- The Inside Line
A new season with the same problemsKate Walker March 14, 2015
New years are supposed to herald new beginnings.
The December 31 celebration of a calendar change in the wider world is just another night in Formula One. The first day of the Australian Grand Prix is when the new year truly starts, and paddock people are often found greeting each other with 'happy new year' on a Thursday in the middle of March.
But in F1 new beginnings are few and far between. The 2015 season has got underway with a dominant Mercedes, teams in financial peril, and talk (but no action) of cost cutting high on the agenda.
In the team principals' press conference on Friday evening in Melbourne, the attendees - Maurizio Arrivabene, Eric Boullier, Monisha Kaltenborn, Graeme Lowdon, Claire Williams, and Toto Wolff - were asked what avenues for cost control were being explored for 2015. The responses could have been cut and paste from any 2014 press conference, and formed little more than lip service to the notion of cost reduction.
"Well, in the last few weeks and months, the FIA has been particularly active in this area and different options were looked at," Kaltenborn said. "I think since all teams have the opportunity to actually give their input into it - a very vast area I would say was considered so there are a couple of options at the table. I think what we have to just make sure is that costs come down to a sensible level which allows teams to be sustainable and yet the show is not compromised, the competition is not compromised and it remains very challenging technically."
"I think all teams have worked hard over the past few months to come up with the variation on the cost control measures that we can undertake moving forward to ensure the sustainability of this sport and everyone is working hard on that," Williams said. "The process isn't finished yet but we're looking forward to the result of it. As Williams have always been very vocal about it, we're committed to cost control measures in Formula One and finding them."
Boullier had a little more to add: "Well, there are some discussions, there is a cost reduction group actually which is very active, including all the teams, the FIA, the FOM and McKinsey. As far as I am concerned, McLaren... we are obviously happy to push for some cost reduction. Formula One needs to spend less money. We just need to define the objectives. If you want to save a couple of millions or you want to go over 20 millions for example, which is obviously a more drastic change, we definitely need to protect the show, the sport, the industry of the sport.
"Obviously respect the history and the teams which have been involved in the sport since many years and have been part of building the sport, so that means the question is very very complex and I think there is more and more understanding about the needs: do we need to make all the teams more competitive or let's say the access to competitiveness cheaper, which is what I guess is what we want to achieve? We definitely don't want to help the big teams and not fix the issue of the small teams, so that's obviously very complex."
Arrivabene made reference to other sports: "I think my point of view is very simple. We are all working together to try to somehow solve the situation but it's also important to remember that we are talking about Formula One that is considered the pinnacle of motorsport competition. So we need to keep up that concept, to work in a way that will enhance the show. I've said many many times to take Formula One closer to the people but I think the group is working very well in this direction and you know, as Eric said, it's not an easy compromise because somehow you have to work on saving certain costs but on the other hand, you want to preserve the development, the technology, the novelty etc and in some words I want to say that if you want to play in the Premier League, you have to prepare to do so, otherwise you play in another championship. And this is what I think. I think we need to work on the show, as much as the show is growing and growing and growing and we have financial income for everybody. At a certain point, we also need to have a can of buttercups. If you look at football, they have a kind of financial fair play; this is acceptable but they are not transforming the Champions League into the Europa League. The Europa League is the Europa League and the Champions League is the Champions League. That's my point."
"It's interesting looking at the sports who address this in lots of different ways," agreed Lowdon. "Sports differ and the financial mechanisms that can be used differ. It's been said by everyone on the panel, there's a lot of work, a lot of really interesting work being done, looking at cost control in particular. I think the overall thing is not just looking at cutting costs but looking at increasing value and that's really the most important thing is that if everything that we do increases the value of our sport, then that can bring sustainability. Ultimately, that's the objective of this, it's to increase the sustainability within the industry."
Wolff was loath to get involved in the discussion: "We have discussed this topic many times and a lot has been said. There is an intelligent initiative from the FIA involving McKinsey and it's a good process of defining factors where we can reduce costs. That is going pretty well. Then we have to look at your own situation, from our team we have customers and we are trying to support them wherever we can within the commercial framework and this is what we do and take it from there."
While the empty words quoted above sound pretty enough, they should be heard as an alarm, an air raid siren, a claxon screaming DANGER!. For if Formula One has not learned from the demises of both Caterham and Marussia, it risks disintegrating entirely.
A not insignificant chunk of Sauber's current legal difficulties can be traced to the team's financial situation, while Lotus did not select development driver Carmen Jorda based on her strong track record. Marussia may have been reborn as Manor, but the Lazarus-like restoration of the race outfit will see the team competing with 2014 power units, an on-track disadvantage that illustrates the lack of a level playing field within the sport.