“We should have…” F1’s eter­nal re­frain

F1 Racing - - INSIDER - DI­ETER RENCKEN

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-prole 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…”

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