“We should have…” F1’s eternal refrain
across the sport; the time of contentious Resource Restriction Agreements and the imposition of cost caps on prevailing engines – yet this most elementary of components was never considered, let alone discussed!
Of course, those who now justify the estimated £20m two-car team annual costs of the engines – something like 250 per cent up on the (admittedly crude) V8s of old, despite being supplied at a discount of up to 50 per cent if Renault’s engine department budgets are any guide – do so on the basis that the state of the global economy was then unknown. Lehman Bros and AIG had collapsed; the US dollar gone way south. Now, of course, the universal refrain from majors such as Red Bull and independents Lotus, Force India and Sauber alike is: “We should have capped power unit prices,” with the FIA now pledging to reduce engine bills.
“Here, I take the responsibility of probably not having secured a maximum cost to teams. It’s something we will address; it’s better late than never,” FIA president Jean Todt said recently – although, to be utterly fair to him, he assumed power after the original proposals were formulated, and the FIA plays just one part in the overall decision-making process.
In fact, when the engine regulations were approved in mid-2011 – before the formation of the undemocratic Strategy Group, which panders to six teams – all teams held an equal vote on the Formula 1 Commission, including such as Caterham and Marussia (later to plunge into liquidation, with their engine partners among the largest creditors) and all current independents. Included here, too, are most circuit owners and F1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone, who, as a group, are the most vociferous critics of F1’s current power units.
There is, though, every possibility that cost caps imposed back then would have dissuaded the likes of Mercedes, Renault and Honda – and Ferrari, although an exception could well be made for the Scuderia due to their structure – from committing to the units, for their business cases were based on recovering certain levels of income from customers.
To retrospectively impose cost caps will create displeasure in boardrooms in Stuttgart, Paris and Tokyo – plus Fiat’s towers in Turin – for any reduction in income would need to be subsidised by said manufacturers at a time when the sport’s popularity is clearly waning.
In addition, Caterham’s collapse means Renault, now supplying just the two Red Bull teams, has one less income stream – crucial given the high xed-cost components of power units – having planned for four teams to defray cost. Further exits will impact correspondingly on engine suppliers already carrying some rather busy red books. Once again F1 nds itself betwixt rock and hard place.
The root cause lies in the sport’s inability to take timely, thought-through decisions ahead of deadlines. When these loom large, it hurriedly frames expedient compromises for last-minute drafting by disgruntled rule makers, then forces these through, usually via archaic measures such as fax votes.
Has F1 learned from its experiences? Having announced ambitious changes for 2017 – 1,000bhp engines; wider tyres bolstered by low-prole sidewalls; ground effect and ‘beefy’ bodywork – under the current regulations these must be agreed by 28 February 2016, yet current debates revolve around ground effect versus standard oors, and whether fuel-tank capacity should be increased.
Here’s betting 2017’s stock phrase will be: “We should have delayed by a year…”