The opposed reactions of Ferrari and McLaren to the idea of further reducing Formula 1’s budget cap embody the positions of the manufacturer and independent teams respectively – and strike at the very heart of F1’s essence.
What is decided in reaction to the severe economic challenges posed to motorsport (and the rest of the world) by the coronavirus pandemic, will likely define how F1 will look for the next generation.
Will it remain the automotive manufacturer-dominated series it has been since the 1990s? Will it revert to a series for specialist independent entities, as it was from the late 1950s to early ‘80s? Or is there a third way, where the two are balanced into equilibrium?
Whatever the answer, it’s clear we are standing at a very significant moment in the championship’s history.
The discussion about the cost cap, triggered again by the pandemic, is simply the flash point around which that existential discussion has begun.
The teams are each looking after their own individual interests even though the crisis has inevitably brought a wider appreciation of the health of the whole. In negotiating whether the team budget cap – which takes effect from next year and is currently set at $175million – can come down further, each team is naturally anxious not to commit itself to a baked-in competitive disadvantage.
The aim – reducing the costs in anticipation of reduced income – is laudable and logical. The implementation is tricky because of the very different circumstances of each team.
Ferrari was quite relaxed about a budget cap of $175m but feels that coming down to $150m or less would put customer teams – who do not have the R&D, staffing or infrastructure costs – at an unfair advantage over it. They feel that $150m is getting down to around the budget independent teams such as McLaren or Aston Martin (Racing Point) might have at their disposal but without the same costs, they could deploy more of their budget on being competitive than a manufacturer team.
McLaren feels that this would simply be correcting an institutionalised wrong of F1’s structure, whereby the independents have for decades simply been there to fill the grid and make some noise to make the manufacturers look good.
These are serious times, when everything is being questioned. Why should F1 be any different?