Help for the midfield offered then denied
The independents did as bid, targeting the forfeited revenues of the two ‘fallen’ teams, and headed for Brazil, unaware that Ecclestone had seemingly not cleared the full implications (potentially up to £200m/pa) with CVC co-chairman Donald Mackenzie.
Imagine their shock when they arrived in São Paulo to be told that the solution to the cash crisis lay not in a fairer nancial playing eld, to let them to race on level terms against ve top teams who enjoy premium pay-outs varying from £75m to a fth of that, but in reductions to their own budgets.
This notwithstanding the Strategy Group in March 2014 blocking cost caps ahead of ratication by the FIA’s World Motorsport Council; notwithstanding calendar expansion; and notwithstanding the costs of hybrid power units, which have seen engine costs double.
Add in a backdrop of falling live audiences/reduced global TV interest with a commensurate reduction in sponsor interest and renegotiated race promoter contracts, whose price tags increasingly head south – further reducing F1’s ‘pot’ – and it is little wonder the trio face bleak futures.
Worse, the independent trio were then allegedly informed that two primary teams – Red Bull and Ferrari – would be called upon to enter third cars in 2015 to bolster grids to ensure F1 does not breach its covenants, with full-scale introduction of customer cars to follow in 2016: moves that would totally destroy their business models.
These suggestions were immediately denied by said teams, despite such clauses existing in their contracts, and Ecclestone switched tack, alluding to a sort of ‘Super GP2’ to bolster grids, which would also decimate the independents. That such unlikely rule changes, including the possible switch to V8s, would require ratication by a sceptical FIA (by 1 March) seemed not to faze the 84-year-old.
The engine situation is equally farcical: As soon as the energy-efcient engines were introduced in January, Bernie Ecclestone and Ferrari’s then president Luca Di Montezemolo immediately ridiculed the complex ‘green’ power units and called for a return to gasguzzling V8 power, before ip-opping in the face of heavy criticism.
Was that the end of it? No. The saga rumbled on, rearing its head in Austin, where the lack of noise was blamed for a drop in crowds – when the major contributing factor was arguably the familial signicance of the USA’s Halloween celebrations, which appeared lost on FOM when they devised the 2014 calendar.
Not content with inicting damage on the efforts and costs (£500m plus) of upwards of 1,000 engineers spread over four major motor manufacturers, the issue was revisited in Brazil during ongoing disputes over engine homologation tokens and ‘unfreezes’.
In a masterclass of U-turning, the issue has now been subject to four different meetings at successive GPs, resulting in as many nonresolutions. Then, at Interlagos, Ecclestone and others, including Red Bull team boss Christian Horner, argued that F1 should revert to V8 units, which have their roots in last century’s V10s. The regulatory and operational implications were conveniently overlooked.
The costs of introducing such knee-jerk regulations to avert Formula 1’s nancial crisis would be astronomical. It would be cheaper to level the playing eld by redistributing F1’s revenues, but that would have the independents snapping closer to the heels of the majors. Hence the clumsy ip-ops.