Veteran F1 engineer Mike Gascoyne has said that the FIA needs to impose a budget cap on F1 “for the good of the sport”.
As the pressure intensifies for F1 to act on costs by the end of this month, so that a structure can be in place for the 2013 season, the last few days have seen interventions from Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo, calling for dramatic cost reductions and FIA president Jean Todt promising FIA action to do that.
Speaking at the Cheltenham Science Festival yesterday evening in a talk on “Innovation in F1”, Gascoyne, the Caterham Chief technical officer said that the Resource Restriction Agreement (RRA) has been proven to be a failure as the top teams have found ways to carry on spending pre-credit crunch levels of budget and that a budget cap is the only sustainable answer. He believes that there is plenty of scope for F1 to maintain its position as a hotbed of innovation, while containing the costs.
“I want freedom and innovation and I think we need a budget cap but we should leave people free to spend on whatever you like within that cap,” he said. “So if you want to spend it all in the wind tunnel or on some trick new innovation then you can do that, but there is a limit and there has to be a limit.
“It’s a fine balancing act because you want innovation; you want F1 to be the pinnacle, it has to be the quickest single-seater motor racing formula in the world. It has to be the best, but it has to be sustainable.”
“In today’s economy you can’t be spending hundreds of millions of euros a year to do 20 races and you don’t need to,” he continued. “Small teams like Caterham are proof of that. We’re two and a half years into our F1 career and we are now qualifying 1.5 secs to 2 secs off pole.”
We’ve been here before; Max Mosley tried to force through a budget cap in the summer of 2009, but Ferrari led resistance to it and it led to the FOTA teams announcing a breakaway from F1 in July 2009.
The current situation finds Red Bull out on a limb, seemingly wanting to maintain its winning position by blocking budget restrictions. Ferrari has said it wants the FIA to be involved in a workable cost reduction structure. It is not saying at this stage what its position would be on a budget cap, were this idea to gain momentum.
If there were to be a budget cap, what should be the level? And to give the top teams a chance to get down to it, would there have to be a glide path, giving them a few years to get from where they are now down to a budget cap level?
“If you want to introduce a budget cap it’s got to be a ramped thing because you have teams out there spending €200m to €300m a year and you’ve got others doing it on €70m,” says Gascoyne. “If you just say ‘everyone has to work off €80m,’ that’s not going to work.
“You’ve always got the problem of inherent selfishness from the teams; they (the top team) have got the money and they want to spend it. Ultimately you are going to have to impose it and get it through because you are never going to get agreement.
“Interestingly you have now got Montezemolo at Ferrari saying ‘we need to seriously reduce costs’; you could be cynical and say, ‘He’s not winning’ and then you look at Red Bull, who have been winning and they don’t want to change anything. That’s always the way in F1, you’ll never get agreement. So to bring something like that in, I believe the FIA is going to have to impose it for the good of the sport.”
Most of the teams feel that the only way forward is for the FIA to regulate costs and FIA president Jean Todt told Autosport yesterday that the FIA is determined to play its part, particularly with reference to the new 2014 hybrid engines. The private teams worry about the high initial costs of introducing these engines, to cover development costs by manufacturers and some are proposing delaying or putting off these engines altogether. But the FIA, Renault and Mercedes are adamant that the sport needs to move with the times with more efficient hybrid engines and reducing the number of engines per driver to four per season will keep the costs down,
“It is true that the  package will be more expensive, but it is also true that the FIA has been in consultation with the engine suppliers in order to reduce the cost increase,” he said.
“For example we have already agreed to a reduction in the number of power units. From eight per driver per season in 2012, we will reduce this to five per driver in 2014 and to four per driver per season in 2015.”
Todt called a meeting with F1 teams on the Monday after the Monaco GP to address the general costs situation in the sport, and has said that efforts to finalise the implementation of a Resource Restriction Agreement are ongoing behind closed doors.
“We are discussing this as we have been asked by 10 of our 12 teams to control costs.”
The two outliers are believed to be Red Bull and its sister team Toro Rosso.