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F1 heading for meltdown?


There were times during Friday's press conference when one could have cut the air with a knife. Though nowhere near as riveting as Canada 2003, when Ron Dennis and (Minardi boss) Paul Stoddart went head-to-head, it did have its moments, with both sides making sense.

And, as ever, that is what it is all about, sides. Us and them, the haves and have-nots, the big teams and the rest.

After months of speculation, Caterham and Marussia have gone to the wall, and while the administrators claim interest from numerous parties, talk of Romanian consortiums hardly inspires confidence.

Whilst Toto Wolff and Eric Boullier fought their corner, Vijay Mallya and (Lotus owner) Gerard Lopez made some valid points; the Force India pointing out to the McLaren and Mercedes representatives that they receive (pay) cheques whilst he's always issuing them, and Lopez asking how the sport can justify the huge amounts spent when the cars are only marginally quicker than their GP2 counterparts.

"The whole GP2 team for the whole season is going to cost €4million," he said. "Are we really that much better? I mean are we really better to the point that a team needs to spend €300 million to be six seconds faster?"

Meanwhile, Bernie Ecclestone, who predicts we could yet lose two more teams, was playing down his desire to see third cars, insisting that he is happy to have the small teams "if they are performing properly, and not going around with begging bowls".

Elsewhere, Force India deputy team principal, Bob Fernley, was stoking the fire claiming that the sport, in the shape of its powers-that-be, has an agenda.

"F1 is at a crossroads," he told the BBC. "There is clearly an agenda. Two teams have been forced out. How many need to be forced out before they achieve the goal they are looking for?

"We have missed an opportunity in F1 to be able to get it sustainable,' he continued. "That is passed us and there is no point looking back. I think F1 will be in a different format in 2015 and I don't know what that is.

"CVC and the teams they have empowered have got some form of programme in place because nobody (otherwise) would have teams going out of business. There is a (financial) split that is inequitable.

"He thinks there could be 14 cars," he concluded, referring to Ecclestone's comments, "so the question is, if we are driving teams out of the business, to what agenda is it? What's the game? It's probably time to come clear with what the objectives are."

All of which set the scene nicely for the Times to claim that Lotus, Sauber and Force India have discussed boycotting this weekend's race, a move would rip to shreds any remaining vestige of credibility the sport might have.

Lopez was quick to deny the claim, telling the Press Association: "I've just found out about the story now, so my answer is no. I have to say I'm a bit surprised, but then nothing should surprise me in Formula One.

"What I can say is I've had a meeting with them (Mallya and Sauber's Monisha Kaltenborn) about the cash distribution and so on, and that's it. I'm not aware of this. I don't even know where this comes from, and that's the whole point.

"A lot of frustration has built up," he admitted. "It is high, understandably to some extent. A lot of things have been said that have not been thought through, and it's time a bit of common sense comes in.

"There are a couple of things to take into account, and one of them is sadness going around at what has happened to Marussia and Caterham because it did not have to happen. And listening to people say we have to have a certain amount to compete in the sport, a figure that scares new manufacturers to come in, is ridiculous. Yet that's the reality of things right now.

"In a sport where $120m is perceived to be nothing, that is a pretty scary thought. Connected to that there is this frustration because it should not be this way. It's just a catastrophe. I look at it as a business person. Formula One is an asset that's worth a lot of money, but it's only worth a lot of money if it has diversity, a bit of everything that has been the fabric of Formula One."

As the sport attempts to re-establish itself in the United States, especially in the wake of the debacle that was Indianapolis 2005 (pictured), the last thing the sport needs to do is even threaten such a move. Furthermore, how will American race fans react to such a threat just three weeks after witnessing the same sport grovelling at the feet of Vladimir Putin.

It's a sorry mess and one that most of us have seen coming for some time, and whether there is an agenda, the fact is that fans are already losing patience.

It will take some mighty impressive racing from Lewis, Nico and the boys to put smiles back on our faces, and a lot less public bickering, a lot less gimmicks and a lot less threats.

Chris Balfe

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1. Posted by my tyres are going off, 04/11/2014 9:14

"So it's decided we all boycott Bernie and watch Formula E instead. Come on guys I struggle to see how far they have to ruin our sport before we really throw in the chips. They are after a different audience to us the people who care, they are after the one's who think Prius racing is cool or that a twit face vote is all that mattters. Sooner or later there will be a telephone poll after the race to decide who really won regardless of what happened on track. Even then I'll probably be paying Sky just to see 20 seconds of real racing and dream of glory days long gone."

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2. Posted by karel, 03/11/2014 8:34

"Well F1 has reached and end-point, cross-road if you want to be absolutely positive. Bernie's greed has won over the passion. Regulations and rule changes has killed the last bit of real racing. The real hero's are standing in the pit, deciding when to stop, which tyres, how fast to drive, etc .... You can see the same situation in an surgery room of a hospital. When I see Lauda I remember the good times, unfortunately he's no driver anymore"

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3. Posted by nonickname, 01/11/2014 17:35

"Hi mr darkness, final comment as we are becoming personal, I own my own business and not only look after previous relationships,but my current one...I also run a sports car and prepare it as well as race it.I do think that removes jealousy from my comments.
All I am saying,as are most others, is that F1 has put itself into the position it has due to control moving to teams run by manufacturers that throw money at success at all costs and then leave.Hondawho,below feels the same.Cpmparing one sports costs with another is like comaring apples with pears...they are not the same.
Regards, nonickname"

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4. Posted by Hondawho?, 01/11/2014 17:25

"Further to pervious comments the situation is the same for all other forms of Motorsport they are all dying. Racing is the key, Humans will race anything. Do you see chariot racing? No it died out, as will cars, some form of new "transport related" will emerge and until it does its a slow painful death of motor racing as we know it. It's only being kept alive on a support system called TV. "

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5. Posted by Hondawho?, 01/11/2014 17:13

"IMHO, you are all still missing the point. It's not about big business or individuals earning money, that has never been any different. The fact is the sport has gone as far as it can go on rubber tyres and existing propulsion units. There is nothing more they can do and it's run its course. Either completly change the format or it's goodby F1."

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6. Posted by MrShadow, 01/11/2014 16:32

"nonickname, do not be jealous because you do not have the money of others, you do not want their problems either. In the end the board of directors wants to see revenue for the money they spend, which means that unless the people watching start buying products they are losing money.
If there is no revenue from sales, sponsors will drop out except for those seeing it as an expensive hobby.
While F1 surrounds itself with negativity and blandness, sponsors will not be investing, which means the only teams you get are the ones ran by guys who believe it is cool to own an F1 team, and get tired of paying the bills a couple of years later."

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7. Posted by my tyres are going off, 01/11/2014 16:25

"MrShadow you're right the money is there but I don't think the money men care a hoot about the fans whinging or not. F1 makes sence for a car maker. You have an R&D arm that is working on stuff for ten years time and an image industry that PR firms would die for. So the people you have to sell F1 to is your board of directors who are looking forward to drinking champagne at monaco .As to the fans drinking warm tea from a thermos at Silverston they don't give a hoot. Unlike football the teams have no direct link to us, our gate fee goes to the track or Sky TV that is the problem."

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8. Posted by MrShadow, 01/11/2014 16:05

"nonickname, we should compare the budgets. Then you will notice that what seems high for you is a moderate to low amount in other sports. The money is there, people are just not going to spend it on a sport where the fans are whinging like toddlers.

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9. Posted by nonickname, 01/11/2014 15:11

"Hello me a favor! Why should some not very intelligent person who can kick a soccer ball be paid anything for his "skill" We have created a monster that is professional sport.....I suggest that you read "The Third Wave" as you will find it very interesting and a view of the future that was written about 30 years ago,encompassing exactly what is happening today.
But I digress.Even given the safety of the current F1 cars,they are somewhat more dangerous than anything encountered in a soccer/rugby/ tennis event...Cricket and tennis stop when it starts to drizzle,let alone rain, so WHY should we compare our sport with any other sport?"

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10. Posted by MrShadow, 01/11/2014 14:33

Perhaps it would be better to place the total money involved with the teams in relation to other sports like football or NBA. That would be much more of an eye opener as it would show that the amounts of money are in no way high compared to other professional sports. People should accept the time of 60 drivers competing for 20 teams a year are over, and be grateful they are."

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11. Posted by nonickname, 01/11/2014 14:14

"Lots of hot air here. I wonder if Chris Balfe would be so good as to publish the TOTAL spend for all the teams in F1,by size (Mercedes spent 770 Euros this season so fa rand Force India spend $10 000 dollars a meeting on the food) and then gave a comparison against a small country's GDP, or the NHS annual budget, or the spend needed for Ebola. I think that a piece of investigative journalism like that would stop 'fans' and bring some reality to our "sport"."

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12. Posted by Robert Gemini, 01/11/2014 13:51

"I have been following Formula 1 for longer than I care to remember, but this will be my last year. The advent of televised races was a wonderful innovation in the 1980s, but it provided the odious Mr Ecclestone with the opportunity to steal the sport from its rightful owners, the teams and the tracks (who let him get away with it!) and then hand the sport over to a bunch of "investors", who demand a return as high as any Wall Street banker would. Now its only about cash flow, mainly to multi-billionaires but also to the leading drivers who demand and get astronomical sums of money because they have become media personalities, essentially sales agents for energy drinks and expensive cars. The spirit has gone from F1 and it won't come back even when the ghastly, money-grubbing Mr Ecclestone has long gone. Someone like him will take his place. Other professional sports have gone the same way, why should F1 be any different? Its simply part of the financialization of sport."

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13. Posted by MrShadow, 01/11/2014 13:29

"A lot of business moguls reacting here, all of them have done better as Bernie it seems."

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14. Posted by Yaryman, 01/11/2014 13:21

"The problem for F1 is quite simply the person in charge ( Bernie Ecclestone ) is doing what is best for himself and not what is best for the teams or the fans. 

Until the person in charge of F1 is looking out the sport, and not worrying about buying his daughters $70 million and $85 million homes, nothing will change. "

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15. Posted by Hondawho?, 01/11/2014 12:59

"I think you are all missing the point. Whoever is in charge will have the same problem. There is nowhere for the sport to go. It's all been done (other than to make the cars fly). The FIA have taken a "safety stance" just to prove their own worth and within that "worth" have needed to keep the car manufacturers on side. It is not a sport any longer, it's a lifeline for the car companies and unless you make cars you cannot afford to be there and if you are there why? Allow freedom of air devices make the cars different and new to look at, allow turbines, allow anything that will make it at least enjoyable to watch without all the finance issues."

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