The last time Ferrari threatened to leave the sport, Formula 1 was led by a different leader in the form of Bernie Ecclestone. He negotiated a bipartite agreement with the teams and then another with the FIA and this was a bit of a departure from the old Concorde Agreement which was a tripartite agreement between commercial right’s owners, the FIA and the teams.
To assuage teams from leaving, Ecclestone did new deals that, if memory serves correctly, expire in 2020. The FIA also did a new regulation package for 2014 that included hybrid V6 turbo engines because Mercedes and Renault threatened to leave the sport if the changes weren’t made for more road-relevant hybrid technology.
Many fans are quick to say buh-bye to Ferrari but there wasn’t the same level of dismissal when Mercedes or Renault threatened to leave. Neither of those teams have been in the series since 1950 and I think you have to give some credit for Ferrari’s commitment to F1.
Last week, the new 2021 engine regulations were floated to the public and while they were purposefully light on detail, they did give Mercedes, Renault and Ferrari reason or pause. These manufacturers are heavily invested in the current engine format and are not keen to see it change. Now this is interesting as the regulations have always…well, changed.
The sport has gone from V12’s to V10’s to V8’s and now V6 hybrids and if memory serves correctly, the original intent of the 2014 regulation changes was for a 4-cylinder hybrid but Ferrari had a major issue with that. Ferrari weren’t keen on the hybrid engine to begin with but at the time, it was being led by Luca di Montezemolo and now Sergio Marchionne is in charge and he’s a Fiat guy who has a much stronger road-relevance DNA than Luca did.
Now that the regulations are suggesting another engine change, the top three engine makers are having serious concerns and Ferrari have threatened to leave the sport…again. It seems all three are augured in on this current specification and yet it is this very spec that fans are not resonating with—at least not a majority of them.
It is perplexing but I understand Ferrari’s new love for hybrid given Sergio’s Fiat and Chrysler ambitions and the massive investment they’ve made. This massive investment in the current engine spec has bankrupted three teams already so for Mercedes boss Toto Wolff, the high R&D has already been covered and now the engine supply contracts should be much cheaper. I bet Force India and Williams would like to know exactly when this big price reduction from Toto will be coming across their desk.
What would the last guy to face a Ferrari threat have to say about the current threat? The Independent caught up with Ecclestone to see:
“If they can’t win, they will put forward new regulations,” he says. “If the regulations come out where Ferrari think it is going to be a struggle and they can’t support the money then they will leave.”
To be honest, I’m not one to play chicken with the largest marque in F1 and while other fans say good riddance, don’t let the door hit you, I tend to offer the same argument I did defending Red Bull’s threat to leave over a lack of a competitive engine supply. Ferrari are much, much bigger than you think they are and spend hundreds of millions in F1. Without Ferrari, there would be a massive hole in the sport. That’s not good even if you hate Ferrari and I am still not convinced Red Bull is in this for the long term beyond 2020 with all the Aston Martin mumbling.
This isn’t about the spending cap or capping what Mercedes, Renault and Ferrari spend. I understand Ross Brawn’s comment about manufacturers asking him to help them stop spending so much but F1 is not a cheap sport if you want to win.
“They don’t want budget caps and all that,” says Ecclestone. “They want to spend what they can afford to spend and I’ve always said the same thing. If people can’t spend they have to go. If there are then only three or four teams something would have to be done but until that actually happens nobody is going to do anything. All the teams that say they can’t afford it shouldn’t put an entry in.”
We all know that if they save money because they cancel testing, that money will just be used in other areas of their program. An argument could be made, however, on engine supply costs. I think that’s a tangible example of parts that can be reduced allowing for more spend on chassis for a more competitive car.
I’m not sure if Ferrari would leave or not but it is tough situation Liberty Media are in and this is just the beginning. Mr. E had a knack for getting deals done good or bad. This is the first major hurdle Liberty Media will face to protect their investment. All the little things they’ve been doing this season for social media, YouTube and other content are fine but just the tip of the iceberg. Getting Ferrari, Mercedes, Renault and Honda to the table and preventing any of the from leaving and also changing an engine spec that fans don’t like and aren’t resonating with is another issue altogether.
Hat Tip: Independent