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Analysis: F1 headed for showdown over customer cars

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Analysis: F1 headed for showdown over customer cars
Jun 7, 2015, 3:37 PM

There has been a lot of talking this weekend about customer cars, moving on from the most recent F1 Strategy Group meeting.

There has been a lot of talking this weekend about customer cars, moving on from the most recent F1 Strategy Group meeting. This weekend the top teams, who would be the suppliers in this scenario, met to discuss how a customer car F1 might work.

They position this as a 'contingency plan' in case the small teams go out of business and the clauses in their contracts require the larger teams to supply additional cars to bolster the numbers.

Needless to say the smaller teams see this as the start of a process whereby they would eventually be obliged by market forces to become customers even if the numbers do not dwindle, as to be competitive would mean using a second Ferrari or Mercedes.

So what is the current talk around this and how might it work?

Ecclestone, Wolff

It's not just about money - it's about power

There are several ideas at large; one is Bernie Ecclestone's which is to have a two-tier F1, where smaller teams can buy two cars from his customer car supplier, which would probably be 2013 Red Bull chassis managed by Colin Kolles, with V8 Renault engines supplied by Mecachrome. This would cost €15m a year for two cars, but spares and operations are extra.

Ecclestone likes this idea - a kind of GP1, if you like - because it means that the smaller teams would be decoupled from the larger teams and manufacturers and that reduces the power of the big teams in the F1 ecosystem.

In a scenario where teams are purchasing customer cars from Mercedes, Ferrari or Red Bull, that gives the five larger teams more power in the F1 ecosystem. Already one of the unforeseen consequences of the F1 Strategy Group is that it has given the top five teams more power.

This sort of package might be attractive to very wealthy owners who want to be involved in F1 and maybe use it to grow their outside business in a low cost way.

Ecclestone, Arrivabene

What do the top teams want to do?

The top teams' idea is to sell chassis to customer teams in the some way as manufacturers currently supply (or more accurately lease) engines to them.

They are calling this 'franchise cars' - the idea is attractive to them because they can pass on some of their development costs into these customer chassis, as they do with the engines. The suggestion is that the price of this model would probably be around €40m a season to run two cars, plus another €15m or so for the engines. So a team would be ready to go for around €55m a season. Then there are spare parts and operational costs on top, so it's a lot more expensive.

For teams like Sauber, Force India and Lotus, who want to remain constructors and have their own chassis, the picture becomes very tough in this scenario as they would probably be outperformed by a year old Mercedes or Ferrari and so they would be spending €100m a year to do their own car and get beaten by a team running on two thirds of that amount, so market forces would dictate that it would soon become a case of 'if you cannot beat them, join them."

Arrivabene, Steiner

Are there any other ideas going around?

Another idea which is doing the rounds, but not gaining much traction, is to take the model being used by Haas F1 of technical collaboration with Ferrari and push it further with some relaxing of the FIA sporting regulations, so a small team can be a co-constructor with a large one. This has its attractions in that it allows a small team to still be able to have some of its own IP in the car and to be able to tell that story of being a constructor to sponsors and the public.

But it takes away a lot of the heavy costs of running an F1 team, like employing 100 engineers and needing all the manufacturing departments a team today needs.

You could lower the headcount and the costs and be a solid midfield runner who might, on his day, get a podium. That would be almost impossible for a team using the GP1 spec car to envisage.

What is the time frame for all of this?

All efforts at the moment are going into setting some new rules for 2017 to revive the show and to re-imagine more exciting cars. This customer car topic is part of that discussion and the goal is to table a plan for approval at the next FIA World Motor Sport Council meeting in Mexico in early July.

However the emergence on Friday of the news that some small teams are poised to take an official complaint to the EU Commission within the next month, muddies the waters a little and it will be very interesting to see whether the plan press ahead regardless of whether the focus changes.
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Series Formula 1
Tags innovation