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Controversial new group meets to steer F1 future; small teams feel excluded
Posted By: James Allen  |  19 Oct 2013   |  8:12 am GMT  |  222 comments

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

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If customer cars are allowed then they would not be eligible for Constructors world championship points. Providing they could fund it on sponsorship alone then fine.

Then if for example Williams finished 11 and 12th they could in theory still score constructors points if two cars in front of they are customers. The drivers championship would be for everyone though.

It could work if you could afford to run a team with reduced income which if you only had to prepare the cars could be done.


James, I’m intrigued by your comment “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.”

I would of thought that the sport was creating more and more of a bind for Mercedes where concerns at the corporate level had already been raised over their ability to remain in the sport if Bernie was convicted of corruption.

Do you think any of this is a serious issue for Merc and could it result in them having to flex some muscle?


That is Bob Fernley’s comment, not mine


I just don’t see how customer teams can be seen as ‘Constructors’. So allow them, but they can only compete for WDC points, and split the prize money, with the majority staying with the WCC, or have them all compete in a additional teams championship, still with the majority of the prize money going towards the WCC.

In my perfect scenario, the FIA and all willing teams (preferably around six) would buy FOM from CVC (It all rests on debt, anyway, and this ownership construction may actually increase its value through increased stability). The teams who own equity may take part in the WCC, with other customer teams taking part in the aforementioned teams championship. New teams must be able to buy a share from the FIA and the equity teams, proportionally, if they comply to certain requirements.


I don’t think it is right to say the small and medium sized teams have been excluded. It would be hard to describe Williams as a large team and currently they are labouring well down the grid only just ahead of Caterham and Marussia. The thing that all six team included have in common is that they’ve all won championships, albeit in earlier guises – Mercedes/ Brawn and Lotus/ Renault. No of the excluded teams have ever had a sniff at a championship.


So if it was mid-2010, would Red Bull be excluded. What if Toyota were still around?

The small teams, or poorest performing teams change not only year to year, but even in a season. Force India are now a ‘small’ team with Williams, Marussia and Caterham, after being upper midfield at the start of the year. Sauber were a ‘small’ team at the start but with some nice upgrades, a better exhaust blown rear end, and some tyre changes they are now Q3 regulars.


sure there are many good cases for both arguments but in the end it all comes down to what is best way to move forward. TBH, do we ever see the bottom teams actually racing? not on my TV feed. they are for all intents and purposes invisible and irrelevant. of course they are underfunded in both financial terms as well as in talent. the latter being both in construction and driving areas.

on the one hand i always want to see innovation and i simply abhor spec racing. creativity in providing engineering solutions must always be the prime objective. customer cars need not infringe that ideal.

williams is an example whereby they developed the WSG [worlds smallest gearbox] but it only served to soak up their funds as they did not gain any better race results!

i really don’t know where all this headed but if the recent past is any thing to be used as a gauge then i do not see any vast improvements to the actual racing coming in the future. hopefully i am totally wrong…..


James, Is it not possible to allow customer cars with the rule that they cannot collect constructors championship points due to not being ‘constructors’.

There could be a separate table for customer teams who would receive a lot less prize money based on where they end up than the constructors due to having much smaller operating costs. This way we can have more teams + more drivers being given an opportunity.

In all walks of Motorsport there has been customer cars to some degree, even in the not too distant past we had Torro Rosso and Super Aguri buying chassis, they didn’t hurt the spectacle did they?


Is it just my imagination or do I remember customer teams running in the 1960’s/1970’s even to the extent of them racing the previous years model (Lotus leaps to mind)


You are perfectly right, the last team to race with a customer Lotus was Hector Rebaque’s, in 1978 and 1979.


Even the super capitalist owners of the NFL realize that subsidizing weaker teams makes for a better product in the end. I think there should be some kind of spending cap that teams can exceed providng they match the overspending into a fund that trickles down to the lower teams. I would like to see smaller teams survive, but they have to get a share of the pie.


There is a major impact that no one has really been talking about. What happens to all the staff the smaller teams have for the design and manufacture of their own cars? So many bright and talented people would be out of a job. There must be a better way to bring the overall cost of f1 down


you may recall the statement made by patrick head when quizzed as to why williams were heading for the bottom of the barrel, he said, ‘ it’s not money that is in short supply it’s ideas’ [or words to that effect]


100% correct, but unfortunately right now the people making the decisions are the ones who have the money and influence, which is a no win situation for the smaller teams.


Finally its crunch time, it had to come sooner or later.

As a fan I’d still prefer the top, midfield and backmarkers just as F1 has been for the past decades. Somehow it’s just fitting. Remember Senna’s Monaco drive in Toleman?

I too did like the idea of 3 cars per team as it will certainly give young drivers a great chance of proving themselves but somehow 2 in a team seems more right. But it’ll be great if smaller teams beat the big teams providing the customer cars, then what? It can happen. Look at Red Bull a drink company thrashing Ferrari, Mclaren and so on.

Whatever, I’m begging for the V10s to come back as the V6 turbo sounds so amateurish!!! Whose idea was it? You all know who’s the culprit. Gosh I just don’t know If I should book my tickets for next year. And from some reports it was said the cars will be 2 to 3 secs slower (James is this true?).


Possibly, but we don’t know how fast the tyres will be yet. That could make quite a difference if they durable


Frank Williams started out in 1969 with a Brabham-Ford and only later in 1972 started racing his own cars that bore his name. During the early 70s Lotus (one of the big names in F1) and March supplied cars to customers. One Rob Walker was a Lotus customer who provided a Lotus to Stirling Moss, no less, in the late 50s and in 1969 a Lotus 49 for Jo Siffert. It seems as though there is precedent in F1 for the vision that F1 Strategy Group has for the sport.


Absolutely, I just cannot understand the ranting and raving. Anyway, I think some middle of the road solution would be all right. Keeping alive good middle-of-the field teams like Force India or Sauber, and enabling small outfits buy customer cars (Caterham or Marussia), at least they would score points!

Moreover, Mike Andretti has already stated that he would be interested in running such a team. That would be good for everybody.

As someone has already pointed out here, the first 4 wins of Lotus as a constructor were by Stirling Moss on a Rob Walker’s car!

It all looks very sensible to me.


There is a snag with your suggestion of ‘keeping alive good middle-of-the field teams like Force India or Sauber, and enabling small outfits buy customer cars (Caterham or Marussia),at least they would score points!’

At who’s expense would the new faster Caterham and Marussia score points? They would surely just replace the current good midfielders.

Without wishing to state the obvious, only ten cars can finish in the top ten!


You certainly have a point there, but it would prevent the certainty that four single seaters will NEVER score a point. (It has almost been 4 years by now).


as lots of other people have said, the teams should get a bigger slice of the pie. Too much is being syphoned off by cvc, the sport generates a huge amount of cash but it doesn’t stay in the sport. Sauber should have made enough from their strong results last year to build on the success and take another step up this season. Instead they are in severe financial trouble and will have to take 2 pay drivers next year. If the money stayed in the sport, all the teams would be able to build thir own chassis and have enough cash to develop it and pay decent drivers to drive it.


When will I get to see a race series which is not oval, doesn’t use DRS overtakes, has high mechanical grip, uses low aero and has high BHP engines. Wider chassis would be nice too.

Then we could see some real track action… and would not have to boo RBS and Vettel for driving better detla times… zzzzz….

One thing is for sure, if F1 can be made more boring, the authorities will make it worse.


Simple answer is divide the money up more evenly, the rich get richer and everyone else suffers in this sport, not very sporting?

But I do feel customer car’s could improve the quality of the racing?

But so could a more even playing field financially!


for the purists….williams began his career with a customer car!


Personally I prefer independant teams but the reality is that F1 is ridiciously expensive and a full grid might not be possible unless expenses are cut drastically.

On the other hand people forget that customer cars (or chassis) wasn’t that uncommon in F1 before.

If they want to go the ‘customer car’ route I hope for a scenario where each team is still responsible for the main aero design of its car.

3 components (ERS, engine, gearbox/drivetrain) can be purchased but only a max of 2 from the same supplier. Could be 4 components if certain aeroparts (like DRS) are also made available but still at a max of 2 from one supplier.

A team would still require a core set of engineers and in this way some ‘smaller’ teams could actually end up with the best of all worlds leading to tougher competition.

A situation would be prevented where you have teams that run exact Ferrari, Red bull, Macca etc. copies. and ultimately preventing the disaster that Indycar or Champ Car became.

James, do you think something like that could work?


Yes, or alternatively specify most of the car but allow freedom in some areas to allow teams to innovate there. Especially areas which have relevance to automotive industry and or to society,

Trouble is this new F1 SG is all about the big guys deciding what’s best for the sport. When push comes to shove they will never vote for anything which dilutes their spending power


I would like to see a return to the lower tech world of the 1970’s where there was an open door policy and a team could turn up with a car and attempt to pre qualify for the race weekend proper.

Customer cars were allowed, of course, and teams such as MARCH manufactured cars that were often competitive. As a result the team flourished for a period.

More drivers could be tried and occasionally a really good one would emerge and become a star virtually overnight.


The difference being that teams had about 15 staff and the aero side was so poorly understood that a privateer could experiment with some crude changes to the wing angles, ride height and the like and achieve some decent results every now and again. This simply doesn’t apply today.


It’s becoming a bit of an old boys club- literally! (BE anyone)

What are the implications if I wanted to join the “club” as a Manufacturer? All seems to be too much of a “closed shop” union.


Can anyone point me to where Aabar got on board Toro Rosso, please? I thought they’d relatively recently, say mid-season 2013, been with Lotus –

is this another Lotus deal that wasn’t?


Aabar was with Mercedes until they split I think end of 2011.

Link with Toro R I think was late 2012.

I’ve heard that the ultimate plan is for them to take over Toro Rosso. It’s one of those stories it’s hard to get any really good steer on but we’re working on it!


Any words to the effect that it would benefit the small teams sounds like nonsensical spin when they are excluded from the new group. I imagine a Luca would tell them it’s all for their own good, meaning the truth is 180 from that.


Was it Vijay Malya that said, “The Championship is called the Constructor’s Championship and we have to do justice to the name”?


F1 should be ruled by Flavio Briatore. It would be a show. We will miss old good times when there was some sport, but looking at these two recent seasons I am OK to have F1 like boxing… the show.


Flavio all by himself is already a show, don’t you think so?

Marcus in Canada

This is wrong. This is short term thinking, customer teams would kill F1 in the longer term just like it did Indy/Champ Cars in North America. It’s not so long ago that Red Bull was a small start up called Stewart GP. That kind of thing has always been the lifeblood of F1.


for us de facto a grid of 8 cars + 2 volatile

would be the future; yet i don’t think so; patching here tweaking there is how they’ll overpass the impass; f1 became too big (money or passion) to disapear


As with most things, its all about money. I believe the small teams could be much more competitive if they were better funded and innovation returned through relaxing more rules. They need more money from the sport returned to them.

We already have other formula with customer cars or non-manufactured cars. IMHO F1 needs the small teams, needs them to be prosperous and competitive by their own designs. I have no interest in watching a series where the major differences that we recognize on TV are the liveries. I have that in the US, its called Indycar. And while there is alot a variety in who wins any given week, I can’t sit still for a complete race without falling asleep.


>>I have no interest in watching a series where the major differences that we recognize on TV are the liveries.


Yet, that is the way F1 rules are already. I’ll bet if you took off the paint most ppl even on this blog couldn’t tell them apart.


“Yet, that is the way F1 rules are already. I’ll bet if you took off the paint most ppl even on this blog couldn’t tell them apart.”

Naah!! You can clearly see the difference between a Lotus, Marrusia Sauber and a Caterham without paint.

Maybe.. I mean maybe, some people might get confused between a Merc and a Ferrari 😛

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