- The Inside Line
Tender is the rightKate Walker March 12, 2015
It's hardly a secret that the F1 grid has been rather lean of late.
We have come a long way from the years in which so many teams were desperate to contest a grand prix that pre-qualifying was necessary - the last season which saw more than 12 teams compete fell in the last century, in 1995. That's two years prior to the birth of Max Verstappen, fact fans.
The FIA Sporting Regulations give a maximum grid size of 26 cars, and in 2010 we should have had a full grid. We would have done, had USF1 not proved to be rather more adept at cutesy YouTube videos than they were at getting down to the messy business of producing race cars.
The 2016 season will see Haas F1 joining the fray, and if all of the sport's current entrants survive this year Formula One will have eleven of thirteen potential grid slots filled.
But to assume that all eleven of the teams currently in Melbourne for the opening round of the 2015 season will be here this time next year is a big assumption to make. Marussia may have been reborn as Manor and made their way to Australia, but there are many more hurdles ahead for the black and red racers and the ten teams they are competing against.
Starting a season is no guarantee of finishing it, as both Marussia and Caterham can attest. Formula One's have-nots are no better off at the beginning of 2015 than they were at the end of 2014, and in the case of Sauber financial ruin may yet come at the hands of one of their own drivers.
Four of this year's eleven teams are operating from positions of financial precariousness - to put it mildly - and without pre-season prize fund advances from Bernie Ecclestone, at least three teams would have struggled to make it to Australia.
In an interview with the New York Times earlier this month, FIA president Jean Todt revealed that he was considering re-opening the tendering process through which new teams can apply for a slot on the F1 grid. "[W]e may make a tender again for one or two teams to encourage teams," he said.
Todt's comments were made before it was confirmed that Manor would be competing in 2015, and so the fact that the Frenchman refers to the possibility of two new entrants should not be read as a pessimistic assessment of the grid's fortunes this season, an assumption that at least one of the current teams will fall before year's end.
Given the permanent spectre of financial ruin that is currently haunting more than one-third of the grid, however, opening up the tendering process to multiple entrants before confirming the number of potential slots available might be a wise move.
When expressions of interest for participation in the FIA Formula One World Championship were last called for, there were three (known) parties competing for the slot that was eventually won by Haas. At that point, however, it was made clear that there was only one entry available.
If the tender process can be modified to accommodate the possibility of more than one slot becoming available, Formula One can insure itself against the future loss of a team or teams. But the way the sport is set up, with regulatory changes and long lead times on car builds, precludes such a possibility unless the 'insurance' team or teams runs some form of customer, spec, or core car in their first competitive season.
And if that were to happen? Those teams left standing would understandably object, leaving the grid sparse and in desperate need of filling.