Lowe pre­pared to fight for a fairer F1 fu­ture

Wil­liams tech­ni­cal of­fi­cer wants a more com­pet­i­tive field, he tells Giles Richards

The Observer - Sport - - SPORT FORMULA ONE -

That both For­mula One ti­tles have already been de­cided should not de­tract from what is usu­ally the glo­ri­ous spec­ta­cle of rac­ing at In­ter­la­gos, but be­hind the scenes F1 is in the open­ing stages of some very tough trad­ing. Its new owner is con­sid­er­ing some of the most dif­fi­cult de­ci­sions it has yet to make and with the fu­ture of the sport be­ing forged, it does not look like be­ing a smooth process.

Pro­pos­als for new en­gine reg­u­la­tions for 2021 have cre­ated con­tro­versy but they are not the prob­lem F1 must face. Paddy Lowe, now back at Wil­liams as the chief tech­ni­cal of­fi­cer, has been in F1 since 1987 and af­ter ini­tial suc­cess at the team he re­turned to this year he went on to win fur­ther cham­pi­onships at McLaren and Mercedes. He is un­equiv­o­cal about the real is­sue. “Look at the gap be­tween the teams,” he says. “It is like the Pre­mier League and the Cham­pi­onship. There are two com­pletely dif­fer­ent races go­ing on.

“We hope to make sig­nif­i­cant in­roads into the two-sec­ond gap be­tween the lead­ers and the rest, based on be­ing ex­tremely ef­fi­cient with out re­sources. But it is not about en­gines, those lead­ing cars all have three dif­fer­ent en­gines. It is about the huge dis­par­ity in the fund­ing made avail­able to some teams against oth­ers. Ev­ery­body knows that, not least the own­ers of For­mula One.”

Wil­liams ex­em­plify this gap, us­ing the same Mercedes en­gines as the cham­pi­ons but stand­ing a dis­tant fifth in the con­struc­tors’ stand­ings.

It is un­sur­pris­ing that the en­gine changes – as drawn up by Ross Brawn, the sport­ing di­rec­tor, on be­half of the own­ers, the For­mula One Group, in con­sul­ta­tion with the FIA and man­u­fac­tur­ers – have cre­ated dis­sen­sion. The in­tent was to make the en­gines cheaper, louder and more at­trac­tive for new man­u­fac­tur­ers, based around the prin­ci­ple of keep­ing the 1.6-litre en­gine but ditch­ing the com­plex and ex­pen­sive mo­tor gen­er­a­tor heat unit at­tached to the turbo in favour of in­creas­ing the power of the ki­netic en­ergy re­cov­ery sys­tem.

The re­ac­tion from Mercedes and Re­nault was not favourable, with both con­cerned it would re­quire them to de­sign new power units at con­sid­er­able ex­pense, pro­mot­ing a new spend­ing race.

Then the Fer­rari pres­i­dent, Ser­gio Mar­chionne, weighed in, say­ing such was their dis­taste for the con­cept of stan­dard­ised parts it might be enough to make his team quit F1. “If we change the sand­box to the point where it be­comes an un­recog­nis­able sand­box, I don’t want to play any more,” he said.

Fer­rari are the only team to have been in F1 since the first world cham­pi­onship in 1950 and are its most suc­cess­ful con­struc­tor, giv­ing them strength in ne­go­ti­a­tions. A threat to leave is noth­ing new. The grand­stand­ing is no sur­prise but it has a se­ri­ous air this time. With Mar­chionne em­pha­sis­ing that fi­nan­cial com­mit­ments in F1 were of huge im­por­tance to the car-maker, he has said he would have no qualms about be­ing the man who took Fer­rari out of F1 and that such a move would be “to­tally ben­e­fi­cial to the profit and loss”.

For all the sound and fury, the en­gine de­bate will likely be con­cluded suc­cess­fully but that Mar­chionne has raised fi­nan­cial is­sues is telling, es­pe­cially in light of Lowe’s view­point, one that is com­mon in the pad­dock.

The For­mula One Group has made it clear that more com­pet­i­tive rac­ing among a greater num­ber of teams is the aim. Bring­ing to­gether the lead­ers – Mercedes, Fer­rari and Red Bull – with the mid­field is a goal shared by fans. F1’s strat­egy group met on Tues­day to dis­cuss bud­get caps – a meet­ing that has been seen as broadly pos­i­tive. But nei­ther en­gines nor bud­get caps are likely to prove the real stick­ing point. The test will be how to dis­trib­ute the rev­enues from F1 more fairly – and ul­ti­mately that is likely to be of more con­cern, par­tic­u­larly to Fer­rari.

Fer­rari re­ceive a long-stand­ing team bonus es­ti­mated to be worth $68m (£51.5m). They also col­lected a con­struc­tors’ cham­pi­onship bonus of more than $30m, as do Mercedes, Red Bull and McLaren. Wil­liams re­ceive a $10m her­itage pay­ment but the gap in rev­enue for 2017 be­tween Lowe’s team and Fer­rari is still around $100m.

That F1’s chief ex­ec­u­tive, Chase Carey, is aware of this is­sue is clear. “You need com­pe­ti­tion, you need the un­known, you need great fin­ishes, great dra­mas. We’ve got to cre­ate that,” he said. “That at­tracts more funds and that benefits all the teams.”

He is sell­ing a big-pic­ture con­cept that he would like many of the vested in­ter­ests to adopt. Whether he is able to do so is pos­si­bly the most im­por­tant task he will face and one that will de­cide whether F1 can en­ter a new era.

‘Look at the gap be­tween the teams. It is like the Pre­mier League and the Cham­pi­onship’

Paddy Lowe

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