IN PERIL IN THE RAIN: Jules Bianchi, as it turned out in the 2014 Japanese F1 GP, was in huge danger as he raced in the rain. Now money is threatening the very existence of the sport. Image: AFP
LONDON, England - F1 risks sliding into crisis and could have to reinvent its very DNA as struggling backmarker teams begin to collapse.
HRT folded in 2012 and now F1's two newest teams, Caterham and Marussia, are in the throes of financial administration and unlikely to be racing in the foreseeable future.
Organisers of next weekend's (Nov 2 2014) US Formula 1 GP will probably welcome only nine instead of the usual 11 teams and a diminished 18-car grid, unprecedented since BAR-Honda was banned for a time almost a decade earlier.
Departed Caterham founder Tony Fernandes said on Twitter at the weekend: "It's a fantastic sport. Bernie (Ecclestone) has done an amazing job but it needs to re-look at itself."
Former HRT driver Narain Karthikeyan added: "F1 just too expensive and completely unsustainable for minnows."
Max Mosley, a former International Automobile Federation president who warned years ago that an F1 crisis was looming, quietly pointed a finger at his successor Jean Todt. "It seems the chickens have come home to roost," Mosley was quoted as saying by the UK's The Times.
For now, F1 and its race promoters will have to cope with a diminished grid as big teams are promised at least two months' notice before having to field three-car teams. Dipping below 20 cars is the trigger for the three-car stipulation, giving Ecclestone a buffer so as not risking his contractual promise of at least 16-car grids to the big-paying race promoters.
But with Caterham and Marussia looking set to fall, it now appears possible F1 will lose even more small independent teams, particularly as the sport baulked earlier in 2014 at introducing radical cost-cutting or even a cost cap.
MORE TEAMS COULD GO
Sauber team boss and co-owner Monisha Kaltenborn is alarmingly warning, according to Italy's La Stampa: "Formula 1 is not so great that it cannot fail."
Not only the Swiss team is worried. Germany's Auto Motor and Sport claims Force India needs to make an engine payment to Mercedes by Monday or risk joining Caterham and Marussia in missing the US GP.
Force India deputy boss Bob Fernley admitted that more teams were in danger of collapse: "We've had three new teams since 2010 and all three have collapsed," he told The Telegraph in the UK. "The writing was on the wall from the beginning. Only five teams have a say in the running of F1 - we'll lose more if we carry on like this."
If the F1 grid keeps shrinking then three-car entries are inevitable. Auto Motor and Sport said Ferrari, Red Bull and McLaren were lined up by Ecclestone as first in the queue to start supplying third cars.
If any of that trio declines, Mercedes is reportedlynext in line.
'THEY'LL NOT BE MISSED'
Ferrari and Red Bull have apparently already given Ecclestone the green light; McLaren is hesitating, perhaps due to uncertainty about who should pay for the third car - Ecclestone or the team.
Red Bull's Dr Helmut Marko told Sport Bild he did not see a problem. He said: "We have the capacity and it would solve our luxury problem of having too many good drivers for too few cars."
And Karthikeyan, who only drove for back-marker teams in his F1 career, thinks the slowest cars will not be missed.
"18 cars in Austin," he said, "but sadly nobody will miss the absentees once the opening lap is completed without incident. That's the truth."