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F1 column: Spanish Inquisition

2009-05-13 07:46

Egmont Sippel

There’s a lot of posturing in F1 at the moment.

It’s not idle posturing. Ferrari made a very serious statement on Tuesday: they will quit the sport next year if the FIA is serious about regulations granting technical privileges to teams adhering to a budget cap of 45 million Euro, which – in effect – will create a two-tier series within F1.

Toyota and Red Bull have made similar noises, but in an informal forum.

Ferrari’s statement is official: it comes directly from the Board of Directors.

Do we really face the prospect then, of a F1 championship without Maranello’s red cars in 2010?

Of course not. Ferrari is going nowhere (and we’re not only referring to track performance).

They have issued the statement instead, to force Max Mosley and the FIA to sit down with FOTA – meaning the teams – to find common ground.

New teams

On the one hand, Mosley wants to make the sport attractive to new teams, firstly creating financial conditions to allow new outfits to enter; and secondly to enable lesser-funded teams to compete against the might of long-established ones.

Mosley’s first point is a good one. We can argue about the cut-off point, but F1 needs a minimum number of cars on the grid before people will watch, even though the title fight is traditionally run between two teams only, or even two drivers from the same team.

Take away the rest, though, or just half of the rest, and F1 will fold. Who’s gonna watch a Grand Prix run between 10 cars only?

One solution for a shrinking grid would be to force the top four teams, say, of each season to enter three cars for the next season. In this way, we would have had Alonso in a Ferrari already.

The other way is currently pursued by Mosley: to bring new teams in under conditions that will give them a fighting chance of not collapsing into the next Zakspeed, Onyx, Pacific or Simtek.

And it’s possible. Just look at Force India’s progress over the last 12 months.

It might not seem spectacular, but it is – mainly due to Benz power, of course. But therein lies the next lesson for F1, and in this case for Mosley specifically: forget about a standard Cosworth power plant for all cars.

Benz, Renault, Toyota and Ferrari selling engines to other teams is a much better solution.

That's if these suppliers stay in the game.

Level monetary playing field

Will they?

Well, Mosley’s second objective – of leveling the financial playing field – is at the core of the counter-argument.

Everybody, for sure, would like to curb the sport’s ever-spiraling costs. Which would lead one to think that the FIA’s budget cap is the perfect solution, not so?

Why then, are the big teams not keen on it?

One argument is that they would have to get rid of too many employees.

Well, Brawn did that, just this very year. In fact, many companies across the planet have been forced to lay off people.

Not nice, but a reality, especially since quitting F1 would be an even worse solution, as the total work force would have to be laid off!

A second argument is that the big teams have invested a lot into research and development over the years, and that this R&D would become superfluous – and therefore go to waste – if budgets are suddenly capped.

Well, all that R&D have not much helped Ferrari, McLaren and Renault up to this point in 2009, has it?

So, there must be other reasons.

Nuclear weapon

Ferrari’s Montezemolo is worried that budget capping would be rendered useless as the FIA won’t be able to police expenditure.

Right you are, Luca. You know this from experience, don’t you; from all those years that Ferrari got away with “uncheckables”?

Hey, not an accusation; just a question.

Another complaint is that none of the teams would like to open their books to external auditors, in this case Mosley’s penny-and-pound police.

But what the heck? As drivers often say about track conditions: it’s the same for everybody.

So, no. The real reason is to be found somewhere else. It is not about the past (R&D), nor is it about the present (laying people off, or external auditors and the like).

It is about the future. The posturing is real. If Mosley does not budge – and he will, for that’s the logic of Ferrari’s stance, and F1 without Ferrari is unthinkable – Maranello is out.

The whole squabble, see, is about the rate of development, a factor normally directly linked to financial power.

What if another team comes in and shows the big guns a clean pair of heels, like Brawn has done this year? How will the established teams fight back if they don't have more money than the small ones to throw at their problems?

That’s why Ferrari and Toyota are not keen on budget capping; they have a weapon that they’re not willing to blunt.

Nor will Red Bull. Dietrich Mateschitz has made huge investments in F1, amongst them prying Adrian Newey off McLaren.

That one is starting to pay spectacular dividends. Mateschitz understands money. He sniffs new opportunities already. Budget caps are not for him, either.

And McLaren (especially under Ron Dennis, believe you me) would have been voicing dissent as well.

Under current circumstances, though, it is a wiser option for Woking to hide in the shadows.

Lewis, Liar

Talking of which: Lewis Hamilton was at great pains to explain his deceitful conduct in the stewards’ inquiry after the Oz GP as a reflex reaction.

“I always follow the team’s instructions,” he said. “I am not a liar.”

Bull, Lewis. You blatantly told lies. You are a liar.

And if Oz was “excusable” on the grounds that you owed it to the team to support them in lieu of all the massive support you have received from them – and that you therefore felt obliged to “follow their instructions” – we would have to ask you why you then turned a deaf ear to explicit instructions from Ron Dennis, no less, to let Fernando Alonso through on the opening lap of Q3 in Hungary 2007?

Clear reminders it was from Ron, whilst you and Fernando were lined up in the pit lane, waiting for the light to turn green, followed by explicit instructions, in the plural, to let Alonso past whilst you were out on the track.

You didn’t follow them instructions then, Lewis.

Which makes you a liar twice: once when you lied to the stewards; and twice when you claimed that you “always” follow team instructions.

F1 quiz

Here’s a quiz: who’s got the biggest budgets in F1?

Toyota, some people say.

On Lap One, Trulli was out. Not his fault, nor Toyota’s.

Ferrari, others will reply to the biggest budget question, traditionally followed by McLaren.

Whose cars retired first in Spain (apart form those eliminated by accident on Lap One)?

Kovaleinen’s McLaren on Lap 7, and Raikkonen’s Ferrari on Lap 17.

The Big Budget Teams.

Hey, and Hamilton, Raikkonen and Kovaleinen lined up 14th, 16th and 18th on the grid.


Another F1 quiz

Here’s another quiz: prior to Spain, a mystery team named X lies second to last on the constructor’s table.

In Oz, one of Team X’s cars retires on Lap 45; the other’s differential locks up and pitches the driver into a concrete wall. Out of 18 cars, the aforementioned clocks up the 14th fastest lap.

In Malaysia, the same car ignores a second run and is left stranded in Q1, on P16 for the grid.

In the race, the other one is sent out on full wets whilst the track is bone dry. Tyres are destroyed during a single tour; the car loses 20 seconds per lap against the field.

As the race gets red-flagged on Lap 31, the same car loses its KERS. The driver jumps out, takes a shower and changes to civvies, even though the race has not yet been called off officially.

In China, one car scrapes into Q3; the other starts 13th. In the race, this second car retires with electrical problems on Lap 20 of a 56 lap race; the other finishes, but out of the points.

In Bahrain, both cars surprise by making it into Q3. In the race, one of them is lapped and the other scores the team’s first points, hoisting them up to 9th on a table of 10 as they head for Spain.

In Spain, this selfsame car doesn’t make it out of the garage for a second run in Q1, and is therefore bumped out of Q2; it starts 16th. On the warm-up lap, KERS gives up the ghost on this very same car. Then the throttle goes on Lap 17 of the race. The other car is short-filled during its last stop, forcing a humiliating slow-down, which drops the car from a solid fourth, to 6th.

Which team is this?

Well, obviously a palooka team going nowhere.

Like Force India, perhaps? Or Zakspeed?


At the start of the season, we feared for Red Bull’s rear suspension.

Being pull-rod, it yields great aero benefits. Yet we thought it might be difficult to set up, or pack up every now and again, as has happened on one of the last two F1 cars to have used it (albeit up front) – specifically referring to Arrows in 2000, a car interestingly enough designed by Mike Coughlan (who has now been fired from McLaren for Ferrarigate).

This same reliability fear now also in the light of last year’s Red Bull having suspension problems.

Not so. If that was our fear at the start of the season, it has now been superseded by a fear for the start of races. Vettel was trapped off the line behind slower cars in Spain and Bahrain.

That’s a good three points down the drain. 

Add it to six in Oz, and Vettel’s deficit to Button should only have been nine points at this stage, instead of 18.

If Ruben’s didn’t get screwed in Spain, it would have cut Vettel’s deficit by a further two.

As it is, Sebastian might find it tough going to add “the youngest F1 world champion” to all his other “youngest ever (pole, fastest lap, podium, win)” records.


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