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A Very Big Day Indeed

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A Very Big Day Indeed
Dec 12, 2008, 5:26 AM

Today could turn out to be a day, which will stand out in the history books of Formula 1.

Today could turn out to be a day, which will stand out in the history books of Formula 1. At the FIA World Council meeting in Monaco some huge decisions will be taken, which reflect a sea change in attitude within the F1 teams compared to recent years and which will herald the start of a move towards a totally new F1 concept, certainly as far as engines are concerned.

Following the surprise withdrawal of Honda a week ago, a fresh mood of realism has finally crept in and the remaining nine teams met with FIA president Max Mosley on Wednesday and presented a package of proposals to drastically cut costs. All parties described the meeting as a 'breakthrough' and we wait with baited breath to see what shape our sport will take in the future.

The cornerstone of the proposal is a standard engine and drivetrain. Currently the costs of developing and producing the engine and gearbox are considered to be roughly half a Formula One operating budget for some teams, or £30 million per year. The FIA wants to remove the drivetrain as an area in which teams compete with each other, thus eliminating the need to spend such sums on it.

Under the plans before the World Council today, the standard engine will be supplied by Cosworth and the gearbox by Xtrac/Ricardo, costing around £5 million per season. It remains to be seen how many teams will sign up for this in 2010. Teams have the option of building their own engine but it must be to the exact Cosworth design and therefore equivalent in performance. I fancy that many of the big names will do this, including Ferrari. However, I'm told that one of the breakthroughs at the meeting on Wednesday was that this option has been made 'sexier', hence why the top names were happy to agree to it. We'll see what that entails later today.

The idea behind the standard engine is simple - to calm down the excessive spending of recent times and get things under control. But the intention thereafter is to reintroduce competitive engines to a completely new design in 2013. These are likely to be turbocharged, probably V6 and the competition element will be reintroduced, probably based on fuel efficiency, rather than outright performance.

Although the proposals are being kept confidential at this stage, it is believed that the agenda today also includes the famous Ecclestone 'gold medals' plan, a complete ban on testing during the racing season, which would do away with the need for dedicated test teams, and a restriction on the use of windtunnels and aerodynamic research. This will mean a major slimming down of staff numbers. Totting it up on the back of an envelope, this is going to save around £40-£50 million per year for some teams.

Also Max Mosley indicated here in Monaco on Wednesday that Honda might subsidise the 2009 season for any prospective buyer. Bearing in mind that the Times is reporting that the bill to shut the whole Brackley operation down is likely to be £100, it's still cheaper for them to hold on to a third of the staff, give the team away and put in £30 million or so to the budget. If the cost reduction proposals are rubber stamped by the FIA today, then a buyer could have some confidence that going into F1 now wasn't going to lose him his shirt. There are some people around willing to spend £40 million per year, but no-one wants to spend £120 million, as the bills used to be. The timing could work out if the signals from the FIA today are strong enough on cost reduction.

Williams' Adam Parr spoke passionately yesterday at the F1 Business Forum and reaffiirmed that the team already has 90% of its budget for 2009. He pointed out that Honda pulled out because the costs to benefit ratio for them didn't work, but each team has a different ratio and as Williams exists only to race, they would carry on whatever the budget they raised.

Meanwhile FOTA president Luca di Montezomolo hailed the new spirit of co-operation between teams,

“There is a common sense of the difficult moment of our sport. Yesterday we could see the great responsibility of all the participants. The world-wide economical crisis and the enormous increase of costs in Formula One over the last years lead the FIA and its President to give a strong and right impulse to cut costs as of 2010 to get our sport back into acceptable economical dimensions, so all teams will be able to participate. The answer we could find was beyond our all expectations.”

We wait for around 2pm UK time to see the details in an FIA press release, telling us what we will be looking at next season and beyond.
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