Please join us in welcoming our newest F1B staff member, Victoria. She is starting her first Op-Ed Column piece called VMR on Sunday by Victoria and we hope you enjoy her writing as much as we do. We have big plans for our young starlet and offer this programming note; stay tuned for much more of Victoria. ~ Negative Camber
Everyone looked so glum at the end of the 2009 Formula1 season. “The season is over,” they said. “No excitement until 2010,” they murmured dejectedly. Websites everywhere sighed and knew to expect decreases in readership after an exciting season with rumors and court cases and elections and sackings galore. “Not so!” crowed F1. “We’ve got withdrawals and silly season has just begun!” the series added triumphantly. And so, Toyota has addedits name to the list of manufacturers leaving (remember Honda last year? and BMW in July? and Bridgestone will not be supplying tires after 2010), while Mercedes officially unveiled its world domination takeover plan on Monday, reducing BrawnGP to lovely, lonely trivia questions years from now. A few new driver announcements were made (Bruno Senna to Campos, Timo Glock to ManorGP). Then Kimi Raikkonen added to the drama by announcing his sabbatical from F1 to go off crashing into trees, and Jenson Button left the new Mercedes team for the old one.
It is an odd juxtaposition, this takeover by Mercedes, though. In the midst of a bad economy that has only just begun to look rosier, economists everywhere (including this one, unfortunately, they hand out economics degrees to just anyone these days) are suggesting that this upturn will become another downturn soon enough. The other car manufacturers are scaling back their extreme F1 expenditures or leaving altogether. Why now, Mercedes? Why, indeed.
To be fair, though, it is not just Mercedes that has expanded into F1 for 2010. There are four new teams already entered into the grid, one almost-new team (former BMW-Sauber, now QADBAK-Sauber) waiting rather impatiently to find out if they will be allowed to race, and multiple other teams angry that they were not chosen by the FIA as 2010 F1 entrants. Still, Mercedes is the only car manufacturer that apparently has chosen to upsize instead of downscale. To compare the recent and not-so recent withdrawals of BMW and the Japanese car companies and Mercedes’s increase, one first has to look at the public reasons why.
Honda announced their withdrawal nearly a year ago, citing “the quickly deteriorating operating environment facing the global auto industry.” In other words, the economy sucks, we need the cash, and you, F1, cost too much while not repaying enough into the company’s coffers. In the middle of the 2009 season, BMW announced they would leave as “a resolute step in view of our company’s strategic realignment. Premium will increasingly bedefined in terms of sustainability and environmental compatibility. This is an area in which we want to remain in the lead. Our F1 campaign is thus less a key promoter for us.” Reading between the lines, it sounds more as though BMW’s newest marketing campaign is to ride the green movement, and racing contradicts that too much to be viable. Oh, yes, and the team was not competitive enough to be used as a marketing tool. Toyota’s announcement came early this month with another economic reasoning, “when considering TMCâ€™s motor-sports activities next year and beyond from a comprehensive midterm viewpoint reflecting the current severe economic realities, [Toyota] decided to withdraw from F1.” The next day, it was news that Toyota was no longer the world’s largest car manufacturer, with that honor going to VW-Porsche. Finally comes the related future withdrawal of Bridgestone. In an unexpected move, the company announced that it would not renew its contract as the sole tire supplier to F1 because, “its collaboration with F1 has contributed to increased brand awareness and the recognition of Bridgestone as a leader in the global tire industry. Having achieved these goals, Bridgestone is now poised to take its technological and brand building efforts to the next level.” A thinly veiled, we got what we wanted, now you are on your own to the F1 community.
All in all, the reasoning for each company’s withdrawal looks to be economic, either because of the poor performance of the company or a new marketing strategy, or both. At this point, you are wondering why you’ve bothered to read this new F1B writer’s opinion, and why you’re not writing for the site yourself, as you already knew this. Bear with me, I have a point, I promise.
That point is this: no matter how much money is involved, racing and the involvement therein essentially comes down to emotion. All the previous logic and reasoning and money are why other people are involved. A company can be persuaded to enter one of the world’s most expensive sports because of the sheer volume of fans and marketing ability and cash to be made, but if you dig deep enough, you will find that the original persuasion was put forth by some board member who loves racing. The good economy allowed the other members of each company to be swayed by the monetary benefits, and the bad economy allowed the lovers and dreamers to be shouted down by the monetary risks and the possibility of failure.
The reason Mercedes can take over the world (or at least the world champions)? Â£110 million pounds. That was the price tag for BrawnGP, according to the Daily Mirror. In the end, it is likely that enough of the Mercedes board was persuaded to buy Brawn because it would cost less than the 40% stake in the considerably more expensive McLaren. Oh, yes, and emotion played into a willingness to leave McLaren behind for a newer team with less baggage as well. BrawnGP was not an arm of a company cutting into Mercedes’ supercar sales figures. McLaren is. Love of sport, fear of failure, anger at competitors, it’s all part of the F1 world, whether we’re willing to publicly acknowledge it or not.