The Customer Car. A word that has become the pariah of F1 racing in 2008. Citing the Concorde agreement memorandum of understanding signed by the teams, many, but none more vociferous than Sir Frank Williams, have argued the legality of the customer car issue.
Yet with endorsements, as previously stated by Messrs. Mosley and Ecclestone, it seems the issue is dead in the water. Mr. Ecclestone was quoted by F1 Racing Magazine as telling teams at the last race in 2007 â€œWe donâ€™t like the idea anymore, so I donâ€™t think itâ€™s going to happenâ€.
All things considered there have been some terse words, if not outright backhands, toward Mr. Williams. Is this fair? The argument goes something like this, â€œthe irony of the saga that the killer blow was struck by Frank Williams, who himself entered the sport in 1969 running a second-hand Brabhamâ€.
Color me reactionary but thatâ€™s hardly fair. Ferrari was not the commercial juggernaut that it is now and was only sold to Fiat the very same year that Mr. Williams purchased his Brabham rolling chassis. Ferrari sold to Fiat to keep it financially afloat with Enzo controlling the racing division. While the same argument could not be made of Mercedes, it is not secret that Brabham and even March Engineering were companies built for one reason; the build and sell economical, competitive cars that teams could afford. With the sale of these cars, it would also allow for a racing team to be built using its own intellectual property. Cosworth could be propped up as an example of this mentality as well.
Times have changed and Sir Frank knows that unlike 1969, today F1 is ran, steered and controlled by the will of the manufacturerâ€™s. The GPWC and later the GPMA should tell you where the power is in F1. Quite honestly it lies in the hands of Mr. Ecclestone and the manufacturers. Sir Frank knows that to have 5 manufacturerâ€™s running 4 cars apiece would be the end of Williams F1. Can you blame him for wanting to require teams to build their own chassis? Jordan, Williams, Tyrrell, Prost, Sauber, Mindardi, Ligier, Benetton, Arrows, Zakspeed, BAR, BRM, Penske, Connaught, Onyx, Midland, Reynard all had to field a car that displayed the spirit of the constructors. Sir Frank is only protecting what ground he has left in this series as a constructor. To allow Mercedes to field 4 cars along with Toyota, Honda, Ferrari, BMW and Renault does little to ensure Williams F1 survives the very year these teams would field their additional cars.
It is a serious endeavor for Williams F1 and to be honest, I completely understand. Buying a car from Cosworth, March or Brabham is a little different than McLaren fielding 4 cars with different paint jobs. It is a tough position as Mr. Mosley has a tough decision to watch costs skyrocket with redundant R&D by all the teams or should he endorse a customer car scenario? Messrs. Mosley and Ecclestone did get their starts as companies providing affordable, competitive cars for people like Sir Frank. What will they do with Sir Frank? It seems we know. I can imagine that was a difficult decision for all involved and we may not be seeing the end yet. I know what I think but tragically I am not involved in the decisions.