How expensive has F1 become?

As F1 prepares to meet and discuss the potential cost reduction concepts that will be handled by the new Strategy Group, I thought it might be interesting to look at the overall costs of F1 and how they’ve changed over the years.

In 1985, F1 teams were spending between $15-30 million for the season. Technically as a privateer, McLaren were spending approximately $15M and Renault pressing $30M for their program. Engines cost $120,000 each and a transmission would put you back $25,000. The tires were $500 each and the salary expense for the crew at a race was $14,500 for the week.

Things have changed and by a factor of 90% over the last 30 years. It’s been suggested that some teams spend between $250-300M per year on their program while the privateers, if you will, are in the range of $80-150M. If you’ve been going to the races for that long, it might be interesting to look at some old ticket stubs to see what you were paying back then. My hunch would be something around a 250% increase in ticket prices since 1985-ish. I recall prices around $85 back in those days and $300 now.

Those percentages are all relative of course and they account for a host of things such as inflation and economic factors but the reality is, F1 has gotten expensive for teams and fans alike. That’s why I feel the Circuit of the Americas is actually a good deal for general admission at $169 for three days or racing. Have a few extra bucks? Sure, step up but you can see F1 for $170 and that’s a 98% increase from the 1980’s instead of 250%.

Having walked the circuit the last two years and watched the racing from different angles, I enjoy turn 9 and the esses the most. Turn 1 is really fun to watch but you really get to see the cars in full flight through the esses and into turn 9. A parking lot pass is $60 and if you like to camp, its only $400 for the weekend.

As for the teams, exotic materials, technical regulations and personnel have all added to make F1’s meteoric rise in costs untenable for some teams and there are suggestions that adding two teams to the grid in 2015 may actually keep us at 10 teams total.

It’s a balancing act when pricing your product and the danger of not having a product that produces the racing fans want means empty seats and TV’s switched off. There is also the case of venues in countries that have no appetite for F1 but the US isn’t one of them according to the attendance figures from COTA for the last two years.

That balancing act was certainly being tested until the Bahrain Grand Prix and if the rest of the season can produce those kinds of races, F1 may have dodged a bullet. Having said that, Noah racing where the season is a series of on-track battles between teammates only is not going to keep the barbarians at the gate amused for long.

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