The ‘haves’ have it…

Ig­ni­tion / An­thony Rowl­in­son / 03.15

F1 Racing - - CONTENTS -

“It’s like pre-rev­o­lu­tion­ary France” was the sage ob­ser­va­tion made by one sea­soned con­trib­u­tor to F1 Rac­ing as he gauged the mood of the Jerez pre-sea­son pad­dock. The ‘haves’, he ex­plained, were bet­ter funded and more con­fi­dent of their stand­ing as big beasts in the F1 jun­gle than at any time in re­cent mem­ory. In this cat­e­gory we might place Mercedes, Fer­rari, McLaren, Wil­liams, Red Bull and – thanks to their as­so­ci­a­tion with the wealthy moth­er­ship – Toro Rosso.

So far so good. But what of the ‘have nots’, who we must clas­sify as Lo­tus, Force In­dia, and Sauber? Each of th­ese valiant bat­tlers has emerged from the win­ter in bet­ter shape than they left 2014: Lo­tus have a car and en­gine pack­age that will al­low their driv­ers to per­form; spon­sor-light Sauber look ‘testing-quick’; and Force In­dia, new car un­seen as we went to press, at least have the com­fort of fresh Mex­i­can fund­ing (see p64).

But how healthy are they re­ally? Sauber are heav­ily re­liant on the cash brought in by Mar­cus Eric­s­son and highly rated rookie Felipe Nasr (see p78) to fund their ex­ploits; the true na­ture of Lo­tus’ fi­nances re­main opaque, while Force In­dia, de­spite a bank-bal­ance boost, have been strug­gling to get their new chas­sis ready in time for Mel­bourne (see F1 In­sider, p12).

Six ro­bust teams; three strug­gling and two non­starters (un­less the rem­nants of Marus­sia are ex­humed by a City-backed, Graeme Low­don-led con­sor­tium). This presents a tricky mes­sage for a sport with global reach and ex­pan­sion­ist in­tent. For even as it grows and reaches ever fur­ther from its Euro-heart­land (Mex­ico this year, Azer­bai­jan and pos­si­bly Qatar in 2016), F1 seems to be in dan­ger from pric­ing it­self be­yond the reach of all but the very wealth­i­est par­tic­i­pants.

Sure F1 has al­ways been a sport through which cash has sluiced fast and loose, but now, with­out the back­ing of a global cor­po­ra­tion, or, in Wil­liams’ case, strength built upon decades of achieve­ment and, lately, root-and-branch re­form of in­ter­nal work­ing prac­tices, there seems to be less and less room for the lit­tle guy.

And even an of­ten-cal­lous sport like F1 should care about the diminu­tion of the grid, for what is victory with­out op­po­si­tion to beat? No dis­credit to Mercedes, or, be­fore them, Red Bull for achiev­ing dom­i­nance, but is that re­ally what sport is for – crush­ing the op­po­si­tion or squeez­ing them so hard that par­tic­i­pa­tion be­comes un­sus­tain­able? Re­mem­ber the ex­cite­ment of 2012 when Sauber bat­tled for vic­to­ries and podi­ums? Or 2013 when Lo­tus were of­ten the clos­est chal­lengers to a fleet Red Bull? It seems un­likely that ei­ther will have much hope of get­ting on terms with Lewis and Nico this sea­son.

It doesn’t have to be this way, though, as regular read­ers of this mag­a­zine (and, in par­tic­u­lar, of Di­eter Rencken’s Power Play col­umn, p23) will know. A more eq­ui­table dis­tri­bu­tion of rev­enues would help guar­an­tee the ex­is­tence of the smaller play­ers and the liveli­hoods of those who work for them, while en­rich­ing the show and main­tain­ing F1’s cher­ished her­itage of con­struc­tor-par­tic­i­pants. Will that hap­pen? Don’t hold your breath.

More likely, alas, a mes­sage of ‘let them eat cake’.

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