FIA CHIEF URGES F1 TO SAVE INDEPENDENT TEAMS BY SLASHING COSTS
Keeping costs down is crucial to ensure the survival of the independent teams, full fields and the long-term future of Formula One. That's the message that FIA President Max Mosley recently sent by letter to the current 10 F1 teams.
On Jan. 15, the FIA proposed a number of rule changes to cut costs and to improve F1 racing. For starters, electronic driver aids, such as traction control, will be banned midway through this season.
Between 2004 and 2006, the FIA will require the use of long-life car components, such as gearboxes. Furthermore, in 2004, only one engine may be used for each car during the entire race weekend. In 2005, the engine must last for two race weekends, and in 2006, engine life will be extended to six race weekends. The FIA also wants to eliminate the use of expensive exotic materials in any part of the car, including the engine.
Some of these proposals have met with resistance from the teams and the auto manufacturers involved in F1.
In his letter sent to teams Feb. 7, Mosley stated the FIA's case. The problem, Mosley wrote, is that the high costs created by the manufacturers make it difficult for the small teams to survive.
Seven major car manufacturers now are involved in F1: Ferrari/Fiat, Ford/Jaguar, BMW, Honda, DaimlerChrysler/Mercedes, Toyota and Renault.
"They all deploy vast technical and financial resources," Mosley said in the letter. "This brings benefits, but presents two significant difficulties: first, any team not backed by a major manufacturer is likely to find itself short of money and technology, particularly in an economic recession; secondly, there is no guarantee that one or several of these manufacturers will not stop racing."
Mosley said manufacturers have a history of coming and going over the years.
"There is nothing wrong with that - Formula One is not their core business, merely one of a number of marketing and technology options available to them," Mosley said. "However, in planning for the future we must take account of the possibility of having only one or two manufacturers in Formula One at any given time, or as many as eight or nine."
The way to guarantee the long-term health and stability of F1 is to ensure a solid group of independent teams that do not depend on manufacturers for survival, Mosley said.
"We can rely on the independent teams," he said. "We cannot rely on the manufacturers. Although their presence is very welcome, the car manufacturers will come and go as it suits them."
The three best ways to control costs, according to Mosley:
1) Eliminating unnecessary and complex equipment and procedures at these races
2) Requiring the use of long-life car components and engine
3) Allowing teams to use components (or even entire chassis) designed or built by other teams or outside supplier
It costs an independent team about $20 million for a one-year F1 engine lease program. That figure should drop below $10 million in 2004 because a team will use only one engine per car, per weekend instead of two or three as at present, Mosley said.
"In 2005, the figure will be closer to $5 million (if the new proposals are adopted) because engines will now last for two weekends," Mosley said. "And in 2006, the cost can be expected to drop to about $1.6 million because the engine will last six weekends."
Mosley reasoned that expensive engine programs do not benefit the fans.
"Despite a reduction in engine costs of more than 90 percent, no one in the grandstands or watching on television will notice the slightest difference," Mosley said. "In fact, the only real problem with the six-race engine is finding a well-balanced scale of penalties for premature engine change, which is enough to deter systematic changes without putting the driver concerned out of contention in the Championship."
Some fans will react negatively to the idea of a six-race engine, and they may claim it's not Formula One, Mosley said, but he reasoned: "We can expect well over 700 horsepower and about 16,000 RPM from our six-race engine in 2006, about the same as the best Formula One engines as recently as 1996."
The arguments relating to the engine apply equally to other parts of the car, Mosley said. The introduction of long-life gearboxes, suspension, bodywork and other components will have the same effect.
"A major team or manufacturer will continue to spend large sums developing these items but will not have the cost of replacing them (in some cases) after every race," Mosley said. "This will not only save the major teams money but also free up production capacity, thus providing every incentive to sell components to independent teams. The independent teams, in turn, will save both the cost of development and the cost of constant replacement. All teams, large and small, will also save on personnel."
According to Mosley, a combination of long-life engines, long-life components, inexpensive materials and the right for one team to sell to another can very significantly reduce the cost of going racing. Those teams that cannot afford to spend large sums on research and development no longer will need to do so. They will not have to struggle to keep up.
"Thus independent teams would have chassis and engines very similar to those of the major teams," Mosley said. "This would enable a well-run independent team with an outstanding driver to be competitive and even win races from time to time. Combined with low costs, this will enable such teams to operate in a stable and financially successful business environment.
"If these measures are adopted, Formula One will be able to continue at a very high level with 10 to 12 teams without being affected by the comings and goings of the major car manufacturers. The proposed system will work just as well if we have only one or two manufacturers in Formula One as it would if every team were backed by a major manufacturer."
In the conclusion of his letter, Mosley wrote:
"We believe the ideas outlined above are the only way to run a viable racing series when an indeterminate number of very rich and technically advanced companies can become involved at any time on an ad-hoc basis. If major car manufacturers decide to enter Formula One and spend large sums producing very high technology engines and chassis, the only way to stop this eventually putting the independent teams out of business is to introduce regulations which make it expedient for each manufacturer to supply its chassis and engines to other teams at fully affordable prices."
Mosley has invited the teams to meet to discuss his proposals.