Talking point: The difference between customer cars in F1 and co-constructor cars
James Allison
Posted By: James Allen  |  15 May 2015   |  3:41 pm GMT  |  109 comments

The ultimate nightmare vision scenario for the smaller teams in F1 when the F1 Strategy Group was formed, effectively shutting them out of the regulatory process, was that it would ultimately lead to the five powerful teams plus the FIA and Bernie Ecclestone bringing in customer cars. They said as much at the time.

On one level it solves the sustainability problem for smaller teams (albeit taking away from them the right to be called ‘constructors’) so there’s a cost control piece, then it also provides income for the big teams as they can sell chassis to the smaller ones. So you can see why the big teams see it as desirable.

They have no intention of relinquishing their up front payments, such as Ferrari’s $97 million a year and Red Bull’s $74m. So budget is not an issue for them and cost control is of secondary importance to competitive advantage.

Hence the subject of customer cars as a solution for the ‘have nots’ like Lotus, Sauber and Force India, is back on the table after the Biggin Hill meeting yesterday, even if it was not included in the FIA’s brief summary of the proposals arising from the meeting.

This is a highly devisive measure, certain to split the teams and to cause a lot of soul searching.

Ferrari, Haas

Less well known, another more elegant way to approach the same problem is being developed by those in the sport who favour the idea of a co-constructor model. In this instance a smaller team works together with a larger team to share parts that are not especially performance differentiating and which are allowed to be shared under the rules, but there is a deeper collaboration on the chassis side. This would forge a close alliance so the smaller team would be effectively be a B team, but they would at least maintain an element of being a constructor.

The way Haas is building up to its F1 entry next year has quite a bit of the co-constructor model about it, in its work with Ferrari. They would go further if the rules would allow it and the model has the advantage that a team can benefit from learnings from the partner team and have a story to tell about their own technology, as they do today, rather than just race an off the shelf car, which isn’t very F1.

To make it truly effective and cost-efficient, the co-constructor model needs to be enshrined in the FIA’s technical and sporting regulations and some areas of Intellectual Property exclusivity need to be relaxed. Ir is certainly less divisive than customer cars in the F1 teams’ ecosystem. The F1 teams need to be united at this time, not divided.

Toro Rosso 2008

It’s easy to argue that in a customer car world a smaller team can never win a race against a ‘works’ team, because they will always be downstream of the parent team. Any constructor can dream of one day winning a race, as Force India came close to doing at Spa in 2009 and Toro Rosso actually managed at Monza a year earlier. Williams won Spain in 2012 when it was the second team in Renault’s engine supply chain after Red Bull.

But practically speaking it’s a hell of a long shot, especially with the huge difference in budgets between the top teams and the rest. So the right next move is the one that maintains healthy grid numbers without destroying the soul of the smaller teams.

Williams, which sits on the F1 Strategy Group by right in an automatic place, is ideologically opposed to customer cars and will have been against it yesterday, along with Force India, but if customer cars were the norm, it would surely seek to be one of the teams whose technology others would want to use.

But we like the idea of co-constructors, it builds on work that has been going on in F1 in recent years since Force India began the model of buying the engine, gearbox and back end of the car from McLaren and Mercedes, but also it mirrors developments going on in the wider business world, where companies that compete against each other in other industries, also look to share back-room functions as a cost saving move, in areas which aren’t fundamental to how companies differentiate each other.

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according to joe saward ‘The federation has made much of its recognition in recent years by the International Olympic Committee, but when one looks at the IOC’s Basic Universal Principles of Good Governance of the Olympic and Sports Movement, published in 2008, one sees some anomalies, which would best be removed. The IOC says that it is best to avoid “members of any decision-making body” being influenced by the decisions. This means that people with a personal or business interest in the decision-making should not be making any decisions. The F1 Strategy Group involves various parties that should not be making regulatory decisions, notably some of the competitors. The IOC code also says that it is recommended that there be “adequate procedures” to avoid any conflicts of interests.’ bottom line is the strategy group does not conform to the rules. any talk about customer cars is moot unless the bigger issue is addressed.


If they take the co-constructor approach, then why not repeat what they did when the constructor championship was first introduced, and combine all the individual driver results towards constructor points (e.g. Team A points + Team B points = constructor points). They can then share the prize money according to points contribution, and provide Team B with prize money that they would not otherwise achieve, whilst also strengthening Team A chance of winning the championship.


“rather than just race an off the shelf car, which isn’t very F1”

– but it once was

– Frank Williams entered an off the shelf BT26 in 1969 for Piers Courage to race and finished second in both the Monaco and US GPs

– JYS won the 1970 Spanish GP in a customer March 701

is it really so bad?


Surely a better model would be for small teams to club together. For example, 2 or 3 small teams get together, design a car together – sharing the cost. This way, each gets the benefit of 2 or 3 times the development budget they have on their own. Of course, they’re going to end up racing between themselves too, but they would be doing so with significantly better cars that could take them closer to the leaders.


Nürburgring 24H Rennen has just finished. Over 150 cars on the grid. After 24H of flat out racing the difference between P1 and P2 was 40 seconds.


can anyone explain why carlos sainz wasn’t penalised for passing kvyat, while being completely off track after colliding with kvyat a few seconds previously, for 9th place finish at the spanish grand prix?


It has to be remembered that the top 5 includes only 2 actual car makers – Mercedes and Ferrari – and 3 teams who are not “manufacturers” – they are in it only for the racing. Does this mean that we will see Williams, Force India and RBR possibly selling their chassis to Manor, etc? It is abundantly clear that cost controls are out the window – given the outcome of that meeting – and that the top 5 teams will never negotiate a better deal for the lesser teams. Time for a boycott?


Everything old, is new again.


If the revenue was shared more equally the smaller teams would feel less cost pressure, they would be more competitive as constructors, and we wouldn’t need to move in the direction of customer or co-constructor cars.

Fix the revenue sharing and you fix most of F1’s problems.

It seems neither Bernie or CVC have the intellect or the gonads to do what needs to be done.


Can someone explain to me why Bernie (CVC) have so much power?

I understand they have the commercial rights… but surely the FIA can do something to curtail their heavy involvement in every single decision that happens within F1.


Customer cars will reduce the F1 workforce by half to save a few quid. This is pretty much the history of British engineering since 1960. Before we know it, most of the parts used in F1 will be made in China, then the rest of the jobs will go.

Never mind CVC will still be making a profit. That’s what you get when duckers and divers claim to be businessmen.


Or, how about this…..

Teams could all buy and race Dallara’s and then we’d actually have a meaningful *drivers’ championship.

Oh, wait…. that’s IndyCar already, isn’t it.



I’m against the idea of customer cars in any of it’s forms and interpretations because it’s just a sticking plaster solution to the whole ‘cost’ problem in F1.

The big teams will spend what they want like they do now anyways rather than actually cut costs. To recoup that money, the ticket prices and subscription prices will stay high — hardly a spectacle when you’re not letting more enthusiasts actually enjoy the show. If there weren’t such high costs, circuits wouldn’t be charged such large hosting fees, they wouldn’t pass the buck to spectators (who can choose not to pay), and you wouldn’t have empty grandstand seats.

It’s a problem even for the big teams if they don’t win yet have to spend all that money because it’ll just take a boardroom meeting for the larger manufacturer teams to decide whether F1 is worth it or not with the amount of money they invest yet no success. Mclaren and Ferrari won’t leave F1 but surely to bring costs down would make sense if other manufacturers want to come into F1. Ford, Jaguar, BMW, Aston Martin…need I go on?


This opens up other possibilities as well.

The small teams, lets say Sauber, Force India, Manor, Lotus could pool their resources and employ Adrian Newey to design a common car. I don’t think he would mind having access to the Sauber wind tunnel in his work. Their wind tunnel time would be quadrupled to develop the car since each team

have a wind tunnel and they could share the work between them.

For sure this would give the big teams something to think about.


The smaller team could also pool their resources and build a common car. That would put them on par

with the big teams for both design and development durin the season.


Guys and Girls. Can I bring this all back to some sort of reality. F1, pinnacle of Motorsport. We are losing out currently with drivers managing the rubber, fuel flow was investigated at the weekend, the cars look horrible (I’ve been to Silverstone for the last 10 years.. ), the BTCC, GP2 and GP3 and now electric GP is far more impressive to watch from a pure spectator perspective. Let’s not forget and please James, pass it on, that without people buying the sponsor products, the tickets, the burgers and merchandise there would be no reason to race. The Strategy Group need to understand exactly where the money comes from. The public. No where else. In many different forms but at the end of the day it’s us. Make the cars faster, (we don’t need refuelling back – crazy) but please can F1 BE F1 – fastest cars around a lap of the best circuits – that where it was born and what attracted the paying public to see.


Great article thanks James and the fact that its challenged your most seasoned posters says it all.

I agree that the differentiator is the regulations – there has to be some rethinking around what can & cant be done by Co/Customer Teams, Otherwise what do we have?- Manufacturers B teams or Manufacturers B cars with a different named team and I dont think either is what F1 was about or should be. More importantly and overlapping all of this are the 2017 regulations if these properly open up many areas that both existing and new teams can work on then obviously the Co Customer model will “fit” in with what HAAS and others may want in the longer run. I peronsally loved the idea that the STR of 2008 was a good car because it had a RBR newey chassis & a Ferrari engine- What would RBR would give for that now.

What I fear will happen is that if top manufacturers teams have their ” intellectual property” challenged they will just leave things as they are. There has to be enough scope in the new regulations to allow new comers to make a difference.

Lastly, and the model we most want for F1 is more constructor / manufacturer partnerships with Audi,

Ford Cosworth coming in & perhaps this is at odds with both the above, so this why Bernie would prefer the simpler customer car model. The devil is in the detail of the rules and being able to give potential players an opportunity to be successful- something which regretably polarizes whats meant to be a “competition”.


F1 is (and has been for a long time) a ticking bomb just waiting for self-destruction. I’ve been a hardcore fan since mid-70’s but I’m starting to loose interest in todays F1. The people in charge are destroying it. When god wrote the seven sins he based them on F1’s management.

Greed… The five big teams will not finish until there’s only one of them left, trust me. And we the audience will have to watch another dull season when one team is so much better than the rest. So throw in a bone and let another team win a race, two or three and we all get excited for a little moment again. Then we’re back to normal. No, it’s time to let F1 go. They will never change and let us have three, four, five teams that actually can win. Last great season was -12 when it was like 6, 7 different winners in the beginning. Wow! That’s what F1 is about. Not how much you can spend under the chassi and I can’t see it. That’s my opinion…

Alastair Purves

As has been previously stated further up the thread, this is how Indycar started down the road to becoming a “spec series”. If that is to be the fate of F1 then it will simply cease to be F1 and will reap the consequences, i.e. even further diminishing interest from motor sport enthusiasts. The more I read about F1s struggles to get back to previous levels of interest and income the more it becomes obvious to me that F1 as we know it is simply unsustainable and has probably had it’s day. I feel we are witnessing it’s death throes. And you know what? I find myself not really caring and that’s from someone who has spent 40 years excitedly anticipating every second Sunday between (roughly) March and October. I didn’t watch last Sunday’s race live. I didn’t even record it on the Sunday. I waited until Tuesday and recorded the “race only” repeat, no build up and no autopsy, and when I did gatround to watching I turned off halfway through. What did i watch on SundayI hear you ask? World Superbikes of course!


If the sport is going down this route it will require an easing of Intellectual Property rules as James has mentioned. The problem is that the proposed model seems to channel the teams down a big team/little team dynamic rather than allowing for little teams to band together to challenge the top dogs.

Partner with a big team if you like, and erode your manufacturing capabilities…or allow for an Open Source design model below a set budget threshold that lets a number of small teams contribute to the design (not manufacture) of certain core areas, freeing them up to work on their own solutions to other parts of the car on a pace better matched to the larger predators of the sport.

This should also allow small teams to present a much more attractive proposition to sponsors who would love a real chance to see their brand somewhere near the front of a race without the intervention of weather and/or attrition.


This is all semantics.

If you don’t build the fundamental parts of your own F1 car, (the bits that differentiate you from the competition and either give you a performance edge or makes you worse), then you are a customer team. A bit of a generalist view, I know, but I think F1 teams need their OWN identity, otherwise how are you supposed to go for them (F1 cronies please remember, viewers follow drivers AND teams?..).

Why would I want Williams to win, for example, if it just becomes a repainted Mercedes, and the master team is always going to beat it barring any mishaps? Williams becomes irrelevant – looses it’s identity. It’s like Batman and Robin. How many movies are named after the sidekick? Batman will always take the glory even if Robin wins a few fights in the films. (Can’t wait for the new Batman film! Robin’s not even in it I hear… sorry Williams / Sauber / Force India.)

I for one am quite disappointed that F1 has been becoming a two-tier series lately, and even more so going forward it would seem. This is supposed to be the pinnacle of motorsport, but it’s littered with teams who cannot actually afford to build competitive cars for the championship fight.

And here’s the kicker, they could all do it! They did it in the decades past… All it would take is for everybody to come to their senses and drop the yearly expenditure for each team. 100 mill each would still build immense cars no?.. That’s a budget everyone could afford, it would still be a ridiculous amount of money and largely inaccessible to most who would want to enter the sport. So F1 would stay the pinnacle.

But no, let’s have the big teams get their way and have a two-tier series in F1. What the hell is GP2 for?..

This time in history will go down as the moment where 3-4 super teams took control of the sport. And that’s why they won’t back down, these top teams are about to gain even more control of the sport by making the rest of the field customers. Customers bring in revenue, and you can control customer votes in the boardrooms. And if you can’t get your way, you can simply threaten to pull out and send 2-3 teams out of business – pretty good negotiating tool right? Why would they miss out on such an opportunity.

So like I said, semantics. We will have customers, and masters if this happens.

THEN see how evenly the prize money is distributed, lol.

I think too many people are focused on the day-to-day jabber in these meetings and not looking at the bigger picture.


the small teams failed to understand ecclestone. he says “if you pull a gun to my head, you better make sure the gun is loaded and you have balls big enough to pull the trigger.” they threatened to boycott a race and he pays them back with a customer car. they shot themselves in the foot and only have themselves to blame.


In the 60’s and 70’s there were plenty of customer cars. Some teams bought entire, ready to race current and sometimes 1 year old models from Lotus, Brabham and others, while others bought only chassis and supplied their own choice of engine and other mods to the cars. No one really expected them to win but they were frequently competitive and added to the color and culture F1. Williams ran for their first years with customer cars. Notably, these teams often provided entry points to F1 for very talented technical staff, seats for new drivers as well as seats for experienced racers and generally were an enhancement to the grid.

I’d rather see competitive customer car teams than full constructors that are so hopelessly outspent under budget that they can’t compete at all. Sure, ideally F1 would attract enough competitive constructors that customer car teams wouldn’t be needed, but costs are so prohibitive and terminally stacked toward the established big 4, that this will not happen.

EVERYONE involved knows that the only effective solution is to see more fair distribution of payouts for the teams and cost controls. Anything and everything short of that will fall well short of securing a great F1 product. The people with the control and power to make this happen simply don’t care and would rather let short term greed rule over the health of F1. If their current path results in F1 failing in a a few years, they’ll count their cash, shrug and move on to something else, leaving millions of dedicated fans out in the cold.

Robert of London

+1000 Your post hit the nail on the head…


will the team’s running the customer cars be ncluded in the constructors championship?


Let’s ask who is pushing customer cars and why.

AUTOSPORT published FOMs numbers yesterday they turned over S1.650bn and paid out $880M to the teams. If you had 5 or 6 constructors and 5 or 6 customer teams they could probably pay out less ..

We have Haas who accept being the Ferrari B team

AUTOSPORT quoted Hass team principle Gunther Steiner, saying “You can look at appendix six of the sporting regulations, and say ‘this is what Haas gets from Ferrari’. The things we have to make by regulation, and we will make, are chassis monocoque and what they call ‘wet’ surfaces – everything outside the car, the bodywork, including radiators.

The monocoque will be very similar to Ferrari’s … ” if you’ve got the battery box and fuel tank from Ferrari you can’t do much different. But it’s completely legal…. We get the mounting points, we get the steering rack, we need to bolt it to a chassis. If we want the same suspension, we’d better put it in the same place, otherwise it won’t work. It’ll look similar [to Ferrari], yes.”

That’s legal … but isn’t it a bit odd that they basically have to make their own copy of Ferrari’s tub ?

We have Force India who used to buy and now get it from Mercedes … why shouldn’t they buy the tub from Mercedes (or Williams or someone else)

And why not have budget limits for teams which buy in certain parts – even a whole car. According to the published FOM numbers Force India picked up $60M for 2014, let them take last years Mercedes as a starting point with maybe a limit of $100 to spend in total (Car + Engine + operations + limited development).


@ james encore…just some few weeks ago i read where haas are emphatically denying that they are a ‘ferrari B team’. !

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