How can we make F1 small-team friendly?

F1 Racing - - INSIDER -

to a sen­si­ble level and cre­ate an en­vi­ron­ment where more teams can be com­pet­i­tive.

That will be hard to achieve, be­cause F1 needs to stay at the pin­na­cle of tech­nol­ogy – which means it’s hun­gry for in­vest­ment. Any team boss will tell you that un­less you’re push­ing for­wards with car de­vel­op­ment, your com­pet­i­tive­ness goes back­wards. To be what it is, to com­mand the au­di­ence that it does, F1 needs what econ­o­mists call ‘bar­ri­ers to en­try’ – but in my opin­ion th­ese bar­ri­ers shouldn’t be as high as they are at the mo­ment. What should we do, then? There’s been talk of boost­ing grid num­bers by hav­ing some teams run three cars. This is un­pop­u­lar, and not only with the smaller teams who feel they’re be­ing edged out of the sport. Some of those who’d be called upon to eld a third car don’t like the idea ei­ther, be­cause at the mo­ment that’s a recipe for an all-Mercedes podium.

I hear Bernie Ec­cle­stone has sug­gested a two-tier sys­tem, with ve or so man­u­fac­turer teams run­ning cur­rent cars and another ve or more cus­tomers with ‘Su­per GP2’ cars from a sin­gle man­u­fac­turer. It’s not very F1, and in any case GP2 is al­ready very ex­pen­sive – just look at Felix Rosen­qvist, the guy who’s just won the Ma­cau GP. He’s talk­ing about rac­ing in Ja­pan, in Su­per For­mula, be­cause he can’t put a bud­get to­gether to race in GP2 or F1.

Red Bull’s Christian Horner has sug­gested that F1 should go back to run­ning the old V8 en­gines be­cause they’re less ex­pen­sive. I don’t agree with that en­tirely, but what if we com­bined it with the two-tier idea?

My ideal would be six con­struc­tors and six pri­vate teams run­ning same-year cars, one per con­struc­tor. Points for ev­ery car in the con­struc­tors’ cham­pi­onship and no test­ing, to in­cen­tivise the con­struc­tor to give the teams the real thing and even test the new parts in their cars from time to time. Cost would be be­tween the $4-5m that GP2 costs and the $100m+ for the cur­rent back mark­ers. And good rac­ing through the eld. You could have man­u­fac­turer teams run­ning hy­brid pow­er­trains, while pri­va­teers run V8 en­gines. The trick would be to bal­ance the per­for­mance, but in the mod­ern age we have a rich re­source of data that can help us ar­rive at that bal­ance. You could have re­stric­tor plates, like the Toro Rosso that ran with the three­l­itre en­gine in 2006. Or, more imag­i­na­tively you could bal­ance the per­for­mance by giv­ing pri­va­teer cars a lower min­i­mum weight. This would make up for the fact that they’ll have to carry more fuel at the start be­cause they’re less efcient. Find­ing the right bal­ance would be hard, and we might not get it right rst time, but it would be worth it to pre­serve F1’s fu­ture.

On the com­mer­cial side, it was in­ter­est­ing to see Cater­ham launch a crowd­fund­ing model to get to Abu Dhabi. I hope this model works and gen­er­ates some benet for those who invest. Sim­i­larly, it was fan­tas­tic to see that Project Brab­ham have ex­ceeded their tar­get by of­fer­ing a range of in­cen­tives to in­vestors: £1 gets you the sat­is­fac­tion of hav­ing con­trib­uted, £5,500 gets you a pit­pass at Le Mans as part of the team with spe­cial en­gi­neer­ing tasks. That’s the kind of thing that re­ally gets fans in­volved.

Be­sides my plea­sure at see­ing a great name re­turn to mo­tor­sport, it’s good to see a new en­ter­prise suc­ceed by think­ing dif­fer­ently.

Crowd­fund­ing helped get a strug­gling Cater­ham onto the grid in Abu Dhabi, but can this work as a long-term so­lu­tion?

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