“Williams needs a budget cap. Hopefully it will bring the others down to us.”
This was the view of Sir Frank Williams on Saturday afternoon, discussing the ongoing crisis over the 2010 rules. Frank has signed up for the FIA championship next season. After years of almost bankrupting itself to stay competitive in F1, the Williams team welcomes the budget cap as an opportunity to take a financial breather, make the team profitable again and shape it up for a possible sale down the line. Frank is also attracted by the idea of housing one of the new teams on his factory site, so he could offset some costs and make the budget cap work better for him.
Also being quite vocal over the weekend, but from the opposite angle, was Ross Brawn, who still resides with the FOTA teams. FOTA is only prepared to enter next year if two important conditions are met, one of which is that the 2009 rules remain until a new set of rules can be agreed through what FOTA considers to be the proper rule making channels.
On the face of it, Ross and Frank are in the same boat; their teams both exist only to race in F1, they are both independents and therefore reliant on manufacturers for their engine supply. But Frank has sided with the FIA because of legally binding agreement to race in F1 until 2012 (the FIA contends that Ferrari has a similar contract in place), while Ross believes his best interests are served by staying with FOTA.
Here’s Frank: “The key feature in all of this is the supply of engines. At the last meeting before the removal of Williams from FOTA it was not lost on me that the engines on the grid today are brilliant pieces of engineering and they almost never go wrong and they last three or four times longer than Cosworth 30 years ago.”
(The relationship with Toyota) “It was tested a little bit for the first ten minutes then it settled back to normal. We have a contract (for next year) and we would wish to continue. I don’t think the damage goes that deep. I’m very happy with an up to date modern engine. The problem with the Cosworth is that it was fine in 2006 but there’s a lot of catching up to do.
“Ferrari is a key point. The curious thing is that Ferrari is not part of the FIA camp. I don’t think anyone is going to die about this. Max doesn’t want this to turn to pooh, spread all over the papers for the next six months, what damage [people] did to F1. I think there is a will to let’s be human for a change and talk to each other.”
“Max isn’t looking for a fight, he just wants to avoid having teams leave, smaller ones in particular because they cannot afford to continue. I would say that he shouldn’t worry if he has six or eight or ten entries, it doesn’t sound like hard times out there, now some of them are hoping to attract the money, but there’s one or two will turn up.”
Frank also said that he feels that Bernie could really do without this turning into a civil war because he’s getting on a bit and doesn’t have the energy for it.
Ross Brawn comes at this from a different point of view, mindful of the fact that his team wouldn’t be on the grid this year were it not for the support they received from the other teams over the winter,
“The existence of this team was dependent on the support of FOTA teams – McLaren and Mercedes in particular are the reason why we are here, and I think the FOTA initiatives are good.
“We seem to have had a disconnection in terms of liaising and negotiating with the FIA, and that has perhaps been the problem because FOTA has got a lot of good ideas and the FIA has got a lot of good ideas. Hopefully those ideas will be brought together to find a solution.
“I think there are interim solutions, but quite clearly if next Friday 10 [new] teams are given an entry in F1, then there is a problem because there is no room for the rest of us. And I don’t know what will happen then.
“I hope it doesn’t happen because if 10 teams are given an entry then there is a major problem. Even if it is a holding position until we sort this out, I hope we can find a solution.”
The manufacturers are all bound to each other with a €50 million forfeit if one of them jumps ship, but the pressure on Brawn to split from them is intense, especially as the current championship leader. From the signs he’s been giving lately, that ain’t going to happen.