1’s squeezed middle
“Strategy Group teams would do well to remember that they were once mid-fielders”
premiums to buy performance through better facilities and more manpower, and now they use the money to discount the rates. So we’re double-fucked…”
The crux of his complaint was that the current revenue structure rewards big teams such that they could undercut a deal by £30m and still be better off by the same amount than, say, a Force India – even given identical results over a season.
Of course it can be argued that hard bargaining has featured in sponsor negotiation for as long as the marketing discipline has existed in F1 (since 1968). As for poaching, you need only track sponsor migration over the years to realise that companies chop and change depending upon marketing objectives and deals on offer. It was dog-eat-dog, but teams went to negotiating tables secure in the knowledge that they earned the same for any given set of results, and that the major teams charged premiums for whatever benets were offered, from access through logo placement to technical partnerships, or whatever combination of menu items best suited the prospect.
So mid-gridders, with lower overheads and operating costs, pitched accordingly, but argued they offered incremental value through inherent exibility. Their entrepreneurial approaches generally proved more creative – Ron Dennis versus Eddie Jordan anyone? – while strategic opportunism provided superb returns on investment on uky Sundays.
Now, though, Safety Cars are standard fare; bulletproof engines and transmissions ensure astonishing reliability; and prescription tyres reduce the gambling that was once the norm for battlers, whose fate often hinged more on external factors than budgets. A decade ago Sauber could start 15th and end up in third courtesy of strategic and reliability factors; now they too often nish where they start.
Test restrictions have reduced hospitality opportunities, further affecting the sponsor menu. While the regulations apply to all, B-list teams are most disadvantaged. The ush teams have replaced track testing with (expensive) simulation tools, be they windtunnels or CFD installations, while smaller outts resort to rented facilities – which don’t, of course, provide the same level of bragging rights.
“Invite your corporate guests for a factory tour that includes a peek at our 200mph windtunnel CFD facility,” surely has a better ring than “Our rented windtunnel at XYZ University is out of bounds” or “Our engineers work from home using Dropbox.”
The plight of the mideld has always been desperate, but never has it been more precarious. Every ingredient, whether sporting, technical or commercial, is stacked against them, counter to every sporting convention.
Strategy Group teams would do well to remember they were once mid-elders: Red Bull started as Stewart GP, scoring just six points in their debut season in 1997; Bruce McLaren towed his M2B about behind a Ford Galaxy, his team netting three points in 1966. Now the team currently lies a sliver ahead of Force India in the title hunt.
Lotus were once Toleman, failing to score in their rst two seasons, while Sir Frank Williams was formerly on rst-name terms with Slough’s bailiffs. Mercedes? They were once Tyrrell, also enduring fraught seasons. As for Ferrari – this year, the less said the better.
Those teams argue they pulled themselves up by their seats belts. But they can’t deny that a level playing eld let them do so.