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Ecclestone: Teams will supply third cars to rivals


Bernie Ecclestone has revealed that Formula One's teams have signed contracts agreeing to help competitors which get into financial trouble by supplying a third car to them according to an article in the Mail on Sunday by Christian Sylt.

The controversial third car clause has been one of the biggest talking points of the season. It is written into the contracts which commit the teams to staying in F1 until the end of 2020 and it forces them to field a third car if the grid slips below a threshold of 20 cars. It was thought that the teams would have to run the third car themselves but Ecclestone says that in fact it would be supplied to ailing rivals to stop them from going under.

The situation is far from hypothetical as the article also reveals that Marussia notified London's High Court on 7 October that it intends to go into administration. It follows the collapse this week of Caterham. Eleventh hour talks are underway to save it and Ecclestone says another team may have to step in.

"They would supply a third car to someone else so if, for example, Sauber disappeared, a team could do a deal with Sauber. Ferrari could say, 'we will give you a car, all that goes with it, and we want you to put this sponsor on it. You have your own sponsors but we want you to include this one as well and we want you to take this driver'. The team wouldn't have to go under then would they? If Red Bull decided they would give a car to Caterham for example that could solve their problem."

If several teams go under it would trigger the need for the remaining ones to supply third cars to them. Last month Mercedes motorsport boss Toto Wolff said "there's a regulation which says if the grid drops below 20 cars, so 19 cars, then there is a certain mechanism which would trigger certain teams to fill in." The reason for this is contained in the contracts with race promoters which state that F1 "shall use its reasonable endeavours to ensure... that at least sixteen cars participate in the Event ."

If it slips below that F1 could breach its contracts and risk losing the 300m in fees paid by race organisers. Setting the threshold at 20 cars gives Ecclestone a buffer and he may need it.

Annual F1 team budgets are now around 140m on average and although Red Bull has one of the biggest, smaller outfits are struggling to keep up.

Marussia lies in ninth place with just two points and has made combined net losses of 140.6 million since joining F1 in 2010. Ecclestone said on Saturday that he expects Marussia and Caterham will miss next weekend's United States Grand Prix. It will put the grid at 18 cars but Ecclestone added that this won't trigger the third car clause because the teams' F1 contracts allow them to miss two races each year.

"We don't have to introduce a third car at this stage because they can miss a couple of races. They lose any money they would have got for those races but they don't lose their position in the championship. I have no idea if Marussia are going to make it in the long run. It's better if they didn't have to go into administration."

It is too late to prevent that happening to Caterham. Earlier this month bailiffs seized equipment from its factory in Oxfordshire and the team's 220 staff have been locked out of the building by the administrator since Thursday.

It languishes in 11th place, one behind Sauber which has failed to score any points this year despite having backing from sponsors owned by the world's richest man, Mexican tycoon Carlos Slim.

If a team received a rival's car it would not need to spend money on research and development, manufacturing or buying engines. These are the three biggest costs for F1 teams, far exceeding spending on staff and drivers which would continue to be covered by the outfit which receives the third car.

Marussia's latest company accounts are for 2012 and show that it spent 32m on research and development which alone comes to 42% of its total 76.1m costs. Manufacturing and engine expenses are estimated at a further 23m. Wiping out these costs would transform bankrupt outfits into profitable ones which could attract investment and ultimately stand on their own two feet.

"Who knows if it is likely," says Ecclestone adding "they will only run three cars if they haven't got enough teams because three of them stop. I don't check their books so I don't know if it's likely. I think a lot of them cry. I spoke to Carlos Slim and told him about Sauber saying that if they don't get money they won't go to the next race. He said, 'I've been listening to that for the last three years.'"

Talk of third cars was prompted by a Tweet from former Williams chief executive Adam Parr after the Italian Grand Prix in September. He wrote: "This is the last year of F1 as we know it. In 2015 eight teams will contest the championship, with several teams entering three cars."

McLaren racing director Eric Boullier was quick to criticise Parr saying that "the chassis and third car logistics and people around, we would need at least six months' notice." It would not leave enough time to introduce them next year though this seems to stand in conflict with the teams' obligations under their F1 contracts.


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1. Posted by bfairey, 27/10/2014 21:39

"What sport? this is entertainment, bums in seats."

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2. Posted by Spindoctor, 27/10/2014 16:23

"This sounds more like Customer Cars than anything else, except that if the cars were supplied to "customers" they would then be able race on their own behalf, rather than as some loosely affiliated adjunct to a larger (richer) team.

The truth is that nobody except those with very deep pockets has the wherewithal to enter F1 in their own right, with any prospect of surviving more than a couple of unsuccessful seasons. Even with the 200 million cap that would be the case.
I have emotional sympathy for Frank Williams' point about "building-up" a team, but when Williams, McLaren et al started, it was a much less sophisticated business than today. In those halcyon days it was quite possible for "garageists" to design a chassis, bolt a Cosworth on the back & go racing. Several did, some are still around. Williams probably spends more on PR today than a whole F1 team cost when he started out... Even allowing for inflation, the wind-tunnel work needed simply to be "only" 2-3 seconds a lap slower than the top teams today is probably several times the entire budget of front-row teams in those days.

That harsh reality brings us back to the "3rd car". As circumlocuted about by Bernie, the extra cost to Top Teams of "donating" a car to the strugglers sounds likely only to raise the bar to entry even higher than at present.
We then end up with F1 that is has only 2 or 3 different "makes" of cars, and completely dependent on the continuing participation a few multinational "MegaCorps". As an aside, I wouldn't lay money on Mr Marchionne taking all this lying down; as Porsche have shown you really don't need to be in F1 to sell lots of expensive cars.

Money aside, it's not hard to envisage the 3rd "Mercedes" or "Ferrari" being deployed as a mobile chicane to frustrate competitors with the implicit threat "pass who dares". The already rather thin veneer of "Sport" applied to the CVC money-machine will just wear even thinner....."

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3. Posted by my tyres are going off, 27/10/2014 8:58

"Bernie has a habbit of saying one thing to get another. If Sauber and Lotus survive then 2016 sees Hass and if you belive the rumours Audi coming on board plus someone may buy one of the failing teams for it's entry rather than it's name and technology. That leaves 2015 to be negotiated and Bernie requires 16 cars guranteed on the grid and wants extra races on the calander. A cheap option is to set up a consortium to buy one of the teams from the receiver and run it as a junior team /third car team. No in season development just two cars allowing young drivers from the country being visited to circulate 4 seconds off the pace. This scenario probably requires some pretence that Sauber and Lotus have a few more points so that some extra funding can go to them to keep them on the grid. End game F1 survives, big teams pay out far less than running a third car under Bernie's current statement and of course Bernie gets and extra couple of races on the calander to help pay for it all."

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4. Posted by karel, 27/10/2014 6:43

"You can look at this as a form of "incest". Something is wrong in F1 , teams donate a car (I mean let a car) to teams which have financially failed, in my opinion is this "keeping the sport alive" even if we haveto drive with two teams. The money must go on, for a long time it's no show anymore. So there is no doubt, we can't speak anymore of straight racing, only racing and winning where the money allows it, or in other words were people who control the money allowing it. It is through real F1 died a few years ago. This is not a negative voice it's just saying what's on our plate now"

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5. Posted by TokyoAussie, 27/10/2014 3:44

"This new take on the 3rd car business is complete news to me. I feel sure that if the intention of using 3rd cars along the lines that Bernie outlines was the original plan, it would have been described as such back then, not as some "innovative" idea springing up now. I think that this is just a backdoor approach to slide into a 3-car era, which I vehemently oppose.

The reason that 3-car teams would exist is because there aren't enough 2-car teams to make up the grid. Those teams just cannot compete financially; they're going bankrupt just trying. So how to reduce costs? Bernie's suggestion is to increase the costs of the fewer remaining teams by making them run 3 cars. If it's next to impossible to get new 2-car teams, it will be even more so trying to introduce a new 3-car team. It makes no sense on any kind of level, with the exception of making up numbers on the grid in the short term (to cover somebody's ****, probably his).

It is up to the FIA to sort things out. Letting Bernie take the lead on this promises to not end well."

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6. Posted by scf1fan, 27/10/2014 3:03

"Sure, give a team that is already in financial straits a vehicle that they have no experience with, or parts for and no time running time on; perhaps needing an entirely new engine setup as well, and expect them to go racing . . . . not a recipe for success in my book.

My two suggestions have always been to either pair up teams so they can have an ongoing sharing of parts and infrastructure or to just broaden the prize money pool. Give the lesser teams enough money to help make the difference and be done with it! Bernie wants the 20+ cars to show up essentially for nothing! (Actually more like the 16+ cars.) "

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7. Posted by Hayes924ITB, 27/10/2014 1:25

"This is a microcosm of the rich getting richer to the point where the once rich are now the poor. I'm not shitting here. This is bigger than F1.

$100m budgets and Marussia and Caterham couldn't do squat. Sauber is spending something like $150M and all they have to show for it is an unpolished turd.

What does it say when the guy with a Nazi fetish was the sane one in the room?

F1 need an urgent redistribution of wealth. There I said it, call me a socialist I don't give a ___. That's how the NFL is so successful, all the teams share in the revenue and agree to control expenses. I really don't think there will be F1, at least as we know it, ten years from now. "

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8. Posted by nonickname, 26/10/2014 20:15

"Please people, be calm....there is always MotoGp....."

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9. Posted by Jonno, 26/10/2014 18:56

"Cutting through the crap, we have a failed team being 'given' a car by one of the top teams. I would imagine this would enable the failed team to run much higher up the order, beating the other "skin of their teeth" teams. Thus the "skin of their teeth" teams would lose money, etc, etc.

The top teams have data from an extra car, they also have the opportunity to give a race to a spare driver and stuff the teams they've been racing against.

Who wins? The little fella - again.

F1 down the khasi."

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10. Posted by Rob, 26/10/2014 17:42

"What does Frank Williams mean when he says 'we don't believe it (customer cars and three car teams) to be in the DNA of our sport'?

Has he forgotten that he started out in F1 in 1969 running an ex-works Brabham for Piers Courage?

Also there was a third Williams on the grid for the 1980 British Grand Prix."

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11. Posted by jasman, 26/10/2014 16:55

"It sounds like desperation at the board of directors meeting to me."

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12. Posted by Ro, 26/10/2014 14:06

"Its a good idea in principle, whether it works in the real world is a different matter, however, what a great way to bring in new drivers and still fill the grid up. "

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13. Posted by gturner38, 26/10/2014 13:54

"I never liked the idea of third cars, but this almost seems worse. Using the example of Ferrari and Sauber, if Ferrari supply the car, the spares, the driver, and at least some of the sponsorship, what exactly is Sauber providing? A few mechanics? They likely aren't using their own engineers since the people with all the data are the Ferrari engineers. It's a race team in name only. At least in sports cars when AF Corse runs a team like 8Star from their shop, they have an interest in making that team as competitive as their own since 8Star pays the bills. There's no incentive for this to be more than driver development without tying the main team's image directly to the slower third car."

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14. Posted by kiwi2wheels, 26/10/2014 13:53

"The House of Cards is collapsing ......"

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15. Posted by vikingivesterled, 26/10/2014 11:59

"Steve: Marussia wouldn't have any own cars. They would instead receive a complete car supplied by Ferrari, which technically would be Ferrari's third car, but be handled as Marussia's car for the race. I assume the car would be a white space except for a Ferrari ad, or one from one of Ferrari's sponsors. Marussia would then put their own colours and advertising on it, and driver in it.
Whether they then would receive a second car from another supplier is sketchy from the info so far. That would in case really create a competition within the garage. They could just be a 1 car team to keep costs to a minimum, and Bernie would introduce a few such teams, depending on how many manufacturers would agree to it and how many he needs for the minimum numbers rule. My guess he'll convince a few manufacturers to supply 2 extra cars so we'll get a Red Bull / Toro Rosso scenario also with Ferrari, Mercedes and maybe Honda, where sample Marussia will be to Ferrari what Toro Rosso is to Red Bull.

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