Can F1 Survive the latest err Bovine Excrement
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.. and do we really want it to?
Jaguar have cried �Enough�. Ford, in their wisdom, have achieved what seemed impossible. They bought a team that was gradually moving up, and through a series of mis-Managers and corporate interference from bean counters who didn't want to be there in the first place, destroyed it. They took the Jaguar Marque and turned it from a winner into an also-ran, destroying decades of marketing value in the process. Along the way they turned Cosworth (once the most successful engine in F1) into the preferred engine for losers. Now they want to sell the ashes.
I hope, for the bean counters and indeed F1's sake, that they can find a buyer. 2005, which was looking like being a fiasco, now looks like a potential disaster area for the sport. Ford will not be able to simply cease trading, as Arrows and Prost (and potentially Minardi and Jordan) have done. Under the terms of the Concorde Agreement they will face penalties for no-shows of $250,000 per round till the agreement ends in 2007. On top of that they will be facing exit costs for the engine deal with Minardi and potentially Jordan. At least they won�t face the ignominy of further defeats on track, just in the courts.
The implications of a manufacturer bail-out are huge and potentially will kill the series. Not the least of these implications is the prospect of 3rd cars. More on this damn fool nightmare-in-the-making later. Despite Paul Stoddard�s claims to the contrary, Minardi�s precarious cost projections must have been thrown for a loop by Cosworth�s departure. Eddie Jordan has been very quiet on the same issue and equally quiet on the much hyped team sale. While Jordan will undoubtedly be a leaner operation, the team could not be considered as attractive a purchase as Jaguar and may end up a non starter for (or during) 2005. So we have the possibility of a seven team grid for 2005. Should that happen then the implications in Corporate Japan would also need assessment.
How much loss of face will Toyota allow? They cannot still believe that they can gain instant competence by simply spending more. They have failed to impress so far despite virtually blank cheque budgets and hiring drivers of the calibre of Ralf is not going to make them podium chasers next year. While it would be (just) acceptable for the world�s most profitable car maker to climb from the middle of the pack to a competitive position in, say, 2007, how will the management react to the prospect of a year or two of being Last? Seven from ten � OK, seven from seven - ?
While we are on the team count, lets assume Max�s 2.4 litre madness persists, will there really be a viable grid going forward? BMW will withdraw, Mercedes have made noises along the same lines and Ferrari, while publicly accepting whatever rules eventuate, want the ability to be able to differentiate themselves from the pack.
So, on to the rules. What rules will apply to 2005? Who knows! Here we are at the end of this season with no idea of what rules will apply next year. Sporting rules are �under review�, as are technical rules. Not only don�t we know which teams will run, we don�t know what form their cars must take or how many cars they will run, whether qualifying will be status quo, grid out of a hat, multiple sessions, single sessions or maybe just a charity auction (now there is an idea!).
Talk about a perfect lead in for an opposition formula. The real concern there is that the only viable alternative, GPWC, is run by a group of manufacturers and fronted by a sub-set of the same ego�s that have managed to get F1 so very, very wrong. It isn�t just these Team Managers who have led F1 to where it is of course, FOM (read Bernie) and the FIA (that would be Max) have contributed as well.
Max deserves special mention. He managed to keep a strait face while installing a revolving door to his office after getting on his high horse and accusing the Team Principles of changing their mind. Now he�s taking the FIA into unchartered territory, ignoring the Concorde Agreement, which specifies 3 litre V10 engines and burying himself in the commercial arrangements of F1, a role specifically forbidden to the organisation.
Bernie on the other hand IS the commercial front of F1 and makes more money from it than all the other snouts in the trough collectively. Bernie gave Jaguar a huge serve because they were not prepared to inject more money into the team without acknowledging that HE, not Ford, is the keeper of the purse that holds the key to the sport's future. Bernie has had some good ideas � commercialising F1 was his best (or worst � certainly the best for him) � and some really weird ones but the one constant with Mr Ecclestone has been his blatant greed. A privateer folds, �So What� says Bernie, �they will be replaced when the teams constrain their spending�. A manufacturer withdraws, �They shouldn�t have come in anyway if they weren�t prepared to inject huge amounts of cash � We�ll be better off with 3rd cars anyway�.
Bernie, That�s Crap! Teams will never constrain their spending. Give a team looking for a 0.0001% advantage a billion dollars to improve the aerodynamics of the rear view mirror on their cars and we�ll see billion dollar rear view mirrors sprouting from F1 cars in a month. It�s all about the cost of being competitive and equitable distribution of revenue.
Currently the cost of being competitive is too great and the income stream from Bernie�s trough is too little. Those factors are combining to kill F1. V8 engines are not cheaper than V10�s (Engineers will still spend 100% of their R&D budget regardless of how many holes the block has in it) and no amount of design constraints will reduce the spend on pushing the envelope. Sure, we will need to slow the cars down but that�s another argument and has some pretty obvious solutions (tyre and aerodynamic restrictions that will curtail power to useable levels � ever tried to drive a 500 hp V8 Trabant on bald crossply tyres? No? Me either, but I bet that the last place you would look for a performance improvement would be the engine).
Minardi and Jordan do not have visions of regular podium places (well, Paul may be more of a realist on this) but with equitable distribution of capital they can compete and enhance the show. Peter Sauber runs probably the most effective bang for your bucks team in the formula and shows that the cost to compete is not up at Toyota spend levels. Toyota on the other hand shows that budget is not the sole source of competitiveness.
Third cars! Now this idea really is the silliest yet. I thought that some of the strange decisions made this year were unbeatable (Bernie�s points for qualifying then draw the grid from a hat is right up there with the best of those) but the agreement to run 3rd cars tops them all.
The way it works is this (well, I think it�s like this anyway � like everything else the interpretation of rules is a fluid concept) � Should the grid drop below 20 cars (10 teams) then a number of teams will be chosen by lot to field a 3rd car at each race to ensure a minimum of 20 cars competing. Sounds simple, and it is � simpleminded! These 3rd cars will not be awarded points and any positions they occupy in the results will be void. They are just there to sort of go round and round and not impact on the result. Yeah, Fat Chance!
Without suggesting that any team would be unsporting lets look at some potential scenarios.
Nope, non-competing cars is way to Monty Python for my tastes.
Drivers. Jarno�s out, and in, Jacques is in, and in and Jenson�s still in, in or right out depending on what the Contract Recognition Board or, more likely, the High Court decides.
Trulli�s going from Renault surprised no one, This was inevitable once his marriage with Briatore as manager was broken. A very astute boss from my distant past once forewarned that I would be wise to keep my ummm lower appendage out of the cash register in taking on a new role. I gladly accepted both the advice and the role. Having a manager who is also team principle is a very uncomfortable situation and Jarno paid for that with his seat at Renault. I�m not condoning his actions after the break-up but I am suggesting it took two to dance that particular set. I hope Trulli does well at Toyota (assuming there is a Toyota for the tenure of his contract) and I believe Flavio got all the points from his driver that he, personally, deserved. Renault was the big loser there and I�d guess that Mr Briatore was asked a few very hard questions in the boardroom. Jacques gets two contracts on the same day and there I admit I was wrong. I didn�t believe he would get any. Unlike most of the rest of the F1 world I am not a big JV fan. Sure he�s aggressive but I keep seeing him being beaten by Button (who I rate behind Alonso) and remember awarding him his Also-Rans in the Real Race days. I don�t think he will excel at Renault and I don�t think he will carry his current motivation into midfield with Sauber.
Button's saga will continue Wednesday with a CRB hearing however I don�t believe it will end there, unless they find for Williams and BAR simply give up on the basis that they couldn�t possibly expect him to perform if forced to stay. Will Richards be bloody minded enough to stop Button going to Williams if he can? I suppose it really depends on the outcome of Wednesday�s session.
The racing has taken a back seat to the politics these days, which is a pity. Monza was an interesting race with the usual suspects occupying the podium, albeit in a very unusual order. After a series of set-backs the Ferraris showed just how superior they really were by coming back through the field to take a 1-2 that nobody could have stopped. I�ve said it before, weather is the stuff that great races are made of.
China will also be an interesting race. It�s a new circuit and the results will, to a large degree, be determined by who gets their set-up and tyres least wrong. It�s something of a furphy to place any significance on driver familiarity at new circuits. They all start from a common base and, as Kimi showed in Bahrain with a brilliant qualifying drive after almost no track time, they will only need 10 minutes on track to know it. Where the risk, and opportunity, lies is in interpretation of the tracks changing wear characteristics and track temperature movements.
As to the outcome, I expect to see the order up the front reversed from Monza. Rubens has had a win and if he is a good boy he might get another chance in front of his home crowd but Michael will want the first First in China. Ferrari have high aspirations for penetrating the Chinese market and a 1-2 would certainly help that particularly with Michael, who is more like to be known there, up the front. The only real threat I see to the Ferraris will be from Kimi, assuming he can get his car to the finish.
Roll on GPWC � in the meantime lets at least get a viable commercial agreement in place and get some rules on the table for 2005.
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Yes, yes and ... yes. But leave all the Bovine Excrement aside for a moment: is it possible for any non-red car / team / driver in 2005 to improve that much so that Michael really gets shoved away from any championship hopes (which is, sadly, what most of the world waits for)?
It seems to me we are no longer considering, pondering how the future of F1 will look like - if I'm honest, I feel more like "Well, who's gonna be closest to him next year?" Rubens or not Rubens? And if not Rubens ... even the names one would list here didn't change that much since Hakkinen left. Not even David will be missing from that list ;-)
Don't get me wrong: I'm not complaining about Michael's superiority! I think it's an amazing thing to watch and still gets more amazing with every win, every title HE achieves. It's just ... this really shakes my belief system to the core! Competition is, after all, not a fair game. Maybe I was just naive. Sometimes, it's simply not "fair" because one person is way, way better than anyone else as far as the eyes can see (and again: I'm also not complaining about that either). Sure, we all agree on HIS outstanding talent, but aren't the TALENTS of Raikkonen, Webber and the likes that don't get "what they deserve" what we rue?
Thus I present a completely new approach: Maybe the drivers' skills shouldn't matter MORE, but LESS? I hope you get my drift, else this is a waste of your time. Look at C.A.R.T.: The Cars are more forgiving, one has (in comparison to F1) to be less of an Albert Einstein or Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart to handle those 700+ bhp (so they say). Do they have REAL RACING?
See? - Soeren M (PutAllGuysInFerraris) - Germany
Soeren M replies:
Yes, Q, but I'd rather have a big bang soon than a slow death. It's been going downhill for quite a while, and I don't want to get much older until really exciting racing with this sort of cars gets presented to the public. I don't care if it's called F1 or HQ45 or Chanel �5, I want to be thrilled. And I would consider that an achievable task given a field of 20-30 cars with 800+ hp.
One could do so much more to keep the audience interested. For example,
when a football (soccer, that is in US-speak) team is among the three or
four best within a league at the end of the season, it gets promoted to the
next higher league (and mutually the worst of the higher league get demoted,
of course). F3000 was always considered to be the nearest stepstone to F1,
but there were no rules according to which a driver or team could be
promoted because of their achievements. This would definitely catch public
attention ... And maybe we would be closer to more breedinggrounds (nursery,
as you call it) like Minardi once F1 is dead and a new series can start
fresh in its place.
Most informative article I've read of the current state of affairs in the sport - Chris - UK
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