F1: ‘It’s always been expensive to be competitive’

The recent FIA invitation for a new team on the Formula 1 grid for 2016 does send a signal that regardless of the current financial woes of smaller teams in the series, the plan of action is to replace those that may fall out due to a lack of fiscal viability. The suggestion here is that notions such as dividing the prize money equally amongst ten teams or taking away Ferrari’s “special” participation payment aren’t realistic options.

When mentioning the financial concerns in F1, many throw names out such as Force India, Sauber. Lotus and Manor/Marussia—this represents 36% of the current F1 grid.

Contractually F1 says it will use best efforts to procure a certain number of cars at each race while suggesting it will field no less than 16 cars at each event. Should it dip lower than 16, the sport merely has to show that it used “best efforts” in securing more participants but it does not sound like that is grounds enough for a breach of contract.

F1 also has a contract with the teams that suggests they may have to run a third car if the grid gets lower than 20 cars—the infamous third-car debate. The fact is, F1 is expensive and it always has been contextually.

Dividing the prize money up may have been an easy solution on paper but the politics was never going to afford such a luxuriously simple solution. Ferrari’s participation payment has become the center of the controversy when an article revealed they earned more from F1 than the title-winning team, Mercedes.

F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone was asked by the Toronto Star,

There was some criticism around how money was split up for the teams. Is that a problem?

Not really. No, because it’s always been like this. You know, we’ve got a very funny system: We pay on results. And it’s been like that always. Before half of these guys that are complaining were born, it was like that.

I guess the argument would be that it was easier for smaller outfits to compete that you’ve got a problem with the back markers (tailenders) now.

Frank Williams (founder of the Williams racing team) for example — when Frank was sort of getting started he was always financially in problems, like a lot of the teams are today. In the end, Frank got his act together and they started winning races and winning and being very competitive and he gets paid for that.

But it costs a lot more money to be competitive — wind tunnel testing, those sorts of things.

It’s always been expensive to be competitive.

Offering an invitation may be part of F1’s “best efforts” to secure more cars for the grid and it is difficult to know if F1 management knows something we don’t about one or more of the current teams on the grid with regards to the 2016 season.

If nothing changes, the sport will gain and eleventh team in Haas F1 who applied to a similar invitation in 2014 for the 2015 season. Prudence took over within the Haas ranks as they announced that it would take an additional year to field a team. Chances are, under such limited time until the 2016 season starts, the same might happen with this invitation if there are any takers—that is unless the team is a currently going concern such as a GP2 team etc.

The advances in technology have escalated the expense of F1 for all the teams and while the sport ahs always been expensive, it’s perhaps gone a bridge too far in the advancement in materials and technology used such as the current hybrid power unit. Ecclestone reckons the sport has nearly left the Driver’s Championship on the side of the road for dead:

And when you also talk about making the driving more exciting and making the sport more exciting, you don’t want drivers feeling they’re not going as fast as they could be going because of the tires.

Nothing to do with the tires. People have always been concerned that the best drivers are looking after their brakes, looking after their gearboxes, tires and everything. That’s what makes the world champions — they able to do that. It just is at the moment — and the drivers will tell you this — it’s not challenging enough. Just that simple. It’s a driver’s championship, not an engineer’s championship.

It’s been suggested it would be interesting to see racing with different designs of cars, different tires — only safety rules.

I think it’s just that we got too clinical. Don’t go over the white line, don’t do this, don’t do that. If you change gearboxes you go back 10 places and that nonsense. We’ve got a little out of the way from what we should be doing. We should be supporting the drivers to race because it is a driver’s championship.

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When Matra stopped supplying Ken Tyrrell with chassis in 1970, the team ran customer March chassis to go with their new Ford Cosworth engines (the reason why Matra wouldn’t continue supplying chassis). Despite Jackie Stewart managing to win second time out, the team developed their own chassis in secret. It appeared in the final three races of 1970, and although it didn’t finish in any of those races, the lessons learned enabled Stewart and Tyrrell to dominate in 1971. The cost of developing the Tyrrell chassis was an order magnitude greater than buying the March item off the shelf. The… Read more »

Paul KieferJr

I’ve always heard the refrain “we’ve always done it this way”. Usually, that’s not an answer. hat’s more like dodging the question. If you always go to your stock answer, that usually means that you don’t have an answer, and maybe you should let someone who does have an answer try something first. When you are a hammer, everyone and everything looks like a nail. This is a Bad Thing ITM). It falls along the lines of the definition of Insanity, where you keep doing the same thing and expect a different result. Time to do something else, Bernie.


Both Paul and MIE make excellent points. As I was reading, the first thing that came to my mind is that the argument, “It’s always been like that,” is a complete non-starter. It’s that mentality that leads companies/clubs/organizations stagnate and decay, and I completely agree with Paul’s assessment on those that use the cliche as a first answer. The other side of the coin, as MIE pointed out, is that racing IS expensive, it always has been, and it always will be. Complaining about racing being expensive is like complaining that the ocean is too wet and the beach too… Read more »


To but things into a little context, Tyrrell purchased two March 701 chassis in 1970 for £9,000. To develop the Tyrrell 001 cost £22,000 so 4.88 times the cost. However it did enable them to win 6 races in 1971 compared to the single win in 1970, so it could be argued that it was worth it. According to the UK Retail Price Index, prices now are 14.4 times what they were in 1970. That would make Tyrrell’s investment in his new chassis £317,000, and customer March chassis available for £65,000. I think any F1 team would be delighted today… Read more »

Negative Camber

The constructor’s championship didn’t come in the sport until some time later. Something like 8-10 years if memory serves. Regardless, the logical conclusion is that the title pays big money while the driver’s doesn’t so guess which way the sport will lean?