The Ben Evans column: Slowdown

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Anyone with even a passing interest in the non-motorsport world cannot failed to have noticed a global recession is on the horizon. Those who like their economics with a whiff of F1 will have noted that the teams are finding it harder to pull in those all important sponsorship dollars. A disaster, surely?

In the short term yes, it is a bad news, with no cash there is no racing, or at least it is much scaled back. Almost certainly there will be some casualties, not such much in F1 (although if people stop buying road cars??), but certainly the junior formulae will take at hit and a number of teams will be forced to close their doors, particularly in series with high team-turnover like F3.

In F1 the world, even the big hitters may be forced to scale back as running an F1 team is a costly business.

If the economic gloom deepens then 2008 will be a bad year for motorsport globally. The Autosport International show hinted this was the case. Sure it was bustling and busy, it always is, but it wasn’t the kind of bustling and busy that reflected at buoyant industry.

There was no co-ordinated promotion of the big national series, previously strong club series had no new competitors registering their interest, and the circuits were notable only by their absence.

A good case study would be Motorsport Vision, owners of Brands Hatch, Cadwell Park, Snetterton and Oulton Park, together with owning and operating the Formula Palmer Audi series. Last year was an excellent year for MSV, showpiece meetings drew huge crowds and FPA was resurgent.

Will 2008 build on this? So far the signs are not encouraging. The provisional FPA entry list in Autosport last week was sparse and low on potential superstars, worrying given that FPA represents great value and is the lowest-cost rung on the professional motor sports ladder.

Likewise the circuits, the ever popular BTCC and British Superbike meetings aside, may struggle. Brands Hatch has minimised club dates in favour of A1GP, DTM and WTCC, but all three series are at a point where the law of diminishing returns is beginning to kick in.

I would be surprised if these three meetings fill the stands in 2008 as they did in 2006 & 07. That said MSV is arguably the best run motor sport business in the country, and have plenty of options to keep the numbers ticking over – further promotion of the low gate price meetings would be my starting point.

But it is on the track that it really matters and 2008 will be a tough year. The well funded drivers will always be there and will thrive, but I would imagine that many competitors will be forced to do part seasons, or throw in the towel early.

Bad news in 2008, but I think this will lead to a resurgence in more affordable motor sport. For too long motor sport from F1 downwards has been dangerously expensive. I’m not saying that a season of GP2 will plummet in price, but even if budgets hold steady for a number of years it will make the cost of competing just that bit more affordable.

Current UK Formula Ford budgets are in the region of 100,000. If these dropped to 70,000 (or 5,000 per weekend), more drivers will get the opportunity to prove themselves. In short, talent will hopefully get the opportunity to rise through the ranks more than it has in recent years.

In F1 world Max Mosley has been talking budget capping as way to cut costs. But for Max I think a global recession will take care of business for him. With less sponsorship to go for the teams will be forced to curb their costs and this will force the average cost of competing down.

Sure there will still be the haves and have nots but F1 budgets may drop below the GDPs of most countries once again. It will be a painful year, but I have the feeling that F1 as a sport will be the stronger for it.

Recessions are always bad news for motor sport. After all, it is the ultimate luxury spend for individuals and competitors alike. However as with all industries it forces focus on the essentials and delivers some home truths, something which motor sport may just need right now.

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Ben Evans
Motorsport commentator Ben is RaceFans' resident bookworm. Look out for his verdict on the latest motor racing publications on Sundays....

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7 comments on “The Ben Evans column: Slowdown”

  1. I have to agree with you. I think the key is in the management of the decline, though. I’d rather see a steady decrease in budgets than a mammoth crash and multiple F1 teams going under all at once.

    But there is clearly a need to start from “Year Zero” again. F1 is too expensive even for rich businessmen, only the weight of multinational, billion-dollar-turnover corporations keeps it afloat. And that’s not a good thing.

  2. A little retraction can be good for the economic soul. Want to save money in F1?

    Try eliminating ALL of the fly away races (sorry Oz, Malaysia, China, Japan, Canada, US) and return the sport to where it belongs: Europe. If you can’t drive your transporter there, don’t go. How many millions of dollars would that save? Not to mention the latest holy-of-holies, “green” impacts?

  3. Interesting article. Everyone talks about a “crash” in Formula 1, but if there is no money for the smaller, feeder series, that could be an even bigger problem for the long-term future of the sport. Plus, the pressure to “be green” will only increase, so motorsport needs to be seen as part of a solution, rather than a environmental liability. As for F1, in the next 5 to 10 years, I would imagine that Bernie, Max, Ron Dennis, Frank Williams, Flavio, Jean Todt, etc. will all be gone. Where will the new leadership come from? Certainly, some of the manufacturers currently in the sport will get fed up and leave, which will leave us with what? Actually, that could be a good thing. More than ever, F1 appears in danger of disappearing up it’s own a***.

  4. “George Says:

    Try eliminating ALL of the fly away races (sorry Oz, Malaysia, China, Japan, Canada, US) and return the sport to where it belongs: Europe.”

    Congratulations, Georgyboy. This is about the most retarded thing I’ve ever heard anyone say. Lets get rid of:
    1. A fantastic street circuit that has one of the highest attendances of any in the F1 calendar (Oz)
    2. A Herman Tilke designed masterpiece with one of the most striking grandstands and more overtaking points than half the European circuit put together (Sepang and Bahrain).
    3. A unique island circuit that has the infamous wall of champions, a fantastic back straight that starts with 180-degree overtaking point (Montreal).
    4. A circuit that gave us one of the most brilliant races of the 2007 calendar (China).

    And lets keep the good old antiquated relics in Europe like Silverstone (which I actually love, its a great circuit, but in major need of a facelift), Hockenheim (the old one was great, the new one is soulless featureless, and has not one unique or redeeming quality) and of course, Monaco (which is the annual snoozefest of the F1 calendar, completely devoid of any overtaking whatsoever).

  5. “3. A unique island circuit that has the infamous wall of champions, a fantastic back straight that starts with 180-degree overtaking point (Montreal).”

    Damn straight. F1 belongs at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve!

    I don’t think the transportation costs of going to flyaway races are responsible for making F1 so prohibitively expensive. I’m not saying they aren’t high, as I’m sure it’s not cheap to ship all that equipment, but there are many other factors that should be looked at first.

  6. Formula One isn’t going away. The extremes of expenditure may decline, but that will only be temporary. The model to use is a simple cost/benefit relationship. As long as the audience is worldwide and growing, the event will continue. The future series will change, but as a sporting format, F1 has been extremely long lived. Worry not! After all, much of the present “show” could be restricted by financial concerns, and we could still have wonderful racing.

  7. My point entirely F1 will not disappear but a restriction of costs may just improve the show and spice things up.

    I can’t see flyaway races disappearing as by and large they are core to what F1 is about, but flyaway testing on the other hand…

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