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Do the big teams have a responsibility to the rest of the F1 field?

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Do the big teams have a responsibility to the rest of the F1 field?
Oct 26, 2014, 8:06 PM

Formula 1 will set up its show in the United States this week, but it won't be quite as shiny and impressive as it has been.

Formula 1 will set up its show in the United States this week, but it won't be quite as shiny and impressive as it has been. It comes at a time of major soul searching as two teams, Caterham and Marussia, will be left behind in the UK after calling in the administrators. The show at the front of the field will feature the two Mercedes drivers battling for victory in their challenge for the drivers' title; the teams' championship is already wrapped up.

But the talk in the paddock will be of how the financial crisis, which has been simmering under the smaller teams for some time, has now surfaced and the question will be, "Who's next?"

There is plenty of money in F1, it's just that the people with influence don't want it to filter down to the smaller (and especially the newer) teams.

The F1 teams now share a prize fund of over $750 million a year, which would equate to $68 million to each team, if it were divided equally between the 11 outfits, but sport doesn't work like that, especially F1. There is a graduated fall in most sports leagues where the winning team earns the most and the bottom team the least. It is the ratio that is the key.

In the Premier League the difference from top to bottom is 1.5 to 1, according to colleagues in the industry. In F1 it is more like 4.5 to 1, thanks to the bonus payments that teams like Ferrari and Red Bull receive off the top, as part of the bilateral deals struck with Bernie Ecclestone soon after they quit the F1 teams' association (FOTA).

Motor Racing - Formula One World Championship - Russian Grand Prix - Race Day - Sochi, Russia

So the question is; do the top teams have any responsibility to the smaller teams to help them to be sustainable, or should F1 persist with its culture of forcing new teams to struggle unless they are backed by a global drinks brand or a major manufacturer?

As head of Mercedes motorsport Toto Wolff has more of a feel for the temperature of other teams than most team principals, as he supplies engines to three customer teams, McLaren, Force India and Williams. Next season Lotus will replace McLaren. Speaking as part of a long feature interview with the Financial Times, which will be published on Friday, he says that the sport needs to look after small teams.. but only up to a point,

"We have a certain responsibility to the rest of the field, but this cannot be our main objective," he says. "We have seen in the past more than 100 F1 teams that have come and gone. It's good that in the past the commercial rights holder has tried to take care of the very loyal, important teams for F1.

"It is clear that Ferrari, Mercedes, Red Bull, McLaren, Williams those guys have been around or ever and they have healthy business models. It's clear that you are trying to put more emphasis and priority on keeping those teams in the sport than teams that have just come in, where it is unclear what the shareholders' purpose is, what the shareholders' targets are, whether funding is a bit of a struggle from year to year.

"But I think this is how F1 has always been. It hasn't changed massively (compared) to the past."

Motor Racing - Formula One World Championship - Russian Grand Prix - Qualifying Day - Sochi, Russia

When future generations look at the history of this period of F1, it will be immediately obvious to them that the failure of two teams came in the same year when engine costs doubled with the introduction of the hybrid turbo engines, costing the best part of $20 million per season. But it will also be clear that this followed the formation of the F1 Strategy Group, which features only the six most powerful teams. The sport is consolidating around a core group. The interesting thing is that next year the team that does not have an automatic right to a place on the F1 Strategy Group, Lotus, will lose its place (due to poor results) and it will be taken by Force India, which has been the body's most vocal critic.

Force India is an organisation that took over the worst performing team in F1 (then called Midland/Spyker) and made it into a viable force that has battled for fifth in the Constructors' Championship this year with McLaren and scored pole positions and podiums. They have the most to lose from three car teams and all the other things rolling off the agenda of the F1 Strategy Group.

In many ways they are a bellwether, a line in the sand for the sport: if they start to struggle and the big teams stand by and let it happen, then we really are entering "consolidated F1".

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