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Teams fear two-tier Formula

NEWS STORY
18/09/2015

Mindful of the collapse of Caterham, the near collapse of Marussia, the ongoing problems facing Lotus and the constant cries from Force India and Sauber, the sport is seeking ways to cut costs. Note, not cut spending but costs.

One of the proposals of the infamous F1 Strategy Group following its meeting this week is that a cap is put on the price of engines. This coming after the manufacturers have agreed to develop and build the units, without any warning that they might in time have to reduce their prices.

In a further move to help those teams that are really struggling with their budgets, the Strategy Group - which thankfully does not have the power to actually implement any of its ideas merely propose them - argues that one year old engines should be made available at a discounted price.

The initial figures being bandied about are 9m for current spec engines and 6m for the one year old version. The Strategy Group is also pushing for a 1.5m cap on gearboxes.

Both moves were passed by a majority vote - though they would still require approval from F1 Commission and then the World Motor Sport Council - with only Force India and McLaren known to be in favour of the gearbox move.

"We've always had the view that you had to bring to the costs down," says Sauber's Monisha Kaltenborn. "We had reached already the point with the Resource Restriction Agreement that we felt was a good basis. We've seen that with the new powertrain costs have hiked up that much, so we've always supported the idea that you try to bring a kind of cost cap on the engine prices, so we think that is a move in the right direction."

"I think what the Strategy Group have come up with is a good way of trying to control costs around what is a very expensive power unit that we now have in Formula One," added Claire Williams.

Referring to the move to allow older engines at a discounted price, she said: "I think that each team needs to make an independent decision as to what variant they go for - and obviously at Williams we have options available to us and we need to take every argument under consideration before we determine which avenue we want to go down.

"Obviously we want to make sure we have the most competitive power unit in our car. For a team like Williams, with the budget we have, a cost-saving of 4 million euros is always going to help because it means we can divert that spend in another area: it can go on aero or it can go elsewhere - so I think those numbers are important. You can't get these engines down to… they're expensive engines for the manufacturers to have to build. They've got to recover their costs, we've got to pay for them. We can't be unrealistic about those expectations.

"When it was decided to come up with this new regulation, the FIA or whoever should have told the manufacturers, "look, you have Formula One, you can use this as a marketing tool - but you have to invest the money to develop the engine and to provide some teams with engines to a fixed price"," says Franz Tost, the voice of reason. "Then it should have been negotiated and the manufacturers could have said yes or no.

"Now, after this new power unit is running for the second year already, to say to the manufacturers "you must come down with the cost" is a little bit late because the development is quite expensive and it has to be. The different manufacturers have to develop the engines and the power units because otherwise they will never close the gap to Mercedes.

"Therefore it's difficult. I'm totally against the usage of a one year old engine because then we have a two class team on the grid and this will not close the gap. This will even increase the gap. Then we have, I don't know, five, six, seven cars which are running away. They will have after ten laps 30 seconds open the gap and races will become totally boring.

"It's difficult but I think it's too late. The power unit from the beginning onwards is very, very expensive. What we're bringing here, it's high technology, the development and the research costs a lot of money and now, of course, we have to pay the price.

"We're in favour of any type of cost control in Formula One," adds John Booth, "whether it's engine or other forms of regulation that keep costs under control. We're in favour of any steps in that direction - but I don't think F1's the correct arena to have two tiers of performance.

"We would not support anything that leads to a two-tier system," admits Kaltenborn, "and I think there's a danger in it as well, that it sets a precedent for other areas. If you do this on the engine now, what if then you come up on the chassis or parts that you could also save costs there? A team can very well be in a situation where you take up this option before you have to close your team - but nevertheless it's a dangerous route and we should make sure it's not a precedent for other areas."

Asked if he is in favour of the 'two-tier' scenario, Wolff admits: "I'm not a fan, I think, of two different engines because you don't want to have two classes of competitors and that's one thing, but if you can supply an engine for a much cheaper price because you can run it longer on less harder power levels, and the difference in price is considerable, you can give somebody a choice. You can give a team a choice in saying that I would like to be in there just to ramp up my organisation, for example.

"You've seen like Manor came out of the ashes and it was reasonable to opt for a reasonable price model on the engine, without wanting to speak for John. But I think if you have that second option, why not? I don't think that many teams are going to take that up but we just wanted to throw another possibility into the game, not expecting that it would generate lots of interest.

"At Mercedes we take costs very seriously," he concludes. "We understand that it's difficult times for most of the teams and that we should, all together, try to get the cost level down - that is clear. The Strategy Group discussed possible avenues of reducing the costs for customers and making the model feasible. That will go into the F1 Commission, it's going to be voted on."

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