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Teams debate customer cars

NEWS STORY
25/05/2014

Opinions within the paddock are divided as to how the sport can reduce costs and as the teams squabble over how to progress the latest topic of debate is that of customer cars.

It's a subject which could be viewed as a quick and relatively easy way to reduce spending for new teams and build a more competitive field. Marussia or Caterham, for example, could purchase a Ferrari or Red Bull chassis which would almost certainly make both more competitive. But that does not necessarily align with the ambitions of rival teams. Sauber is struggling in 2014 and would likely lose out should those behind it suddenly become more competitive. Even those in the midfield could be vulnerable if the sport were to allow customer cars.

"It goes completely against the DNA of our sport," argues Claire Williams, who chose to ignore the fact her father entered the sport with a customer Brabham for Piers Courage in 1969. Indeed such is Williams link to customer cars that Rupert Keegan drove a RAM Racing entered Williams FW07 to ninth place in Watkins Glen in 1980. For Williams to claim that customer cars are against the DNA of the sport is surely attempting to rewrite history.

So too for that matter is Mercedes argument that the sport must have a high entry price. "We don’t want to do GP2 and make it very easy to come into Formula One," claims Toto Wolff. "If you are participating in Formula One, that has value, you need to have infrastructure and it’s like in any other business where the entry level is high because the field is so competitive."

What Wolff fails to consider however is that many of the sport’s greats began their careers in customer cars. Jochen Rindt competed for Rob Walker in a Brabham before joining Cooper while James Hunt's first grand prix drive was in a March 731 entered by Hesketh Racing. Even Ronnie Peterson drove a privately entered March in 1970 before joining the factory team (alongside Wolff’s Mercedes colleague Niki Lauda) in 1971. It demonstrates clearly that a lower entry barrier allows more teams and drivers to compete, thereby increasing the talent pool within the sport.

The concerns of the likes of Williams and Mercedes are therefore valid but short-sighted. A competitive grid filled with cars, irrespective of who makes them, will build a stronger sport. That in turn will build Formula One as a business and reward those who do well.

"We strongly believe in customer cars," said Ferrari's Marco Mattiaci who clearly understands a competitive Formula One is a healthy Formula One. "If there is a way to guarantee an entry level that is less expensive than probably a top team budget it is a customer car."

There's no doubt it's a complex issue, but only because teams refuse to look beyond their own noses. They can dress the argument up however they like but the simple fact is that Formula One has a long history of customer cars and is far richer because of it.

By opposing customer cars teams are taking the easy way out, and that has never been in the sport’s DNA.

Mat Coch

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READERS COMMENTS

 

1. Posted by Paul C, 27/05/2014 22:20

"Maybe F1 will simplify the overly complicated current cars if customer cars are allowed. Remove some of the hybrid gadgets to make F1 more reasonable."

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2. Posted by gturner38, 25/05/2014 22:32

"I get that customer cars were common in the 60s and 70s when F1 was less professional and only very expensive. Selling a year old car to a back marker is going to save them money but not do much to improve their performance since we have long since left the days when F1 teams would carry over a chassis from one year to the next. The chassis would have to be up to date and I doubt the top teams would allow the backmarkers to be competitive."

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3. Posted by xoanon, 25/05/2014 19:03

"Why can't top teams like Ferrari, Red Bull and Mercedes purchase chassis from Marussia and Caterham?
That'd certainly help with the redistribution of money."

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4. Posted by LifelessDead, 25/05/2014 12:19

"A much better reason to oppose customer cars is that F1 will then turn into a glorified DTM*. But then with one additional downside, the customer teams won't be allowed to win anyway. Hospitality will rule all, but at least now there still is a spirit of competition. Customer cars in F1 worked when the teams were still "private" entries and you could do with them whatever you wanted... you can forget about that in modern F1.

*) Actually DTM+ITC '95/'96 would probably be the best use case to describe what would happen in my opinion.

**) On the other hand, the DTM farce in Zandvoort a couple of years back, where Audis started ramming Merc of the track and Merc withdrew from the race in protest was actually quite entertaining. "

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5. Posted by testa rossa, 25/05/2014 12:09

"Why not allowing GP2 cars too , like in the old days F2 cars were allowed in certain years.
Slightly modified like a DRS and so , they could keep up and cheaper than a second choice Ferrari"

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6. Posted by ape, 25/05/2014 11:46

"I think at Ferrari they will again change their opinion when 4 Red Bulls and 4 Mercs will finish in front of them.
They should be more careful with their wishes."

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