Monthly Archives: December 2013

Pit Stop – Tough time at the bottom – By Lewis Brearley

It’s a tough time for Formula One’s smaller teams at the moment. Financial worries are causing ructions within all but the largest teams and disappointingly no action seems to be in the pipeline.

Force India replaced Paul di Resta with Sergio Perez this week and with it gained an estimated $10 million from his Mexican backers and sponsors.

Many fans decried the fact that a very talented driver had lost out to a guy with a fat wallet. Yet this is harsh on Perez, a man who gave a world champion, Jenson Button, a decent challenge in a tricky car.

Indeed it’s arguable that Perez and di Resta are on the same level, unlikely to be world champions but capable of winning races when given the machinery. It’s not Force India’s fault that they need all the money they can get and it’s certainly not Force India’s fault that no other team has picked him up.

However, this deal is yet another sign that Formula One’s financial model needs to change. Another driver who is supported by a large amount of corporate money and another good driver destined to spend the rest of his career in sportscar racing, IndyCar or the DTM.

The answer is simple but it will be a complicated political process to implement it. The owners of Formula One, a private equity named CVC Capital Partners. With over $46 billion in investments and no passion for motor sport, their number one priority is squeezing profit out of Formula One and they do this very successfully.

For example in 2012 Formula One revenues were estimated at around $1.5 billion and CVC took a colossal $865 million from that. From the remaining revenues, the FIA takes a small percentage and then the teams take their share, decided by the all-important Constructors’ Championship standings.

Hidden within this share is a hugely unfair element however. Recently the teams signed up to a new payment structure which gives bonuses to teams who have won championships in recent years – Ferrari, McLaren, Red Bull – and also Mercedes thanks to an agreement between Bernie Ecclestone and the team that kept them in the sport.

So unfair is this structure that Ferrari could score zero points in next year’s championship and still receive more money than if Lotus managed to win the championship.

Why sign up to the thing then, you may ask? Well, it was forced upon them after Red Bull and Ferrari first signed it. Rumours swirled that the remaining teams had no other option than to sign up or else face watching a Ferrari Formula One World Championship sponsored by Red Bull with two constructors providing customer cars to the smaller teams.

Thanks to this unequal agreement and a bizarre lack of interest from sponsors, most teams are now struggling to stay afloat with soaring costs and declining revenues combining to crush their accounts.

If only there was a spare $800 million that could be shared between the grid. However, CVC will not give up this money easily. Aware of the financial difficulties they have an alternative answer: have five ‘constructors’ and five ‘customers’ which would sharply reduce costs for the smaller teams and allow CVC to keep even more of the revenues for themselves.

This isn’t an acceptable answer. It would reduce Formula One to a shadow of the fair, engineering battle that it is supposed to be and if one big team quit, the customer would be taken down with it.

The true answer as CVC are unlikely to be moved aside, is a budget cap. For this to happen Red Bull and Ferrari would have to accept that the good of the sport should be prioritised over the good of their teams.

Whether this will happen will be the background story throughout the 2014 season.

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Pit Stop – F1 changes – By Lewis Brearley

Almost all Formula One fans have ideas about how the sport should be improved. From less prescriptive technical regulations to more prescriptive technical regulations, more durable tyres, less durable tyres, bringing back refuelling, fewer teams, more teams, a budget cap, stopping racing on the newer and less romantic Tilke-designed circuits, there’s myriad ideas, some more worthy than others.

This week, the newly established “Strategy Working Group,” which comprises six team principals and six representatives from both the FOM and the FIA, had their first meeting and agreed on some changes which they believe will improve Formula One.

Firstly they decided to bring in, with immediate effect, permanent numbers for all the drivers. Sebastian Vettel will get the first choice, including the option to use the #1 earned by winning the drivers’ championship, with the others getting their choice in championship order.

This is a pure marketing tool and has been very well received among the fans and drivers alike. Formula One bosses will be hoping that sometime in the future they will be able to match the image and income of Valentino Rossi’s iconic #46 in MotoGP.

However, it’s unclear how the system will be implemented. If a driver retires only to return a couple of years later such as Kimi Raikkonen and Michael Schumacher, will their number be kept “on ice” for a couple of years or will they have to pick a new one?

Also, how will the numbers be visible? At the moment the numbers on the cars are too small to even be seen in slow motion close ups, and the teams are unwilling to increase this size for fear of reducing space for paying sponsors.

A number which is therefore only really visible on the driver’s caps and t-shirts before and after races is hardly going to have the same impact as the clear numbers used in MotoGP.

Secondly, a tentative plan to have a workable budget cap for 2015 was announced. Due to Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes’ current blasé and selfish attitudes to the ridiculous current financial situation in Formula One, it’s very unclear how this system will be properly enforced.

It’s certainly very unlikely to be set as low as the $40 million cap pushed by Max Mosley in 2009. The lack of information in the press release itself shows just how early into negotiations this decision is.

A more immediate change to the rules, and the one which has gained the most headlines, is the decision to award double points in next season’s final race.

This means the winner of next year’s Abu Dhabi grand prix, a race seen as one of the least challenging on the calendar, will receive 50 points.

As of now, Vettel is the only man to share his opinion on the issue, calling the whole idea “absurd and unfair,” and he is completely right. Never in the history of Formula One has one race been worth more than others.

This is a purely business-driven move, just like the permanent numbers, as it almost guarantees a final race championship decider, yet this is different as it affects the racing itself.

In football, the goalposts aren’t widened in stoppage time and in a 19-race championship, one race should not outweigh any of the others.

It’s also a sign of Formula One taking a worrying direction towards gimmickry and entertainment and away from sport. What’s to stop a circuit organiser deciding to pay double the hosting fees to get their race billed as a “50 points super-race?” Or giving points for overtaking in the final few laps?

This sort of gimmickry is not what Formula One needs to be entertaining and it’s concerning that the very owners of the sport think it is. They need to have more confidence in their product and remember that when Mika Hakkinen overtook Schumacher at Spa in 2000, or when Raikkonen overtook Giancarlo Fisichella on the last lap of the 2005 Japanese grand prix, there were no gimmicks, no double points and no overtaking aids.

Pure racing, rivalries and personalities is what makes Formula One the second most watched sport in the world. There’s no need to dilute that.

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Pit Stop – Webber bows out- By Lewis Brearley

Mark Webber’s gesture of taking off his helmet after the Brazilian grand prix was a perfect summary of his reputation in his sport.

He stated the intention of the gesture was to show to human side to his sport. And of all the Formula One drivers of recent times, Webber has always seemed one of the most human; honest, direct and charming. Always putting the individual over the corporate, while also remaining popular and likeable.

Ever since his debut at his home grand prix in 2002, Webber has stuck to these values and the respect for his talent from his peers has only increased as his career has progressed.

His career began with a three race contract for perennial strugglers Minardi. With minimal backing and without a sparkling junior career, Webber’s prospects for a future in Formula One weren’t strong. So it’s arguable that his extraordinary fifth place finish in his debut race, helped by a heap of good fortune with at least eight faster cars retiring early, was the sole reason Webber lasted more than a season in the sport.

Yet, however fortuitous Webber got in that debut race, for the rest of his career he had to work for every single thing he achieved. From qualifying third at the 2003 Hungarian grand prix for the poor Jaguar team, getting his first win after a drive through penalty at the Nurburgring in 2009; to finishing third in the drivers’ championship three times – 2010, 2011 and 2013.

For his first seven seasons, Webber toiled in the midfield for Minardi, Jaguar, Williams and Red Bull. Occasionally, his unique blend of hard graft and raw talent allowed him to shine. Times such as the 2006 Monaco grand prix where a probable podium finish was snatched away by a mechanical failure. Or the 2007 Japanese grand prix at the sodden Fuji racetrack, when another likely podium slipped away when a young rookie in another midfield car smashed into him.

It was unknown to everyone at the time, but this rookie would end up becoming an integral part of the Webber story, for it was Sebastian Vettel.

From 2009-2013 Webber had five seasons in a car capable of regularly winning races. And for those five seasons he was partnered in the Red Bull team by Vettel.

In 2009 and 2010 Webber and Vettel were quite even over the course of the seasons with Vettel taking eight wins to Webber’s six. Vettel seemed faster but was prone to crashes and rookie mistakes.

The record from 2011 onwards is less kind to Webber, as Vettel began to dominate the whole sport by utilising the unique aerodynamics of the Red Bull much more effectively, with the win ratio for 2011-2013 ending up as 28 for Vettel and only three for Webber.

This makes the first conclusion of Webber’s career as a good but not great driver. Yet, if Vettel really is as good as some claim, then Webber must go down as one of the best “B-level” drivers along with Rubens Barrichello, Gerhard Berger and Riccardo Patrese. And that’s something that a poor kid from the middle of New South Wales should be very, very proud of.

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