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Weekend Debate: How Force India might win the Formula 1 World Championship

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Weekend Debate: How Force India might win the Formula 1 World Championship
Feb 7, 2016, 12:39 PM

Imagine Force India leading the F1 World Championship by a decent margin, with a third of the season to go.

Imagine Force India leading the F1 World Championship by a decent margin, with a third of the season to go. Impossible, right?

Well something similar is happening in football's English Premier League, where humble Leicester City are five points clear at the top of the table, leaving heavyweight rivals with huge budgets like Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City in their wake. Yesterday they hammered main title rivals City 3-1, another sparkling result.

It really is the equivalent of Force India's Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez winning Grands Prix regularly, knocking Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel off the podium in F1.

Jamie Vardy

So why is it happening now in football and is it really impossible to imagine in F1?

Top tier sports are all about money; they are run as businesses and much of that money is channelled back into buying players to try to buy success. To do that you need a healthily income, most of which comes from TV revenues, which are split between the 20 teams in the Premier League.

The difference between F1 and the Premier League is that the TV money is split relatively equally between the 20 teams. Next year, for example, the bottom placed team will earn more from the EPL than the champions will earn this year.

Next season the EPL is set to have a step change in income as the new TV deal with Sky and BT Sport kicks in. The current worldwide deal splits £5.5 billion between them over three years, the new one starting in September for a similar period will give them a windfall of £8.3bn, it was revealed last week.

In the UK alone, the 2016-19 seasons's TV rights were sold for £5.13bn, 71% more than the previous deal. Sky paid £4.2bn for the lion's share of the games and BT Sport paid £960m. Sky's fee was 83% more than last time round; it had to spend big because, without the football, it's whole TV operation has less solid foundations. But it's one of the main reasons why the budget for their F1 coverage has been dramatically cut back and why they are sharing cameras and facilities on site now with Sky Germany and Sky Italy.

This evolution of the EPL TV income and the fair distribution among all teams has meant that midfield teams like Leicester City, West Ham and Crystal Palace have been able to buy players of a high quality, not the £50m international star signings that Chelsea or Man City acquire, but very good quality young international players and so they can compete with the big boys on any given day and beat them in matches consistently.

This season has been a wonderfully humbling experience for teams like Chelsea and also Man City, beaten at home yesterday by Leicester.

With more money coming in there is no reason why this levelling of the playing field should not continue.

Khaldoon_Al_Mubarak&R.Cregan_Abu_Dhabi'09_225

Man City is backed by the limitless wealth of Abu Dhabi's Sheikh Mansoor and his chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak, who is also the man behind Yas Marina Circuit. They have reacted in the way that real competitors do, by hiring the best coach in the world, Pep Guardiola (of Barcelona and Bayern Munich fame) to lead them from this summer onwards.

He will no doubt invest in some very expensive players to build an unbeatable team, like he built at Barcelona around the genius Lionel Messi, but with so much money flowing into all the EPL clubs, there are no guarantees that City will have it easy. The Leicester scenario can play out again if a talented manager buys players of sufficient quality and then coaches them brilliantly to play as a team.

The cliche in the EPL at the moment is that 'there are no easy games in this league any more.'

Mercedes F1

This is the opposite of F1 as it has become in recent times and which has led to so many fans feeling disillusioned with the sport. They are joined in that feeling by many professionals working in F1, from the pit lane to the media centre.

The sport is just not competitive enough; it is the opposite of the EPL, in other words the reason for the success of one is, in reverse, the reason for the failure of the other.

While the increments in payment between the EPL teams from first to 20th are relatively modest, the disparity in F1 is large. Top F1 teams receive deals which heavily favour them, with their bonus payments of up to $100m, before the rest of the commercial revenues are split. This, allied to other financial advantages from their backers, led to Red Bull dominating for 4 years in a row and Mercedes cleaning up in the last two seasons.

In that context, Ferrari hasn't really made the most of the fact that it earns $164m from F1's commercial revenues (that's before it receives sponsor income), compared to the $60m Force India receives.

Both sports have financial controls in place, F1 has some cost controls in place on wind tunnels and other activities, but they don't address the real issues, while the EPL is subject to FIFA's financial fair play rules to do with spend related to turnover. Neither system is perfect, but at least they provide some controls.

Frentzen 1999

F1 fans await 2016 season with the desperate hope that it will be more competitive. The 2012 season is remembered for the first seven races having seven different winners, which was largely down to the performance of the Pirelli tyres that year. In 2009 we had the Brawn anomaly, which was basically Honda rebadged, but which shook the establishment at a time when the manufacturers were wobbling.

But before that you have to go back to 1999, when Jordan was still in the title hunt in September with Heinz-Harald Frentzen, for the last time we had anything approaching a Leicester City scenario.

As the rule makers and teams in F1 continue to have their petty squabbles about aerodynamic rules and tyre dimensions for 2017 onwards, perhaps they should go to their TV catch-up service and watch yesterday's match with Leicester City demolishing Manchester City and then have a good think about a bigger picture for F1 - can it aspire to be even half as exciting every weekend as the English Premier League?

What do you think? Do you think F1 could work like that, or would the financial advantages of Mercedes and Red Bull always outweigh the midfield teams? Leave your comments below
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