Along with medals for race winners and artificially sprinkling the track during a race, one idea which Formula One’s boss Bernie Ecclestone keeps on returning to is customer cars.
This would allow teams to buy chassis from each other and Ecclestone is championing the cause once again. The difference this time is that the Concorde Agreement, the contract which commits the teams to race, expired at the end of last year and the new version is currently being negotiated. A clause allowing customer cars could be written in to the new contract and Ecclestone has revealed to Pitpass’ business editor Christian Sylt that negotiations about this are already taking place. He believes that one team in particular would benefit.
As Sylt points out in an article in the Sunday Express, allowing customer cars would be a significant change to F1's DNA. This is highlighted in the prospectus for the flotation of F1 which is due to take place later this year on the Singapore stock exchange. It states that a "fundamental difference" between F1 and its US-rival IndyCar is that "unlike Formula 1, IndyCar teams are not required to be 'constructors' of their cars resulting in less diversity of technology as compared to Formula 1."
Ecclestone told Sylt "I believe that customer cars will be a good thing." His opinion is backed up by some solid facts. The change would give the chassis sellers additional income whilst the weaker outfits would save development costs and gain a more competitive car.
Designing and manufacturing their own cars comprises the bulk of the teams' research and development costs. Eight of the 11 teams are based in Britain and according to their most recent accounts, in 2011 research and development costs came to an average of £41.4m so considerable savings could be made.
Ecclestone says it would particularly benefit Marussia as it is one of F1's worst-performing teams. "Marussia are all right and maybe they are going to be good. They do and will pull their weight. They want to win but I just think that teams like that would be better off running a McLaren or a Williams or something," says Ecclestone.
It reflects the situation with F1's engines which are built by Cosworth, Ferrari, Mercedes and Renault and sold to nine teams. However, Ecclestone needs to navigate a hurdle before the chassis can be sold in the same way.
He says that he is negotiating with the teams about introducing a clause allowing customer cars in the Concorde Agreement but this requires the consent of all of the teams as well as the FIA.
"Everybody needs to agree to that but Frank Williams is the one who is against it," reveals Ecclestone.
Williams is the majority owner of his eponymous team which is the second most successful outfit in F1. It prides itself on having achieved this through building up its talent internally and this runs counter to the principle of allowing teams to buy in expertise from their rivals. Without Williams' agreement, the plan to introduce customer cars looks like it will remain alongside medals and sprinklers for some time to come. Who said that the teams don't hold any of the keys in F1?