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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.

  • A team (Call them the red team) has 3 cars in the race, coming 1st, 2nd and 3rd after the final pit stop window. By pure coincidence the order of these cars has reorganised itself in these stops so the two points scorers are running 1-2 with the non-scorer 3rd. How slow and how wide would this car become to allow the other�s to build an unrecoverable margin? How alert would the 3rd driver be when a blue team car tries a desperate overtaking move from 4th?
  • Four teams have 3rd cars. After an incident on field three of these cars end up in 1st, 2nd and 3rd at the race end � We have an empty podium, no declared race winner and points starting at P4. It would only happen after some event, in normal racing conditions these non-competitors would somehow manage to cede position to their respective teammates.
  • Another team (Call them the red team too) has a driver who could win the championship if a driver from the silver team scores no points in this round. Said silver team driver is just in front of red team driver 3. What would happen to the red teams 3rd driver bonus payment should he miss his braking marker at the end of a straight and accidentally put both cars out of the race? Would they take the cost of repairing his car out of his pay because he was clumsy?

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.

The Quali-flyer

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Reader's comments:

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


At this stage I'm more concerned that the amount of smelly brown stuff hitting the fan will blind us all to the very real possibility that in 2006 we won't need to worry about who can catch MS! The sport may just be taking a well earned rest until GPWC arrives. Thats very unlikely of course but with so many vested interests each with their own agenda and each with veto power over resolution it could happen.

Paul Stoddard suggests that F1 is in crisis and I agree with him, a crisis of indecision. I suspect that by the time those exhalted Ego's stop fiddling and accept that Rome is indeed on fire the ashes will warm at best.

You are correct in what you say but how many Alonso's and Webbers will we see once the Minardi Nursery is gone?

The Quali-flyer

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. 
This may sound fatalistic, but ... all I wish for is a completely new personnel at the helm. And we won't get that yet where we are now.


I'm not sure that what you are after is achievable - even coming out of a big bang. I am not saying its not an attractive notion, just unlikely at this end of the field.

The football analogy really doesn't work here. The difference is that all the leagues in football play with the same ball, using the same rules, on the same fields. F1, and hopefully whatever follows it, is the Premier League but it's a different game. Promoting an F3000 car to this league would mean a total rebuild at astronomical cost, relegating Minardi and Jordan would create a gap between them and whoever comes 3rd that would be bigger than the gap that exists in F1 between them and Ferrari today.

In football the only cost differentiator between leagues is the players, here it is literally everything. If we have cost controls mandating F3000 expenditure levels then we have F3000 cars. We can't find 11 organisations prepared to fund what we have today at the pointy end, you are looking for 20 - 40 organisations with funding somewhere between where we are and F3000 to provide major and minor leagues? Lovely thought, but as likely as getting unanimous agreement from the players driving F1 today on a workable solution to their problems.

Only one thing will deliver a whole new set of faces at the helm of the top tier of motor racing - A couple of decades!

The Quali-flyer

Most informative article I've read of the current state of affairs in the sport - Chris - UK


Thanks for the support. I don't like being a doomsayer but the reality is we have been crying in the wilderness for too long and them that can fix it just ain't listening. I'm quite worried that its all too late.

The Quali-flyer

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