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F1 by Committee?

FEATURE BY MIKE LAWRENCE
19/12/2013

A reader once criticised me for referring to Team Lotus as 'Fake Lotus'. After the FIA came up with their daft proposals, the guys at Lotus came up with their own hilarious list. I am sure that Colin Chapman would have approved, I will never again refer to Lotus as 'Fake'.

They are also skating on financial thin ice, just like Lotus always used to do.

Double points for the final race is supposed to produce a TV cliffhanger for the organisers who anyway pay a premium to stage the first, and last, races in a season. All such ideas are proposed by a sub-committee of team representatives.

We can guess that Team Lotus disagrees, but that Force India is on board. No sooner had Sergio Perez announced that he was taking his considerable talents to Force India than he was publicly supporting the proposals, though I am not sure how many people were desperately awaiting his opinion. (I mean 'talents' in the Biblical sense: hard currency.)

That great American President, Harry S. Truman, had a plaque on his desk which read: 'The Buck Stops Here'. Everyone in authority should have one.

Having driven some teams to the edge with an unnecessary new engine formula, the FIA is now inviting a new team to join F1 under a 2015 budget cap, which has yet to be decided. As Inspector Clouseau once said, 'There is a time to laugh, and a time not to laugh, and this is not one of them.'

There is a maximum of 24 places on the grid and 22 of those are currently filled. I cannot help but wonder if Jean Todt is hedging his bets against at least one current team failing.

The last time the door was open was after banks squandered our money and made us pay for their incompetence. The FIA (then led by Max Mosley) carefully scrutinised applications and approved the risible US F1 bid.

Another that passed the eagle-eyed scrutiny of the FIA was the team that finally became known as HRT F1. To be fair, at the time Spain seemed to be prospering, it was not widely known that, since it had joined the Eurozone, it had been like a teenager given use of a credit card with no cap.

I was sceptical of the Spanish bid and expressed my misgivings in this column. My reasoning was simple, HRT had outsourced the design of its car to Dallara. Dallara has become a very important maker of production racing cars. It also ran in 78 Grands Prix, 1988-92, and scored 15 points. The company gave up F1 and turned to F3 in 1993. It began with few orders, but ended the year driving Reynard and Ralt from the F3 market, a most impressive feat.

Nobody has been successful in production racing cars and F1 since 1972/3. The disciplines, the mind set, are completely different. Dallara makes very good cars, within a budget, it does not have an F1 mentality.

Where is the elusive 12th team to come from? I guess, I have no inside knowledge, but I suspect that overtures have been made to the FIA from more than one prospective bidder. Why else would an announcement, giving dates and fees, have been announced?

Prodrive made a bid for the 2010 open door and, as well as its WRC successes, Prodrive is the technical force in Aston Martin which is mainly owned by Middle East money.

There have been rumours of Toyota returning, but with their team branded as 'Lexus'. These rumours have been denied, but what value has a denial? Honda is to return, with McLaren, in 2015. Infiniti, which is Renault/Nissan's luxury car branch, and a direct rival to Lexus, is a title sponsor of Red Bull Racing, which uses Renault engines.

Toyota competed in F1 between 2002 and 2009 and while it gained 13 podiums, the exercise was not considered a success. There was also the matter of industrial espionage involving Ferrari data purloined from a subcontractor. Charges were brought against several leading members of Toyota Motorsport though these have not come to court. Team Lexus would begin with a clean sheet.

There is one other point to consider: next year's F1 cars will be hybrids and Toyota's Prius range both pioneered, and has led, the domestic hybrid market. Rolls-Royce has built a hybrid (to deafening silence from customers) and that used a Toyota petrol engine, even though R-R is owned by BMW.

Toyota's experience was that success in F1 is not guaranteed, no matter how much money you throw at it. The last new F1 team to win races was Stewart GP (later Jaguar, now Red Bull). As Paul Stewart Racing, the team had been preparing for years through Formula Three and Formula 3000. It had built up its personnel and equipment and had established links with gifted young drivers.

BMW had links with Williams and then bought Sauber. Robert Kubica even won the 2008 Canadian GP. Like some other manufacturers, BMW not only faced a changed market after 2008, but also a freeze on engine specifications.

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READERS COMMENTS

 

1. Posted by seriousfan, 01/02/2014 23:29

"Were the powers that be in the F1 world really shocked at the negative reaction to the double points idea? If so they are truly out of touch with reality...Given the ever increasing artficiality of F1 "competition" we can only hope that this might be the final indignity...but I doubt it. I'm sitting here realizing that the only reason I maintain an interest in F1 is because I remember what it once was...."

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2. Posted by Leo, 21/12/2013 12:52

"I think there's a much more serious problem for creating new F1 teams than deciding a budget cap by committee. F1 is now reliant on car manufacturers and wealthy entrepeneurs. There's a reason for that: almost every motor racing series besides F1 is single make. There's a ladder for drivers. Teams can also move from one series to the next, just by buying another car. There is no obvious ladder for chassis constructors. F3 is technically open to different makes, but it's a Dallara monopoly for decades. So the first series below F1 where there is technical diversity is Formula Ford.
If you want to be a new F1 entrant you either have to buy the technical infrastructure (Caterham bought the remains of Arrows) or outsource it (Marussia/Virgin used Nich Wirth' engineering company, HRT used Dallara). US F1 tried to do it all on their own, but couldn't. It would be so much better if lower categories also produced new car makers. If you're already building a good F2 of Indycar, the step to F1 is so much smaller then when building everything from scratch.
So besides all the criticism, it should be applauded that the FIA is finally setting up another manufacturer series (Formula E). Let's hope it will be a success and maybe one day China Racing will build a F1 car."

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3. Posted by vins0n, 20/12/2013 14:07

"Is this the same budget cap that enticed HRT, Caterham, USF1 and Marussia in last time? That worked out so well they are doing it again. "There's a sale on at F1. But hurry limited places already decided.""

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4. Posted by Darvi, 20/12/2013 9:56

"The FIA needs to get its house in order, to stop messing with regulations and to understand that what fans want to watch is a flat out, lights to flag race between the fastest cars and drivers on the planet, not the richest."

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5. Posted by Paul C, 19/12/2013 22:53

"If the FIA wants to spice up the show by a double points race they should move it around from year to year like the college football championship bowl game in the USA. Can you imagine the tifosi when Monza holds the double points race? More points might even make Monaco more a race than a parade. "

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