Formula 1

Steiner’s F-Word column: F1 teams are good at the impossible

by Matt Beer
5 min read

I have been giving this column a lot of thought: it’s a challenging moment for the whole world and we should not just think about us – the poor people who cannot go and race cars. There are a lot of businesses that are struggling at the moment and a lot of people who lost their lives because of this, which is the worst bit.

The world is a bit in turmoil and we need to realise that in the motorsport industry we are not essential to life – the world can live without us. Would it be a better place? Maybe not, because we are entertainment. I think we need to realise that we are privileged to work in an industry that is good fun.

Now we need to sit back and put a bit of thought into how to work together to keep it going. We’ve come to the point where now we are discussing a lot about budget caps, the reduction of money, people furloughed – this is the reality. We have to regroup and get the best out of this difficult moment for our future, not just for F1 but motorsport in general.

I think some smaller series and some smaller teams in smaller series will not survive this. Many will need to scale back and work from the bottom up again because sponsors will be hit by this too. The money from sponsors will be less, the money we get paid out in prize money in F1 will get less –we have a lot of challenges in front of us.

But coming to the positives, the FIA and FOM have worked very diligently to take this opportunity to make it a bit more future-proofed. At the moment as soon as something unexpected comes we are in a big crisis, never having anything spare to give so that if we didn’t race for six months everything would be fine.

F1 Australia 2020

I think we are going in the right direction with the budget cap and with the regulation changes – postponing the new regulations one year was a very wise decision. At the moment I’m happy, but we still need to get up on our feet and get going again, and we will.

The proposals that are out there are not imaginary, we are not talking about going down to a £30million budget, we are still talking big monies and we can keep the technology at a high level for the money that is proposed. We just need to cut the cloth according to where the world is, we cannot be outside of the world ecosystem.

Right now we have to ask how is this affordable? Our income is not equal to what we spend. This cannot work long term, nothing works for a long time if you cannot make it function commercially. At some stage, the race teams need to come back to be at least at break even. When everything is good we just keep on not thinking about the future, we just live in the day. If we have £1m we spend £1.1m because we’ll find another £100,000 from somewhere. We should say, we have a million, let’s try to make £100,000 profit so we have something in the bank if a rainy day comes.

Of course you need to come together sometimes, but we come together at the racetrack 20 times a year anyway. So why do we need to come together in between?

After we are over this – hopefully soon – the world will be a different place. Every normal business and industry will be a lot more careful. They will be more careful to spend money and to make sure that they have something in the bank. Everyone will be much more diligent about spending money, people will be happy with less – we have learned we can live with less. And it will take time until people need or want more again. The world will be a different place, but it will still be a good place. We just need to cut a little bit off what we did – we went too far.

Look at how few flights there are at the moment. If I look back and think about all the flights I have taken and now I am doing the same on video conferencing. I didn’t only spend money, you pollute the air and you spend time sitting in an aeroplane. Something like a simple Strategy Group Meeting, which is 20-25 people, they could be sitting in their home office or the office where they are based.

Russian Grand Prix 2019 Sochi

Of course you need to come together sometimes, but we come together at the racetrack 20 times a year anyway. So why do we need to come together in between? Or maybe we come together once and the rest we do on video. This is just an example, there are so many things where we can save not only money but also time and pollution.

At Haas, we have furloughed some people and reduced some pay across the board. It’s about making sure we are here for the mid-to-long term. I must admit that while nobody is happy to get a pay cut, nobody was upset because they understand why we are doing it.

Everybody wants to get working and go racing again. I think if we are careful and do it behind closed doors, there is a lot of technology around now to check everything is OK. Obviously it won’t be easy to race behind closed doors and a lot of fans will be upset that they cannot come.

Also, we have to be careful that we are not starting a second wave or that we are getting caught up in one. But I think the world learned a lot about the first wave, and places are starting to open up. In Austria they are opening up schools and bars and restaurants with safety measures in place.

For an F1 team to go racing again, in about four weeks we can do everything we need to be ready. The cars came back from Australia and were offloaded and opened up. What you have to consider is that people haven’t worked for two months and when you open up a company again it’s like a diesel engine, it needs some warming up. The first days are not very productive normally. But we build the cars from nothing in four weeks so I’m sure we can get them up and ready again in four weeks.

In terms of how many races we can run, and how many back to back, at the moment you can do anything. If we know we go racing every weekend or almost every weekend we can plan for that and all the teams are strong enough to do this. F1 teams are pretty good at doing the impossible, so I’m not worried about that!

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