As we can see this poses an immediate problem, owing to the number of competitive cars falling 4 below the remarks in c). I'm quite sure the FIA have a contingency for the situation but it'll be interesting to see how they complete the session. I'd imagine they'll scrap Q1 and extend the running time of Q2 and Q3 with 8 cars being eliminated from the revised Q1 still leaving the top 10 battle. The other option may be to retain all three qualifying sessions and simply lose 4 from Q1 and Q2.
The immediate effect of two teams in trouble (Marussia & Caterham, with the latter in administration and the former likely to enter it, having been struggling financially for some time with Spa being a turning point) is apparent with their withdrawal from these rounds, but how about the long term effects?
Put simply Formula One is expensive, always has been, always will be, people that believe otherwise will always be found out. The problem for Marussia and Caterham is that they were mis-sold a product in 2009. Did they go back to the bank looking for compensation? No they soldiered on believing that their fellow competitors would fall inline and cut them some slack. 5 years down the line and the gap has begun to widen once more, costs are increasing but unlike last time the teams aren't unifying in a way that will bring balance.
For those that don't know how Marussia & Caterham came into being it was off the back of the last financial crisis, when we lost manufacturers like Honda, Toyota and BMW. The then FIA president Max Mosley proposed a two tier regulation system for 2010 onwards, where those that could compete for 40m or less were allowed more technical freedom than those that ran without budgetary restriction. The larger teams collided with Mosley over it but the wheels had been set in motion with plenty of interested parties looking to enter under the budget cap. In the end Mosley was forced out, 1 regulation set remained with no budget cap installed, however all the teams now unified (for their own interests) under the FOTA (Formula One Teams Association) guise set about installing what they considered a more measured 'resource restriction', not only capping personnel levels but also Wind Tunnel time & CFD usage. These were measures that looked to hamstring the teams and reduce costs, however Formula One teams can't be contained in this manner and although they say they were running to their own rules no one truly policed the activity. Furthermore F1 teams always find other ways, just look at how quickly they recover downforce when the FIA adjust the regulations...
The 3 new teams that emerged in 2010 came into being very, very quickly and in all fairness never really stood a chance of making a mark in their opening season. However the Formula One they had initially signed up for was gone, and with it any real chance of competing with the rest of the field. Eternally running at the back of the grid is not only bad for team morale but it's bad for business. It makes you less interesting to sponsors as you rarely feature on the TV feeds, (unless being lapped) meaning if you can get sponsors they won't be paying as much for their exposure. It's an infinite loop that requires sacrifice and/or massive financial input from the owner. Which ever way you cut it whether your budget is 40m or 150m it will all get spent, being in Formula One to make a profit is not an option and can only be used a vehicle to race or get exposure for your own brand.
Some would therefore say that Gene Haas is going the right way about it, even if some of what he says at times seem to contradict that. In short a much longer gestation period for the team to be established and the recognition that he is using F1 as a platform to further his outside business interests. But can Haas deliver? He comes from Nascar, where teams can actually be profitible a luxury that cannot be afforded in Formula One.
To add further credence to this, figures recently revealed show that Mercedes spent 190.7m on their F1 team in 2013 (Just the Works team not the Powerunit manufacturers spend at Brixworth). This is the most Mercedes has spent since taking over from BrawnGP but as results have shown it has paid dividends. This recent pattern of spending has escalated since the disbandment of the aforementioned FOTA, the FIA have introduced measures to limit the teams, including Wind Tunnel & CFD restrictions added to the regulations but without an actual budgetary limit the teams will find a way to spend money, which in turn ends up costing more money.
One such example is the teams demands to 'un-freeze' the powerunits for next season which would inevitably increase costs. As always the teams that will benefit most from what they term an un-freezing have done well to manipulate the media to further their aims. The powerunits aren't actually frozen in the same way as the previous V8 era, with a new powerunit presented to the FIA at the start of each season. The issue is scale of change, with the regulations only permitting a certain quantity of changes from the previous iteration. In 2015 the manufacturers may amend upto 48% of their previous design, whilst this reduces year on year until 2019 when the design change is as low as 5%.
Bernie Ecclestone is often seen as the scapegoat for everything bad about the sport, and in fairness doesn't seem concerned about playing the pantomime villian. However the loss of teams from the sport perhaps has the most impact on him and CVC he works for. Bernie is the man in the middle, trying to fence deals that give the teams some prize money and of course make CVC (himself) rich.
But do you know how this came about? Bernie bought and then ran Brabham Racing but could see that making money from a team would be nigh on impossible, as from a commercial aspect the sport had no leadership. The FIA was (and still is) the regulator, their role is to provide the construct for the race series. In those days there was no prize money on the table come the end of the season and TV coverage was sparse, only deals brokered by the team bosses would see sporadic coverage and therefore revenue generated. Bernie saw an opportunity in which he would broker the TV deals, keep a proportion of the revenue, provide some to the teams, (via prize money - GP) whilst the FIA also took a cut too. This culminated in the 100 year commercial deal that still stands today, whereby Bernie/CVC control the commerical interests of the sport and provide both the teams and the FIA a financial return.
Most recently (circa 2012) the FIA made amendments to their treatment of the teams with the entrance fee being raised and a price escalator installed based on their previous years result (essentially reducing the amount the teams get for winning in the previous season). This will of course have an impact on the teams, with the those that fill the bottom half of the grid most affected.
Has Bernie made a fortune from F1? Yes
Is he ruthless? Yes - his remit is to maximise the revenue commercially available to the sport, be that from broadcasters, race promoters or large sponsors (Rolex etc). Formula One is built on the principle fact that it is the pinnacle, if you want the pinnacle of anything it comes at a cost...
Is he the reason that teams struggle to exist? No - I'm not saying he is an innocent party, however when you know the rules to the game when you start it, you either have to be prepared to play by them or live in the margins. Unfortunately for the smaller teams those margins mean being financially unstable. Teams know when they start how much it takes to run, whether they can afford it or not they aspire to be there and some inevitably pay the price for that.
The Concorde Agreement as it is known is a private agreement that binds the teams, CVC and the FIA to provide certain criteria in which the sport can flourish. The loss of teams is therefore an issue that Bernie/CVC can do without as it is believed that the agreement calls for at least 20 cars to feature at each race. In reality this number is more likely a grid of at least 16 cars...
Anyone who suggests that dropping to 18 cars would breach F1's commercial rights contract is wrong. That specifies a minimum of 16 cars.
— Caroline Reid (@FormulaMoney) October 25, 2014
Race promoters, Broadcasters etc are also sold the promise of much the same and so financial penalties would be imposed should this not come to fruition. Extenuating circumstances can always result in a default for the good of all parties but inevitably at some point Bernie/CVC would have to pay the penalties of not providing a full grid. It is also purported that the agreement to not having 20 cars fielded could be the catalyst for the 100 year lease to be revoked by the FIA, placing the commercial rights back in their hands, something that F1 can ill afford to happen.
The FIA have no desire to run the commercial element of the sport, we only have to look at their new Championship: Formala E as an example. The electric racing series may be diminutive in comparison to Formula One but the commercial and presentational aspect is one they didn't want to deal with. Instead Agag is at the helm, negotiating the same sort of broadcast, race rights and sponsorship deals that Bernie/CVC do for F1. Taking the commercial rights back from Bernie/CVC would be a mistake, not only would it trigger a cascade of contract re-negotiations but it would bring further instability to the sport and likely result in many more teams moving closer to the margins. The larger teams have already begun to assimilate a level of control beyond the best interest of the sport, with CVC providing them with some shares. This has led to the Strategy Group which in reality is the bigger teams forcing through regulation change that suits their own selfish demands. This has weakened the position of the FIA with the once regulator now forced to listen to the very entities they should be regulating.
Talk of 3 car teams has resurfaced of late, much to the dismay of the teams who know they'll be the ones carrying the brunt of the costs. Not only do I believe 3 car teams is not the way forward it would completely reshape the sport. Just how would we score the Championships? Can the likes of Sauber, Force India and Lotus even support 3 cars?
Even If we only lost Marussia & Caterham and 3 cars did come into existence, the Sporting Regulations would need changing. According to the regs a maximum of 26 cars can take to the grid, 9 teams would mean 27 and for me that's far too many. Perhaps even meaning we'd have to think about pre-qualifying again, imagine 6 Red Bull cars vieing for points, whilst tactically denying others positions on the circuit etc. I'm not saying it wouldn't add some spice but come on...
Perhaps trying to soften the loss of two teams from the current grid, the Audi to F1 rumor once again poked its head out the water this week too. Audi have swiftly moved to deny the rumors, which cited a departure from both DTM and WEC to concentrate all their efforts on an F1 assault.
#Audi in F1? There rumors keep appearing with regularity since years. It's pure speculation again this time and without any foundation
— Audi Sport (@Audi__Sport) October 25, 2014
#Audi Sport is committed to the @FIAWEC , @DTM and GT racing. In 2015 we will add the Audi Sport TT Cup to our program #welcomechallenges
— Audi Sport (@Audi__Sport) October 25, 2014
The problem for Formula One is often its shortsightedness, it resolves problems when on the brink rather than addressing issues as they arise. However it is in a constant state of flux making it difficult for those involved to finance and many fans to follow.