On Monday the F1 Strategy Group will meet for the first time and a new era of F1 rule making will begin, which excludes small and medium sized teams. They fear it could lead ultimately to the sport polarising into a few top “works” teams with the rest running customer cars.
The F1 Strategy Group is a new body which has been born out of the bilateral agreement between the FIA and the commercial rights holders CVC and Bernie Ecclestone, signed last month.
Where previously, the teams would all meet to have an input into new ideas and directions for the sport, now it will be a group of just six teams; Mercedes, Red Bull, McLaren, Ferrari, Williams and a floating member, which is currently Lotus due to championship position.
This cuts the small and medium sized teams out of the equation. The only say they have is when the findings and decisions of the F1 Strategy Group are passed to the F1 commission for ratification. But as the F1 commission is a large group that also contains suppliers and promoters, the voice of the small and medium sized teams is very much diluted.
The F1 Strategy Group is composed of three equal thirds: FIA has six votes, although it will be represented at meetings by only one person, the same carries for the commercial rights holder, while the six teams have one vote each.
Had the F1 Strategy Group been in place over the last ten years, so example, major rule changes like the introduction of V6 turbo engines and DRS would have been passed by the group, with no input from smaller teams.
The fear among “the excluded” is that this group’s ultimate intention is to divide the competitors into “works” teams and customer teams.
Ferrari boss Luca di Montezemolo has long argued that a strong F1 would have such a structure whereby teams like Force India would buy their cars from McLaren, Sauber and Marussia would buy Ferraris, Toro Rosso or Caterham would buy Red Bulls and so on. And they would use the partner team’s wind tunnel and simulator facilities, doing away with the expense of having their own. Currently there is some technology flowdown: Caterham buys its gearbox from Red Bull, Force India has Mercedes engines married to a McLaren gearbox, for example.
This would give the top teams valuable additional return on investment, would close up the competition and many feel it would raise the standard and would make the smaller teams more sustainable; it would mean teams like Marussia could focus on going racing without the stress and expense of tooling up with the huge staff numbers and the latest equipment needed to design and build a car. But critics argue that it would weaken the diversity of the sport and would leave the smaller teams dependent on the “works” teams.
One significant step on the road to that future was taken when the list of prescribed parts – parts which constitute an F1 car’s Intellectual Property – moved from the Concorde Agreement into the FIA Sporting Regulations. This was significant because you cannot change things in the Concorde Agreement without unanimous approval, whereas items in the Sporting Regulations can be changed more easily. So that list could grow or shrink depending on the political and commercial agenda of the powerbrokers.
Force India’s Bob Fernley (second from right above) has come out very strongly this weekend against the new body, calling into question its legality and asking how this can been seen as fair and equitable. Since the FIA became recognised by the International Olympic Committee, doubts have been raised over the compatability of certain aspects of the way the sport is run compared to the Olympic charter.
“All teams basically pay the same amount to go racing,” he told the Telegraph. “The only differentials are in drivers’ salaries and hospitality. And yet some teams have no say in how the sport is run. It could certainly be deemed abuse of a dominant position.”
“Some of the teams (on the F1 Strategy Group) have grave reservations about the legality of it. There is genuine concern among some of the teams on the Strategy Group, particularly the ones who are public companies. This is not ethical governance.”
Williams has always been implacably opposed to customer cars as they would be the “squeezed middle” – a proud team determined to build its own car that would struggle to beat a Ferrari run by Marussia or a Red Bull run by Caterham. So they will oppose customer cars, but could be a lone voice in the Strategy Group. McLaren’s Martin Whitmarsh would be in a very tough spot; as someone who has worked very hard for the F1 Teams Association he would feel obliged to represent the smaller teams. But for McLaren there are millions to be made from selling technology.
Toro Rosso is an interesting case study: in 2008 it had a car from Adrian Newey’s drawing board before the rules on IP exchange were tightened up and Sebastian Vettel won the Italian Grand Prix with it that year from pole. Now Abu Dhabi investment business Aabar has an interest in the team and the paddock view is that at some point soon they will take the team over from Dietrich Mateschitz.
It would be very attractive for the new owners to get a customer Red Bull each year, to avoid the expense and staffing needed to build its own car and the team would be very competitive.
Currently F1 has no Concorde Agreement, the labour agreement which has bound in the governing body, the commercial rights holder and the teams. Ecclestone has said all along that he does not feel F1 needs a Concorde Agreement. And as he now has bilateral agreements with the FIA and with all but one of the teams (Marussia still being the exception) he can argue that from a commercial and governance point of view there is no need for a Concorde Agreement.
What do you think? Does the F1 Strategy Group sound like a good idea to you? Would you like to see customer cars in F1? Leave your comments below