Sprint races threaten cost caps and a looming vote

Source: McLaren Media

I still have mixed feelings about the Formula 1 Sprint Race. There, I said it. It’s not that they didn’t offer more excitement during a race weekend, they did do that to a marginal degree, but its that I was constantly worried that a team could blow up an engine and incur a penalty for adding a 4th engine to their inventory and that would artificially impact the championship. I was worried that someone could get silly and cause lots of damage to a championship-leading driver/car and that was going to be hard to absorb in the era of the cost cap.

If you are going to race F1 cars twice as much during a season or a third as much, then the operating costs will increase quite a bit and with the cost cap established before the sprint race concept was ever thought of, this adds complexity to affording the feature in 2022.

For this reason some teams are lobbying F1 for an increase to the cost cap if they demand that these teams run Sprint Races in 2022. The sport concurred and offered $500k to the bucket but there are some who feel this is woefully low given the risk of damage the teams face.

This has drawn pointed criticism from McLaren boss Zak Brown who feels the amount of increase some teams are asking for is ridiculous but the issue is, it could stall the entire concept of the Sprint race for 2022.

“some teams still look for excuses to raise the cost cap and win world championships with chequebooks”.

“Teams continue to demand a raise to the cost cap by an inordinate amount of money, despite the clear evidence that little damage was incurred during these races last year, in a thinly veiled attempt to protect from their competitive advantage being eroded,” he stated.

Brown then added to reporters, per The Race: “A couple teams – one team in particular – wanted a $5m budget cap increase, which was just ridiculous with no rational facts behind it.

“And then when you challenge those facts, they then go, ‘Yeah, but what if and what could and you’ve got to have it just in case’. And you just sit there and you go, ‘It’s just nonsense’.”

My issue with the Sprint race is that it adds more action but is it really additive to the event and world championship. Or is it just an opportunity to wear out parts and incur penalties to replace those parts which can do serious damage to a driver’s championship fortunes? I still feel like three engines for the entire year (23 races and now a host of new Sprint races added on top of that) is an anemic number of power units and all this does is set the teams up for grid penalties.

Taking grid penalties for new engines or gearboxes is frustrating and it impacts the race weekend and championship in a very anticlimactic way. It is very frustrating to be excited about a race weekend only to learn, quite matter-of-factly, that Lewis Hamilton will start 20th on Sunday because of a gearbox change.

Those are my personal issues but that’s not what Zak is frustrated by. He feels the Sprint race is being used by big teams to radically increase the cost cap and this flouts the very reason the cost cap was introduced.

The FIA have a way of making a rule intended to throttle back the expense of F1 only to introduce something that works directly against their desire to reduce costs. In 2014 it was the astronomically expensive Hybrid engine that bankrupted two teams and left three others on life support.

If saving money were the main goal, then the Sprint races must rank below the desire to have a cost cap and that means that a critical vote is coming in February to determine if they continue with the concept.

The way that F1 works with regards to rule changes within a calendar year is that eight of the 10 teams must agree/approve the idea.

Time is of the essence here and there is believed to be more than one team pushing hard for an increase in the cost cap to cover the Sprint races.

If F1 is looking at rule changes for the following year, only five of the teams need to agree. Brown says F1 should push through sprint races for 2023 first before voting on this year.

“I think we should go ahead and lock in now for ’23 with no budget cap raise at all, if you want to be hard about it,” he stated.

“And then maybe either there can be a compromise made and we can raise it a little bit when we go ahead and start in ’22. Or we skip ’22 – and I think a couple of these teams should have to explain to the fans why there’s no sprint races.”

Time will tell but I see Zak’s point. He doesn’t want to spend more money on F1 than has been prescribed by the cost cap and why would he? It is difficult for smaller budget teams to absorb the crash damage by using a portion of their cost-cap budget to replace parts because this would remove those dollars from being used for car development but maybe that’s the point.

Maybe the point is locking these big teams into this situation so they can’t simply out-spend everyone else in car development. Imagine Mercedes stuck in a situation where they don’t have the budget left to develop their car for a third of the season? Not very likely but you get the point.

Zak and other teams can’t out-spend the likes of Mercedes, Ferrari or Red Bull so this cost cap is a real game changer if the FIA can police it correctly. Adding millions to the cap starts to dilute the reason for the cap in the first place. If the Sprint race means the entire notion of a cost cap has now been compromised by adding millions to it where teams can outs-pend in car development, then I suggest they ditch the Sprint race idea and stick with curing F1’s expense issues first.

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Xean Drury

My big problem with the Sprint “Totally NOT a Race” Race is the positioning of it. As entertainment, it would be better suited to be placed on Friday, after FP 1, grid determined by previous race’s results. Then at least there would be sub-optimized cars giving the chance for something special to happen. As it is now, the Sprint is just a preview of the Race, which in my opinion cheapens the Race by shuffling the order from Qualifying before we even get to the Big Event. ~X8