Formula 1 is currently engaged in serious navel-gazing at the moment over its sustainability and the loss of two teams in 2014 due to financial insolvency. The series is buckling under the weight of its own creation and regardless of how you feel about the distribution of the prize money, the new engines have brought the series to its knees.
There is no gold medal for fielding a “green” engine but there is a radically increased cost in doing so. It is a cost so steep that the series is now standing over the chalk outline to two corpses who have been ID’d as Marussia and Caterham.
In many ways the demand from Renault and Mercedes to use hybrid engines was not really a case of “could” so much as it is “should”. Should F1 go down this road and what, if any, impact would it have on the series? F1 marched off with its usual pragmatism shunning prudence as a back-seat afterthought.
In the end, the pragmatism seemed to miss the obvious results—lack of sound, lack of visceral excitement, lift and coast, massive cost increases and ultimately the demise of the grid’s smaller teams. Wow, nobody saw that coming!
Perhaps that didn’t matter to Mercedes as they waded into the F1 sandbox with all the ham-fisted bravado of Robert Z’Dar only to quickly become the odd-looking antagonist to F1’s protagonist—the rest of the grid. Mercedes had a plan on the boil from 2009 and their commitment to F1 was based upon F1 changing its very nature to something more fitting to the German carmaker’s plan.
You have to hand it to them, they really pulled a doozy on F1. They seemingly would only enter and commit long-term to F1 if the series changed its very DNA to something closer to their business model. Renault, like the middle child, yelped “me too, me too” and off to the eco-drawing board the series went.
The FIA were rubber-stamping the concept all along with, apparently, little regards to the cost impact to the series and this is the very organization that was advocating cost-caps and cost reduction. The duality of their position is astonishing unless, of course, the commercial arm of the sport forced their hand.
Much has been made over the disproportionate distribution of prize money for the small teams but that is a red herring argument as it was the system for 2013 and things seemed stable. It wasn’t until 2014 when the small teams had to increase their operating costs by $30 million in order to buy an engine.
So now we are left uncomfortably standing around like friends at a funeral and leave it to Red Bull’s Christian Horner to actually say the unthinkable:
“Desperate means require desperate measures, and I think that you are looking at the costs of these power units, how sustainable is it for all the teams and indeed all the manufacturers?”
“Sometimes you have to put your hand up and say we got it wrong,” he said. “I think with the engine regulations, the people involved got it wrong.
“Not only have we got an enormously expensive engine, we’ve got an engine that we have got very limited development on, so all you are going to do is freeze in an advantage that we currently see.”
“The teams cannot carry the burden of any more costs – top teams or little teams,” he said.
“Unfortunately, the costs of these power units has driven two teams out of this sport already and it is a big factor, it is a big issue. “
Horner actually says that they would entertain going back to the V8 format if the teams were rational about it but suspects that they won’t be. I can’t imagine Mercedes giving up their advantage and that’s the very essence of the engine-freeze debate right now.
Mercedes says un-freezing the engines will increase costs while the other teams say keeping the freeze will erode the sport if competitiveness can’t be achieved amongst the teams and engine innovation is frozen for 2-5 years.
I’m glad someone in F1 is actually calling out the elephant in the room instead of trying to hide from obvious mistakes. Perhaps when we see F1 as a racing series and not a Silicon Valley innovation center and eco-warrior venture capital investment, we’ll start to see real racing again. Until then, someone give Horner a beer, he deserves it.
Oh, and for all you Robert Z’Dar fans out there, I give you the biggest non sequitur of his career:
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Hat Tip: AUTOSPORT