Could ‘customer cars’ save F1?

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Photo by: www.kymillman.com/f1

Recent discussions in the press have centered around the concept of Formula 1 holding two championship races at Silverstone or the circuit hosting back-to-back race weekends. Whether that’s agreeable or not, it does show the lengths that F1 is going to in order to salvage a 2020 season.

The 2020 season moratorium has had a major impact on all teams but the smaller teams struggle under the weight of furloughs, no races, no points and the thought of a lower prize money payout. I’ve argued for several years that when teams began struggling to find title sponsors and their marketing departments turned the lights out in favor of living off of the prize money fund, it created a serious situation. That may have been the only choice they had given the amount of money being spent in F1 for the past 10 years.

To those ends, the sport has been discussing a cost caps and in particular lowering that cap even further on the heels of the COVID-19 impact on the 2020 season. The recent figure being thrown into the debate has now reached a new low of $100m.

With that in mind, I was reading an article over at the Independent about Red Bull Racing boss Christian Horner’s idea on how to immediately impact the costs involved in F1 for the smaller teams.

With teams spending on average £190m per year on developing their own cars, Horner believes an easier way might be allowing customer cars. This concept has been controversial and vetoed by teams in the past but Horner thinks it might be an answer to the current plight of the smaller teams. Horner said that allowing small teams to buy their cars…

“would be the cheapest way to address their issue, their plight, and the quickest way to be competitive as well,” says Horner. “You would save because you would just operate as a race team. You would have a limited development budget so you could quite easily operate, I would have thought very comfortably, at $80 million.”

That’s much lower than the projected $175m planned for the cost cut next season. As the article points out, its 67 percent lower and would instantly provide a more competitive car and that would mean and more competitive field and possibly better racing.

Williams F1 team has been a staunch opponent to customer cars and it was a very loud voice a few years ago when Dave Richards was trying to enter the series with his ProDrive brand via customer cars. Williams go their start in F1 via purchasing customer cars but has since taken much pride in being a true constructor.

Things have changes at Williams since those days and money is tight with the team taking large investment for £50m with their cars, factory and machinery as collateral. The way Horner sees it, Williams would be better off buying a Mercedes and racing it.

What is the likelihood of the series adopting this customer car model? Horner says it may not be the first choice.

“probably a second stage. I don’t think it’s on the agenda today but I think it should be. You would have thought now would be the time to put this through but sometimes you can’t save people that don’t want to be saved.”

Horner cites the 2020 Racing Point car as a copy of the 2019 Mercedes and with Haas assembling a team and car on the back of the listed parts program, the series, Horner reckons, is heading in this direction regardless.

As I’ve said in the past, F1 has a precedent of privateers buying customer cars such as the March chassis and a Ford DFV engine or Mecachrome. I believe the current regulations are too expensive to allow for not only sustainable racing but too complex to produce competitive racing and it has become a series where only the highest spenders have a chance.

It isn’t a popular position but I believe F1 should take a step back to readily affordable and sustainable V8 engines, heavily reduced aerodynamics and a more affordable program. Barring that, perhaps customer cars might help? What do you think?

Hat Tip: The Independent

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Nigel Cass

Here’s the problem with customer cars: back in the “good ole days” you had a ton of companies making them. Lola, Lotus, Reynard, March, etc….those companies are all gone. What we are REALLY talking about is big-team/car manufacturer built customer cars (Mercedes, Ferrari, etc). So imagine, 3/4 of the grid is powered by Mercedes AND running their chassis…..what happens when Mercedes quits the sport? You don’t have a wealth of “just racing companies” like Lola to step in there and make cars when the car manufacturers leave the sport (and they will). The only company that could really do it… Read more »

MIE

Nigel, the problem with your suggestion as I see it is there are no companies making generally available racing engines for F1. We just have four big manufacturers. Even if you changed the specification of the engine, the manufacturers would still spend whatever cash they had available to develop their engine to beat the opposition. Unless you go to a spec series engine that you mandate all teams must use, you won’t get away from this. Ferrari would then leave anyway if they couldn’t have their own engine. A cost cap may help, but only if it can be properly… Read more »

Nigel Cass

I’m not sure I understand your point, but, if the engines are so “greta” that only top car manufacturers have the ability to build them, then those car companies have your sport by the balls (a sport they will leave). But in sports car racing you have engines being made my manufacturers but also independents like Gibson. Gibson can do that because its a V10, a really powerful V10, but still just a V10. What Gibson can’t do is make a competitive V6 with a hybrid system that makes the space shuttle look simple. My point though, is that if… Read more »

Rapierman

Could you at least challenge the ones that can make engines to make an ordinary (as in “without all the hybrid stuff”) engine that everyone can afford?

photogcw

I just roll my eyes whenever I hear someone in F1 bring up the subject of “customer cars” because I know they are not serious. Now in the present situation, it’s looked upon as a possible solution for the sport’s biggest problem but when they all gather for their closed door meeting at the first race, the idea will die, team managers will walk out with glum expressions and we get short, contradictory press releases from the FIA and Liberty. The HAAS quasi-custom/customer car experiment is almost over and its concept proved fruitless and winless. So a fresh new team… Read more »