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Formula 1

McLaren wants secret voting to combat ‘unhealthy’ F1 alliances

by Matt Beer
5 min read

McLaren CEO Zak Brown has urged Formula 1 to immediately switch to secret votes in F1 Commission meetings to combat the practice of teams who have alliances or supplier relationships voting together.

The issue of teams aligning with each other politically has been a rumbling point of tension in F1 for many years, with long-standing concerns about engine customer teams backing their manufacturer supplier escalating in recent seasons as closer ties were built between particular teams.

Of the 10 teams in F1 at present, only Alpine could be considered to not have any form of political alignment with another squad at all.

Mercedes McLaren

Red Bull and AlphaTauri have the same ownership, Haas and Alfa Romeo are both customers of Ferrari to different extents, and Mercedes supplies Aston Martin, McLaren and Williams – though again the degree of collaboration and closeness of the relationship varies across those deals.

The 10 teams have one vote each in F1 Commission meetings, alongside 10 votes for the FIA and 10 votes for the Formula One Group itelf. To achieve expedited in-season rule changes, a ‘supermajority’ of 28 votes out of 30 is required, whereas a majority of 25 votes or over is sufficient for changes being adopted for the following season.

The majority vote threshold has been introduced as part of the new Concorde Agreement all teams had signed last year, and specifically aims to aid the governing body in getting measures passed.

However, the existing thresholds still mean the balance of loyalties between particular teams could easily make the key difference in close votes.

In a lengthy address published on McLaren’s website that covered a broad range of topics around F1’s future, Brown’s strongest complaint was the potential for team alliances to block change in the Commission.

Zak Brown Andreas Seidl McLaren F1

“The rise of team affiliations has become unhealthy for our sport,” he wrote. “It is not in the best interests of competition if two rivals, or even three, share assets and align strategically.

“One of the fundamental principles of Formula 1, as opposed to other one-make racing series, is an open competition between constructors.

“I do not wish to see the number of teams in F1 reduce, but team affiliations remain an issue because they do not promote a level playing field.

“This is where further changes need to be made to the governance of Formula 1.

“There have always been conflicts of interest in Formula 1 and it’s unlikely to change anytime soon, so it’s even more important that F1 and the FIA, who have no other agenda than the whole sport’s success, call the shots in the best interests in F1 and not be blocked and slowed at every turn.

“Currently, decisions about the future of the sport can be halted by a minority, rather than majority, and they are further skewed by some teams’ voting power being in favour of their affiliated team partner.

“There have even been instances when an affiliated team, to satisfy its bigger partner, has voted in favour of a clear disadvantage to itself.

“This isn’t sport. This isn’t putting the fans first.

“It is a situation that must be addressed and so we call for secret ballot voting to be implemented in all F1 Commission meetings with immediate effect.”

McLaren F1

Brown’s column was broadly supportive of F1’s handling of the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, and of its efforts so far to address environmental, diversity and social issues, as well as increase accessibility to new fans. At the same time, he urged continued and more assertive progress on those topics.

His other strong call for specific change was around the calendar and testing. This season will feature a record 23 grands prix, with provision for that to be expanded to 25 in future calendars.

Brown argued for a significant cut to 20-race calendar, with a core of 15 permanent venues and the remaining five slots rotated.

“The intensity of a 25-race global schedule, designed to add in more race locations around the world, places a challenging physical and mental strain on travelling personnel,” he wrote.

McLaren F1 staff

“A better way to race across 25 markets would be to have an F1 season of, say, 20 races, of which 15 or so would be fixed annual events and the remaining five shared between different venues, on a rotational basis each year.

“It’s important we have variety in our race venues and allow new countries the opportunity to host a grand prix, while maintaining a level of scarcity value in our sport.

“By comparison, NFL teams play only 17 regular season games across a four-month period, but the sport boasts some of the most valuable sports franchises in the world. So volume doesn’t automatically equate to success.”

Brown also called for more focus on pre-season testing as a media and fan-friendly event, including taking it to different tracks each year, and urged for more in-season testing to be added with a particular focus on offering opportunities for drivers new-to-F1.

McLaren F1 Bahrain testing

“After the winter break, the fans, media and drivers can’t wait to get back on track as new cars are put through their paces for the first time,” said Brown. “I strongly believe these should be promoted events with a strong fan presence and interaction.

“We should be driving awareness into new markets with a different circuit hosting testing each year.

“Without the intensity of competition of a grand prix weekend, testing provides a golden opportunity to sell our sport at a local and international level.”

Within his thoughts on driver development and testing opportunities, Brown expressed his support for a driver salary cap.

“Drivers are key performance differentiators, so as teams continue to reduce costs across their operations, it’s prudent that driver salaries, along with the top three highest-paid employee salaries, must ultimately move under a defined allowance,” he wrote.

“Expanding the budget cap to include a defined and regulated allocation for driver costs and the top three salaries in each team will include all key performance elements and truly put the sport on a level playing field.

“Any team would be free to exceed the driver and top three allowance but at the penalty of reducing their racing operations budget cap by the excess amount.”

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