The era of manufacturers dominating F1 is over, according to Williams chief executive Adam Parr. Following a week in which Toyota announced its withdrawal and Renault held an emergency board meeting to discuss its ongoing participation, Parr said that the tide is turning away from the manufacturer teams towards independents like Williams and Brawn.
In an article I co-wrote in this weekend’s Financial Times, Parr said, “This week marked the end of manufacturer dominance in F1, something that had been growing for a decade, ” It’s not that manufacturers are not welcome in F1, it’s just that the maths don’t make sense. If you spend $750 million a year to own an F1 team and come ninth two years in a row, you are going to stop. For an independent at times like these you are going to put your head down and keep going, because you have no choice.”
Meanwhile all the stakeholders in F1 are wondering what Toyota’s legal position will be now. They are in breach of contract, having signed the Concorde Agreement in August. Although there is no specific financial penalty written in the agreement, they do have responsibilities and potential liabilities. For instance, as one team principal pointed out to me yesterday, if another team was on the point of signing a title sponsor and that sponsor pulled out because he was unsettled by Toyota’s move, then he could have grounds to sue Toyota.
Many commentators have underestimated what Toyota’s position entails, and it is the complexity of the legal responsibilities linked to being in breach of contract which the Renault board will have been discussing this week, along with seeking an honest assessment from its commercial team of the chances of securing sponsors for next season, with the cloud from the race fixing scandal still hanging over the team. My sources suggest that Renault will definitely compete in 2010, but will review the position again after that. They will be studying what, if any, legal challenges Toyota face during that period.
Unlike Honda and to a lesser extent BMW, Toyota have not done the right thing here; they have signed the Concorde Agreement and then breached it, they have not sought to set the team up to continue in future.
The question of the 13th team remains; will Sauber get it? I’m sure they will, but contrary to rumours this weekend, I understand that Qadback has not yet paid BMW the money for the team, that is contingent on them getting the entry ratified by the FIA.
I spoke to McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh this week and he said that Toyota was ‘not integral’ to F1 – which is a corporate way of saying they won’t be missed – and that FOTA is still in robust shape because its strength is Ferrari and McLaren. Like BMW, Toyota have not helped the manufacturer’s cause this year because they have merely served to prove the accusation that manufacturer’s come and go when it suits them.
Interestingly both sides in the FOTA/FIA war over the summer failed to get all that they wanted in the final negotiations. The FIA wanted the manufacturer’s boards to commit to 2012, not just the race teams, while Toyota and other manufacturers were keen not just for Mosley to stand down, but for Bernie Ecclestone to do so as well. Toyota were looking for different corporate governance for F1 and were reluctant signatories of the Concorde Agreement.
I sense that FOTA as an organisation is weaker now, because it has lost some manufacturer muscle and once the new teams join, they will be much more likely to side with Ecclestone, who holds the purse strings, in the event of a dust up. It also cannot help that Ferrari has once again publicly belittled the new teams this week, saying “Formula 1 continues losing important parts. In exchange, if one could call it that, Manor, Lotus, USF1 and Campos Meta arrived. You might say, “same-same” because it is enough if there are participants. But that’s not entirely true and the we’ve got to see if next year we’ll be really as many in Bahrain for the first starting grid of the 2010 season.”
Over the summer Ferrari said that many of these teams were more GP3 than F1. Some of them are already FOTA members and others have applied for membership – happy families!
Also in that FT article we got a quote from a spokesman for Jean Todt’s new regime at the FIA, who said that the events of this week prove that, “The FIA’s strategy of cost reduction and the encouragement of new independent teams was the right one for the championship.”