John Floyd
Motorsport columnist
3 minute read
5 Nov 2014
3:00 pm

Crisis time for the sport

John Floyd

Just when you believe you have this week's column all worked out, you find yourself having to rethink the whole scenario, such was the effect of the weekend's Grand Prix in Austin, Texas.

IN TROUBLE. Both the Marussia and Caterham teams have been placed in receivership, leading Bernie Eccclestone to agree that 'something might be wrong with Formula One'. Picture: Supplied

It was not the battle for the driver’s title that created the rethink or the sporadically good racing we saw but the statement by the senior statesman of the sport, Bernie Ecclestone.

For some considerable time the media, analysts and fans have been voicing their concern over the future of Formula One, with seemingly everyone involved choosing to ignore rulings or the interests of the super cash-generating business on a long-term basis.

Back in 2009 the then president of the FIA, Max Mosley, decided cost caps would be the order of the day and this led to entries from new teams who believed in the restricted budget system.

However, that limitation on expenditure became a major issue among the teams as well as with the governing body and is still a very large stumbling block in the path of F1 and its future.

Of those new teams virtually all have fallen victim to costs.

HRT, formally Campos Racing, disappeared at the end of 2012. Now it is Caterham, formally Lotus Racing.

Caterham and Marussia, previously Manor Racing and Virgin, are both in receivership.

Costs have spiraled completely out of control to such a point that it is literally impossible for the smaller teams to survive.

Tragically, when you look at the amount of money owed by Marussia and Caterham it is almost petty cash to the larger teams.

Ecclestone has stated more than once it does not particularly concern him if the smaller teams disappear, as the big players will field an extra car each to make up the field.

He does not want such teams going around with a begging bowl; that is not the essence of F1.

So what happened on the weekend? What was it that led to this epiphanic moment in the F1 Supremo’s life?

Ecclestone called a media conference and admitted F1 had a problem and he was not sure what to do about it.

Having spoken to team bosses he then told a select group of journalists: “Frankly, I know what is wrong but don’t know how to fix it. No one is prepared to do anything about it because they can’t. The regulations have tied us up. The trouble with lots of regulations and lots of contracts is we don’t think long term.”

He went on to say: “The problem is there is too much money probably being distributed badly, and that’s probably my fault, but like lots of agreements people make, they seemed like a good idea at the time.”

It seems incredible he has only just woken up to the situation predicted by Mosley five years ago. The consequences have led to the demise of the back markers, which he believed there was no place for in modern F1.

Ecclestone says the major players must be prepared to make sacrifices for the good of the sport and reassess the payment of revenues for the teams on a more equitable basis.

He also admitted that as an employee of CVC Capital, which had a controlling interest in F1, he had to negotiate on their behalf rather than considering the sport itself.

So an admission of errors from F1’s boss man and the admission that it is business first, sport second.

Interestingly, both Mercedes’ Niki Lauda and Ferrari’s Marco Mattiacci, who were at the conference, do not believe the major teams would agree to a realignment of funding.

Mattiacci is quoted as saying: “The shift has to be how to increase revenues. The goal is not how to share the cake in a different way but how to make the cake bigger.”

With global television audiences shrinking, sponsors reducing their commitment to F1, teams disappearing, shareholders wanting their cut and the fans apathy increasing the idea of increasing the size of the cake seems a rather difficult goal to achieve.