F1 ‘needs to go on’ with or without manufacturers

The 2018 season may or may not be an exciting season but one thing I do believe it will be is politically tenuous as Liberty Media move forward with a new set of regulation in concert with the FIA for 2021.

We’ve discussed this on our podcast before and in many ways, this is the real battle over F1. It will stress the manufacturer involvement, the power and control they have on the sport through its current regulations and it will require delicate negotiations between Liberty Media, the teams and the FIA to arrive at a set of rules everyone can live with.

I certainly hope that is the outcome and that it is something that can be achieved but I also know that there could be some major fallout as well. The largest fallout could one or more of the manufacturers leaving the sport. According to a report at Autosport, that is something McLaren’s Zak Brown feels is a risk but could simply be the attrition of doing what is right for the sport.

“I think Liberty needs to focus on what is best for the sport and what is best for the fans,” he said.

“If that means a team or a manufacturer doesn’t support that – then they need to be prepared to recognise that they are not going to make everyone happy.

“Their centering needs to be on what is best for the sport and if someone feels that is the detriment of their racing team.

“I would rather lose one, replace them and have 10 teams, than have one or two teams [only] in the championship.”

In some ways we’ve forgotten that McLaren, Red Bull, Toro Rosso, Sauber, Force India, Haas F1 and Williams F1 are all privateers technically speaking. That’s fourteen cars on the grid leaving six cars from manufacturers. Clearly the six remaining cars represent a massive amount of investment and marketing spend in F1 and right now, those three teams have a very large footprint on the sport and control of the direction of the sport.

Changing the regulations in a manner that doesn’t suit these three teams will run the risk of some or all of them leaving the sport but Brown says that’s a risk Liberty Media needs to be prepared to take for the long-term health of the sport.

“Therefore we need to land on a set of rules that allow those that are looking at the sport to be able to come in.

“In the unexpected and hopefully highly unlikely situation that they [Mercedes and Ferrari] would leave, the sport needs to go on.

“I think Ferrari is a unique case because they are Ferrari, but we have lost BMW, we have lost Toyota, and we have lost Honda before.

“We’ve all seen manufacturers come and go in the sport and it has always survived.

“So we have got to write rules moving forward about what is best for the sport, not what is best for the manufacturers.”

This, then, is where the real power struggle for control of F1 exists. It is the single biggest hurdle, outside retaining profitability of the investment, that Liberty Media will have to make. The first massive negotiation they’ll engage in since buying the sport. The teams have all been down this road several times but it is new to Liberty Media and the last guy that knew how to get this done from a commercial rights holder’s perspective was shown the door last year.

Liberty Media know the clock is ticking and if they want to mitigate any collateral damage of major manufacturers leaving the sport, they’ll need to make quick decisions so potential new teams and engine suppliers have time to ramp up for F1 entry in 2021.

It is a delicate situation and one which I hope will find Liberty Media making the right decisions. For me, the pendulum has swung too far to the manufacturer side and needs some balancing but we also have the FIA involved and they have a very strong impression of what they want F1 to be as well and that will only add complication to the discussion.

Not to put too much weight on this but what Chase and Sean do now may very well determine the profitability and soundness of Liberty Media’s investment in F1 for years to come. It is a major issue and it needs solving quickly.

Hat Tip: Autosport

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While I don’t necessarily disagree with Zak’s words here but I have to wonder if he would have this opinion if McLaren were still the “factory-preferred” Mecedes-powered team.


Breaking the numbers down like that is a bit disingenuous – yes there are 6 factory cars and 14 privateer cars, but who powers those 14 privateers? There isn’t a single privateer PU supplier, and getting that back would be quite the effort.

For sure Liberty must do what is best for the sport and the fans, but having a bunch of privateer cars powered by 2 liter ford/renault engines isn’t it.

Also as Charlie says below – this is an easy and convenient thing for Zak Brown to say.


I see the Liberty proposed common attachment points for the engine being for exactly the reason you highlight. Going forward F1 does not want to be held hostage on the engine front. Even if only 2 of the 3 bolt they would not be able to supply the whole grid. If a privateer engine(s) were available they could be readily swapped out and thus the manufacturers would lose that leverage.
This will surely be interesting to see how it plays out.

sunny stivala

Powertrain common attachments points, engine to chassis and gearbox/transmission to engine, bolting pattern, bolting size and anything to do with such attachments had been standardized and in force in formula one way before Liberty media had anything to do with formula one.


This is the common attachment I was thinking of; from Liberty Media: “High Level of external prescriptive design to give ‘Plug-And-Play’ engine/chassis/transmission swap capability”.

sunny stivala

“engine/chassis/transmission swap capability” repeat, bolting pattern (attachment). Any F1 engine used can be bolted to any chassis used. also, Any transmission used can be bolted to any F1 engine used. those attachments (bolting patterns/bolt sizes) has been standardized way before LM had anything to do with F1.


Well, except for Honda engine to McLaren gearbox (see amazon, the Grand Prix Driver series). :) But I also quoted Plug-and-play and think liberty’s attempt here is not just mechanical (which is clearly already in the rules), but electrical, pipe works, etc. Plug and play to me means it doesn’t matter which transmission/engine you have you plug it in and go. Software and hardware speak the same language, if you will. Sort of like a computer mouse. It doesn’t matter which one you plug in, they all provide some basic functionality. How we could get to a point like that… Read more »

sunny stivala

“The Honda engine to McLaren gearbox” As I have explained, As per the FIA rules any F1 engine to any F1 chassis mounting (bolts, bolting pattern) are standardized. Ditto for Any F1 gearbox/transmission to any F1 engine (bolts, bolting pattern) are standardized. “plug-and-play” was just a fancy Americanized term used by Ross Brawn to express his new paymasters wish to move formula one to Indycar/Nascar levels.


Formula Honda Hybrid has a great ring to it, and with no competiing p.u’s it would be good racing, though they’d have to make sure they had just a bit more poke than a (cue Alonso sound bite) “GP2 engine“. ;-)

sunny stivala

If it wasn’t for the hybrid development challenge Honda wouldn’t have been in F1.


Ferrari is unique of course in that they used to be a racing first company and are responsible for much of what Formula 1 is today. Regardless, I feel like in this day and age, the major manufacturers are doing more harm than good to the sport. I’m not in favor of cost caps since the major manufacturers will be able to obfuscate and/or subsidize many of their costs in other racing and technology development areas outside of F1. I hate to think that an explicit two-tier system is required (as compared to the current implicit two-tier system), but it’s… Read more »

sunny stivala

Things must be really desperate at McLaren if they need FERRARI and Mercedes to pull-out of F1 to begin winning again.


That’s certainly the way Brown’s comments read to me.


Politics and Posturing – just one more thing to Love about F1. I’m at a bit of a loss to know what to think about this statement from Brown. It looks like he’s stating the obvious. The whole history of F1 has had a mix of Privateer Teams and Manufacturers (as Teams and/or Power Unit suppliers). And the sport has boomed in popularity and success with that model over the last 5 decades. In the periods privateers have been successful, they’ve been partnered with a Manufacturer providing the p.u. The numbers and success of Manufacturer Teams has fluctuated, often depending… Read more »

sunny stivala

And Liberty Media, the new commercial rights holders of formula 1 will than without the manufacturers spending power end-up the biggest losers ever in formula 1 history. also by that time the McLaren owners would have kicked their new Zekspeak out.
Zekspeak is very much mistaken in his assuming and counting the number of other teams that will side with or support LM and poeople like him when push comes to shove.