Ferrari says cost cap is too ‘easy to cheat’

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If you listened to our 2013 season review podcast, you’ll know that Mark (Fake Charlie Whiting) gave the costs of Formula 1 the “Donkey Award” for the year. No doubt this is a very difficult situation as many of the teams on the grid are not in very cash positive positions.

While we’ve all discussed the costs of F1, and the teams and management have as well, it is increasingly difficult to determine just how best to approach this issue. Former FIA president Max Mosley promised a $40M budget and ushered in three new teams under that guise but it didn’t pan out and HRT, one of the new teams, bowed out of F1 altogether leaving Marussia and Caterham.

We’ve been chatting about this “elephant in the room” issue for years now and it seems that the paying-driver scenario has kept teams afloat but the health of F1 is not as it appears. Ferrari’s president, Luca di Montezemolo, agrees that costs are an issue but he’s been critical of late about the lack of real testing and suggested that teams that couldn’t afford a modest test schedule should go back to junior series such as GP2 or Karting.

Luca said that costs are a major issue but there is too much room to cheat within the new FIA Working Group who are charged with defining what areas the teams will cut and how for 2015. AUTOSPORT’s Jonathan Noble has the call:

“For the first time it has been said that we have to define a cap. You know why I have doubts about the cap – because it is very easy to cheat – particularly for [manufacturer] teams. And Ferrari could be one.

“I could go to Chrysler in Detroit to ask them to do something for us. Mercedes could ask their company.

“We have to find something that is credible but the cost is the problem number one.”

Now, before you get too terse here, notice that Luca does agree that costs are major issue and to be fair, he’s advocated real testing as it would be less expensive for Ferrari than spending millions upon millions on simulator systems and it would have a more meaningful impact on car development.

He just feels that here is too much room to bury team expenses in car maker’s P&L’s and included Ferrari as one who could do that…not that they would.

So what can be done? We’ve beaten this horse to death and the pink elephant in the room is aerodynamics, exotic materials and changing regulations. The 2014 season will see a brand new engine format and that costs a fortune to develop. So what can be done to stave off the costs?

“The cost cannot be decided by the technicians – because if so we will never achieve it,” he said.

“The only way to approach this is to say to the FIA that all the teams are unanimous in agreement to cut the costs. Do whatever you want – come back to us with a proposal that for sure can decrease the costs in a heavy, heavy way. Then we adjust ourselves.

“We have to achieve a goal to decrease in a heavy way the costs.”

What I believe Luca is advocating is a return to pure racing with a specification that relies more on the engine and mechanical grip of the cars than the black art of aero, CFD design and exotic materials that engineering wonks crave. Now, this is a slippery slope because Formula 1 has always been about innovation and to choke that would be to change the DNA of the sport.

Where is the happy medium? Can we create a regulatory oversight and specification of the chassis that would allow for unfettered innovation without the cost escalation and dependency on aero-efficiency that creates boring racing?

Instead of constructs such as super aggressive high degradation tires and DRS, could we reduce the overall downforce created by the cars by 50-60% through suspension monitoring in real time? What if the engine, braking, “higher” degradation tires (but not super high) and mechanical grip overall were the innovation blocks left to exploit instead of aero? Boring huh?

I once asked a Ferrari engine man about aero and he said that they do learn very much by this and it does translate to road cars even if you think it doesn’t. Each year they learn more about aerodynamic efficiency and how to make the car work better in the air. Who knows? Maybe aero isn’t that bad after all.

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