Skip to content

State of F1

April 9, 2012

The State of F1

So pre season testing comes to an end for 2012. Current regulations, meaning that each driver generally gets no more than 6 days in the car, increase the importance of each lap completed prior to packing up and shipping the freight off to Australia later this week.
Any problems, like Lotus’ chassis issues, or Red Bull’s troublesome final day, can cost teams and drivers dearly in terms of being fully prepared for running in anger.
Having said that, if you’ve got a decent car, which both of those teams seem to have, the chances are it’ll be quick in Melbourne, but in an ideal world you’d want the practice sessions to be dialing the car into the circuit and preparing for qually and race trims, not having to carry out aero tests or getting the driver comfortable in his seat.

For me, the biggest story to come out of pre-season is not that McLaren may have a genuine Red Bull beater, Lotus a headline grabbing contender with superstar driver, or the fact that Ferrari’s attempt at a radical resurgence seems to have gone horribly wrong. I’m looking at the other end of the field and seeing an F1 model which is in trouble, to say the least.
Two teams, HRT and Marussia F1 Team have failed to even get their 2012 cars onto any track for a pre-season test. They both head to Melbourne, knowing that P1 on friday morning will be the first time they get to run their cars, and their new drivers, with any sort of meaning.
Whilst everyone else is working through tyre runs, different fuel levels, qualifying strategies etc, these four cars will be, no doubt, suffering the normal first day teething troubles that everyone else contended with a month ago. Whilst you may think this is nothing more than they deserve for being under-prepared, it’s the potential effect they could have on everyone else and even more so, F1 in general, that presents the greater problem.
If friday in Australia is punctuated with red flags or big teams being held up, obstructed or just disrupted by rookie drivers or ill prepared, unreliable cars, they won’t be too forgiving. Not only does it hamper their essential preparations, but its a bad reflection on the sport, a sport which is all about the ‘show’ that it puts on. Hundreds of millions of viewers around the world will tune in to watch the very pinnacle of motorsport role out the results of their multi-million pound researched, designed, developed, produced, fully tested and honed challengers at the hands of the greatest drivers on Earth. The problem is that’s not necessarily what they’ll be seeing anymore.

We’ve always had a pecking order, just like in most sports. Big, established, successful teams attract the big money deals, spend the most on the best staff, the best facilities, the best drivers and inevitably end up with the best cars. That’s not going to change in a hurry and the argument is that it shouldn’t, reward for success, particularly long term success, is right. The problem emerging now is that, where there’s been a big gap in terms of spending between the very front and very back of the grid, the threshold for that gap is moving further and further towards the front row. If recent rumors hold any weight, and I strongly suspect they do, teams right behind the front three are very precariously balanced between survival and collapse. Teams as big as Lotus, Force India and Williams seem to be not much more than a late payment away from serious trouble.
Following the pullout of a number of major manufacturers in recent times, F1 has tried desperately to put plans in place to address the financial viability of it’s business model, but not with complete success.
Bans on testing have driven a necessity to invest in complicated and expensive simulation techniques and new technologies like KERS and the next generation of smaller, more efficient power plants all require significant financial commitment to be able to compete.
The upshot is that, whilst HRT and MF1 may be the most visible and extreme cases right now, the cut runs deep throughout the pitlane.
A result of the difficulties in finding enough investment to go racing, reportedly an absolute minimum of £80m just to get onto the grid each race, is the ever growing prominence of the ‘paying driver’.
Vitaly Petrov is the latest man to be offered a seat on the grid, not because he’s proved himself to be the fastest, most reliable and complete racer around, but because he brings along with him the money the team needs to survive. Petrov is no clown, for sure, but it’s what these deals represent which is most worrying. If an, lets say, average driver can find many, many millions of pounds in backing, why can’t the bigger and potentially more marketable team find it?
Whereas McLaren, Red Bull and Ferrari use the end of season ‘young driver’ tests to try out genuine emerging talent rising through their driver development programs, potential race drivers of the future, others are now ‘selling’ the drive’s to bring in funds!
With the greatest of respect, viewers may not be seeing the very pinnacle of engineering excellence or indeed the cream of the world’s racing driver crop anymore when they buy their tickets or tune in their tv’s.

F1 needs the teams, even more than they need F1. By that I mean that the corporations, wealthy individuals and sponsors who own and fund these teams, can operate quite comfortably without pumping the money into these ventures. In the financial world in which we’re currently treading water, there’s certainly no shortage of investment opportunity, particularly within the sporting world. Football clubs, F1 teams, cricket, golf, Olympics and many more all compete for their ever thinning slice of the cake and all would bite the hand off anyone with a decent marketing budget looking to invest. Our industry needs to change to compete, but somehow retain the glamour, show, spectacle and ‘wow’ factor that has always kept it at the very top. F1 can’t be done on the cheap, that’s GP2, but we’re in danger of falling foul to an arrogance within, that’s built up over decades of living the high life on tobacco money and the ‘good old days’. It might not take much for the whole stack of cards to fall over if one or two teams don’t survive the season.

Marc Priestley
Twitter: @f1elvis

Advertisements

From → Formula One

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: