• The Inside Line

Strategy and diplomacy

Kate Walker
October 27, 2013
A selection of the haves (top row) and have-nots (bottom row) in F1 © Sutton Images
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From 2014 onwards, Formula One will be divided into haves and have-nots - those teams on the Strategy Group, and those left out in the cold. The six teams with a seat on the board, so to speak, will be in a position to influence the sport's strategy moving forward, while those not will have to trust that their interests are being represented by their colleagues (and competitors).

It's a lot to ask of a group of teams who have found themselves unable to defend the common interest in areas as varied as cost reduction and control, in-season tyre testing, and securing a share of the sport's impressive profits.

But to hear the teams speak on the record, as they did on Friday in India, there's nothing to worry about. The smaller (read: poorer) teams have faith that the five legacy teams - Ferrari, McLaren, Williams, Mercedes, and Red Bull - plus the best-placed of the remaining teams will serve the common good.

That faith is not entirely misplaced. After all, four of the Strategy Group teams have technology partnerships, customer relationships, and the like with the minnows. Should Marussia go out of business, for example, both McLaren and Ferrari will see a drop in income. Red Bull is naturally keen to protect the interests of Toro Rosso.

There are also fail-safes in place to protect all of the teams - the Strategy Group is the forum where changes are to be debated, but it does not supplant the F1 Commission, which is composed of all eleven teams and which has veto power over any proposals. Should the F1 Commission reject an idea mooted by the Strategy Group they must then go back to the drawing board and redraft until an agreeable solution is found.

Despite these fail-safes, however, the Strategy Group is flawed as it currently stands. First and foremost is the concept of legacy teams, a definition that somehow allows for the inclusion of Mercedes and Red Bull - neither of which has logged a decade in the sport in their current guises - and the exclusion of Sauber, with its twenty year history in Formula One.

Speaking in the Friday press conference in India, Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said that "the strategic group is made up of teams that have made a firm commitment to the sport for many years to come". But all eleven teams have now signed commercial agreements tying them to F1 until 2020. There is no word of any sort of separate agreement between Red Bull and the commercial rights holder or FIA committing them to the sport beyond that date, nor of similar agreements with any of the other five legacy teams.

If the F1 Strategy Group is to be truly representative of the teams, it should be made up of a mix of outfits with budgets large and small, of independents/privateers and those teams backed or owned by the major manufacturers. Front-runners, back-markers, and mid-fielders should all have a voice, as they all have different strategic interests.

As it currently stands, the F1 Strategy Group is almost entirely top-heavy, with Williams the only team running near the back with an average budget. The group's composition lacks balance, and as any student of elementary physics will tell you, unbalanced objects eventually topple and fall.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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