As we move into 2014, Formula One not only enters a new season, but a new era entirely. However, as it stands on the threshold of a new dawn, is the sport ready to confront and conquer the issues that currently bark at its door? Dan Paddock concludes.
THIS series of short features started out as a simple investigation into the issues currently troubling Formula One, and which if left unabated could cause serious damage to the future of the sport. It may not come as much of a surprise to those who have an understanding of the sport that three of the items discussed ultimately led back to the question of money. In the case of drivers, teams, and circuits, it was a matter of having either too much, or not enough, that came to define the discussion throughout the series of features.
With that in mind, what of 2014 and beyond? As already identified there is certainly no shortage of money in the sport, but does this necessarily mean that Formula One is ready to conquer its demons, or are the challenges simply too large to overcome?
One problem that Formula One fortunately looks set to avoid in 2014, as briefly alluded to at the end of the first feature in this series, is the sideshow revolving around the prominence of Pirelli’s tyres that was seen last year. Even at this early stage of the year, with pre-season testing only just underway, the Italian firm’s tyres look set to take a backseat to the fresh aerodynamic regulations and the new turbo engines, which seem set to dominate discussion throughout the year.
And as Edd Straw, F1 Editor of AUTOSPORT alludes, Pirelli will be keen to absolutely avoid any more controversy after 2013, which should lead them to take a cautious approach with their all-new tyres. ”There are bars in the simulations and there are bars created by the lack of track running, so by definition they have to be conservative, and they’ve warned that they will be,” he said.
And as Straw adds, the re-introduction of in-season testing should only reduce the risk of more embarrassment on the part of the Italian tyre supplier. He said: “The one positive is that some progress has been made in so far as there is some in-season testing, each team can do eight days during the year, and Pirelli gets to co-opt each team for one of those days to do proper tyre testing where they get to decide the programme.”
F1 in Asia and the East
In the undertaking of the investigation into the failure of the Indian and Korean Grand Prix’s, something far more worrying than the initial line of enquiry was discovered. As was found there is a worrying trend emerging whereby the right to host a Formula One race is becoming the privilege of just a select group of nations. As the failure of the Indian Grand Prix, and in contrast the success of the race in Singapore reveal, government support, or the lack thereof in India’s case, more so than any other factor now dictates a countries ability to stage an event on the calendar, and whether it will be a success or not.
When you consider this, and remember that the average race promotor fee in 2011 was £17 million, with the price rising by around 10% every year, it soon becomes apparent that certain nations are being priced out of Formula One, while others are struggling to keep their race.
Is there a quick fix for this issue? No, but as F1 Group Editor Jonathan Noble mentioned, as Formula One continues to modernise, the likelihood is that the importance of race fees will become less prominent, opening up the possibility that those fees can come down, in turn opening the doors to a larger host of countries to join the F1 calendar.
And what of the issue of pay drivers in Formula One? Their current prevalence was a problem that was initially deemed to be a threat to the reputation of the sport. Once the inconsistencies of the term itself were clarified, it became apparent that pay drivers were effectively as old as the sport itself, and that their recent reappearance was simply indicative of the financial trouble that many team’s currently face.
Edd Straw summarised the issue itself perfectly, when he said: “The problem with the pay driver argument is that people say it shouldn’t be this way, and they seem to hark back to this time when no one was a pay driver, but that was a time that simply never happened.”
However, what was most striking in this investigation, was the realisation that, unlike the days of yesteryear, when pay drivers would be confined to a team at the back of the grid, their money has now become a necessity for teams to survive further up the grid, such as Lotus. This in turn is damaging the progression of drivers who are well-fancied, but lack large-scale financial backing, for example Nico Hulkenberg.
While the consensus is that pay drivers reflect negatively on Formula One, it is clear that they are not something you can simply remove from the sport overnight, or as some argue, would even want to, as their money is effectively what is keeping certain teams on the grid alive, which directly links into the following feature.
The Financial Difficulties Facing Privateer Teams
Alongside the topic of Pirelli’s tyres, the ongoing financial struggles of Lotus and Sauber also dominated headlines throughout 2013.
In the case of Lotus, the idea that a team competing for wins, and podiums could be on the verge of closure came as a huge shock to not only fans, but the entire Formula One community, which is why this story inspired the initial idea for this series of features as a whole.
Early research found that the system whereby teams are allocated prize money was greatly flawed, in that operating costs for many teams far outweighed any reward that they would receive as a result of their finishing position in the Constructors’ Championship, which is a questionable tactic to take.
Furthermore, it became apparent that CVC, the owners of the sport, while not only failing to allocate teams a fair slice of Formula One’s profits, were also skimming profits from the sport for themselves. The fact that this is occurring at the very same time that over half of the teams on the grid posted losses and debts, and in Lotus’ case, battled for its very survival, raises further questions over the financial viability of the sport, especially for those teams outside the ‘Big Four’ of Red Bull, Mercedes, Ferrari and McLaren.
Finding a way to shore up the financial security of these troubled teams, amongst all the problems discussed throughout this series, must stand as the most pressing issue for the sport to deal with, but as it stands, all that is in place as of January 2014 is a mooted cost cap, which if agreed upon would come into effect next year. The ability of which to police remains questionable.
Ultimately, while Formula One remains as popular as ever, demonstrated by profits of over £300 million last fiscal year, and is still inundated by potential suitors, with Russia the latest country to join the F1 calendar, the sport, entering a new era in 2014, must make a stand now if it is to counter the problems identified in this series of feature.
The technical problem that was the prominence of Pirelli’s tyres looks set to be eliminated by the introduction of the new engine and aerodynamic regulations, but more needs to be done before the number of teams fighting for survival, and therefore the current prevalence of pay drivers in the sport can be declared solved. As naive as it may sound, costs simply must come down, the sport needs to become more economically viable for the teams competing in it, as well as for countries that which to host races as a part of the championship.
A cost cap, if policeable, will be a fine start to this process, but ultimately change needs to come from the commercial rights holders if there is to be any real progress. Only when teams are handed a more equal share of the sports profits, and circuit promoter fees are brought down, could the sport be deemed truly viable from a financial standpoint, and therefore, secure for the future.
Image courtesy of Pirelli Media