Esteban Ocon, Force India, Circuit of the Americas, 2018

Why F1’s playing field is unlikely to be levelled in 2021

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Two laps. That’s how far the leading cars from the ‘big three’ Formula 1 teams were ahead of their ‘Formula 1.5’ rivals from the other seven outfits in Mexico.

Will the sport’s owners Liberty Media ever manage to create a level playing field for its competitors? Ambitious changes were planned for 2021, but they seem increasingly unlikely to be realised.

Just two years remain before F1’s current sporting, technical, commercial and administrative contracts expire. In April, as revealed by RaceFans, Liberty Media presented their ambitious plans to revolutionise the sport to teams.

Yet the signs are the sport will once again back itself into a corner, then be forced into accepting the worst possible compromises on all fronts, or delay change for another year (or more), thus extending the current status quo until at least 2022.

Which would be equally damaging, though (hopefully) only temporarily.

The tyre situation provides a microcosm of the situation. As revealed in July, the FIA issued (legally binding) tenders for tyre supply for 2020-3, with current 13-inch dimensions retained for 2020, and 18-inch wheels specified thereafter. The existing contract illustrates just how out of kilter are some of F1’s covenants: Since 2013 it had been known that the current regulations expired in 2020, yet a tyre contract ending in 2019 was issued.

Of course, the fine print is likely to contain get-out clauses, but one wonders how either of the shortlisted applicants – incumbent Pirelli and optimistic hopeful Hankook – would feel about discovering that 13-inch rubber is being retained for an extra year should an extension be agreed upon, with 18-inch development cost then being amortised over just two seasons? It could happen.

Pirelli 18-inch tyre test, 2014
Could F1’s new tyre rules be delayed further?
Asked in Mexico by RaceFans as to its ideal lead times for the development of 18-inch tyres – assuming the tender goes Pirelli’s way, which seems the most likely outcome – the Italian brand’s sporting director Mario Isola said they would need to commence with design immediately after the verdict.

“It’s a big change, so we need to start working as soon as possible. It’s not only about the renewal of the contract that as you know is an on-going (commercial) discussions with (commercial rights holder) FOM,” he said, “but once we have the confirmation we need to understand which is the technical regulations for 2021.”

Although Pirelli had previously undertaken concept work on 18-inch tyres ahead of the aborted (2016) change, Isola says, “It is different because we [now] have different sizes. The [contact] area is much, much wider, so we have to redesign everything, but we missed [some] very, very important information, [and] that is the technical regulation.

“Without the technical regulation and without knowing the expected performance of the 2021 cars it’s difficult to design a tyre. It’s not only about the renewal of the contract that as you know is an ongoing discussion with FOM, but once we have the confirmation, we need to understand which is the technical regulations for 2021.”

Asked whether about Pirelli’s experience from sports car racing was beneficial, Isola said: “It’s helpful because we have two elements: They are going to ban blankets, [and] we have experience on racing where they don’t use blankets and 18 inches.

“But the [width] is different. The levels of stress, the heat generation, that’s a different story. It is not easy for us and for the teams. It is not easy for everybody.”

Isola reckons they would need to test for a little over a year in advance of the first race, meaning the 2021 technical regulations would need to be finalised within the next 12 months.

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“But,” says Isola, “the other problem is: ‘do we have any car available?’ I don’t have an answer for that. The problem is that is that probably they have to redesign suspension, travel of the suspension because with a smaller sidewall you have to compensate [for sidewall elasticity], so there are a lot of open points. As soon as we have a confirmation or not [on the tender] we will start working on all this.”

Nico Hulkenberg, Renault, Circuit of the Americas, 2018
‘Formula 1.5’ winner Hulkenberg finished two laps down
Now consider that it has taken F1 almost a year to not agree whether to ditch the MGU-H, or whether to relax fuel flow from 2021 – both of which affect torque, and thus tyre stresses – while aerodynamic platforms and chassis concepts are far from being agreed by the Technical Working Group let alone formally approved by Strategy Group or F1 Commission, and it is evident time is becoming increasingly tight.

Furthermore Pirelli, or whichever tyre supplier gets the nod, requires a representative F1 car by the end of 2019 to start testing; equally, F1’s agreements specify two-year lead times for major changes, which a switch to 18-inch tyres surely qualifies as, given the radical suspension and resultant geometry changes. Consider the impact on braking: it makes little sense to “grow” wheels five inches in diameter, yet retain existing brake disc sizes. Then consider the bashing wheels and suspension will endure with no ‘give’ in the sidewalls.

Yet, intriguingly, based on team reaction at the time, it seems the technical requirements outlined in the tyre tender were decided unilaterally by the FIA without Strategy Group or F1 Commission votes, which suggests that the FIA is going it alone (or possibly with FOM input) on post-2020 regulations changes. In that case, could there be a challenge from the major teams aimed at delaying matters?

Consider the impact of budget caps, equitable revenue structure and democratic regulatory process on the likes of Mercedes and Ferrari. If you were in their shoes, would you willingly accept such swingeing changes or fight to retain the status quo, regardless of the long-term effects on the sport? Already Mercedes is suggesting a reduction from 21 to 15 races per year, while Ferrari has variously threatened to exit the sport.

Don’t be surprised if they push for a stay on the current regulations and structures. Indeed, their starting point is likely to be budget caps: Where the plan had been to introduce $150m (with certain exemptions) budget caps from 2021, they argued – seemingly successfully – for a $200m/$175m/$150m glide path, with the next step being for a greater slice of F1’s revenues.

Already there is talk that the major teams are pushing for an increase in F1’s slice of the ‘pot’ from an effective 66% to 75% – to enable the majors to retain their levels of income while increasing payments to the rest. Understandably Liberty is baulking at that, but how will it end? A walk-out by Mercedes or Ferrari? A breakaway series? Both parties are likely to accept the current status quo rather than risk fragmentation.

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Consider comments made by Mercedes F1 CEO Toto Wolff in Austin: “Of course we’d like the sport to grow on the EBITDA level because it means team payments grow.

Toto Wolff, Bahrain International Circuit, 2018
Wolff: “We’d like to see revenue growing…”
“We recognise the challenges they face, and I think next year might be a different story and we’d like to be supportive where we can in order to grow the underlying profit because it’s where we’re taking a share of.”

“I think we’d like to see revenue growing and the underlying profit growing,” he added. “But, equally, a long-term strategy…”

Do these sound like the comments of a manufacturer team willing to accept cost cuts?

Complicating the situation is that a group of F1 shareholders asked some uncomfortable (and pointed) questions about Liberty’s financial performance in Austin, visiting team owners and (other stakeholders) to obtain their impressions and opinions of the situation. F1’s revenues have dropped for two consecutive quarters, and the much-vaunted F1 TV Pro revenue spinner is far from washing its face.

Indeed, according to multiple sources, some of the discussion points centred on the competence of the F1’s current executives, and whether they were up to the task of resetting and growing the sport after a decade of exploitation by private ‘investment’ fund CVC Capital Partners. That does not bode well for F1’s post-2020 commercial discussions, and ties in with the sentiments of the investment expert who spoke to this column last week.

In Mexico two team boss meetings were held. One, ‘Coffee with Chase [Carey, F1 CEO]’ on Saturday, lasted 30 minutes, with a source saying “We discussed the reasons for Miami’s [race] demise for ten minutes, that they’ll announce Hanoi for 2020 shortly, and that a race in Las Vegas could work – why he doesn’t just go ahead and do it instead of talking about it beats me.

“Then Sean [Bratches, F1 Commercial MD] taught us how to play Codemasters for 15 minutes. Nothing about 2021, nothing about budget caps, nothing about revenues.”

Asked to confirm the meeting, another team boss said: “You know the story about Nero and Rome…”

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The second meeting, held before qualifying, was a continuation of the Japan and Austin summits. Called for team bosses only – with no FOM or FIA representation – it was aimed at ‘spicing up the spectacle’. Asked to summarise the meeting, a source said: “We walked in with 10 different opinions, and 30 minutes later we walked out with 10 different opinions.”

Against that background, it seems increasingly unlikely that F1 will have its sporting, technical, regulatory and commercial ducks in a row by end-2019 – in time for a 2021 reset – particularly as there does not seem to be much appetite amongst major teams to forfeit their advantages as bestowed by CVC.

Franz Tost, Otmar Szafnauer, Guenther Steiner, Frederic Vasseur, 2018
F1’s ‘have-nots’ are sceptical the situation will change
After all, which entity willingly waves goodbye upwards of $100m per annum – and forget not that Ferrari and Mercedes are owned by PLCs, while Red Bull Racing is owned by a hard-nosed entrepreneur who built the company into a global energy drink player within a decade of starting out.

However, let us (optimistically) assume that F1 gets it act together in good time and levels the notional playing field for 2021 by redistributing F1’s wealth and introducing budget caps – does that mean that all things will once again be equitable (note: not equal)?

Not according to a multitude of bosses of independent teams, asked in Mexico whether a reset would immediately give them all chance. Not according to Sauber’s Frédéric Vasseur, who believes the major teams will be able to live off the proceeds of their fat years for seasons to come.

“Even if you introduce a cost cap in 2021 or [whenever], it doesn’t matter,” he said, “I think they invested so much on the technical side that it will be quite impossible for us to close the gap immediately. But I think we would have some advantages – we are used to dealing with this kind of budget and they are not, and probably at one stage it could be an advantage.

“But on the first part of the deal, they will capitalise on the advantages they made,” added Vasseur, making a point later echoed by Guenther Steiner of Haas.

Franz Tost, team principal of Toro Rosso, the budget operation within the Red Bull family, sees it similarly, but added another factor: “Because the top teams can invest as much as they want during 2020 for developing the car for 2021, and once they have this big advantage it’s difficult for the other teams to catch up.

“It depends now with which regulation the FIA will come up. If they really minimise the development and if standard parts are being used, then maybe the gap will be closed earlier. Otherwise it will take until ’23, ’24, something like this, because the real cost cap is coming in ’23. The rest is just a gradient which is coming down. We will see. Depends on the regulations once more.”

The message is: Despite having had almost six year to prepare for a total reset of a sport whose TV eyeballs and revenues show a worrying downward trend regardless of what cleverly crafted media releases may suggest, the indications are that F1 is once again prepared to go to the brink before blinking – hopefully before it’s too late – and in the process expending energies that would be better deployed constructively.

It is not yet too late, but very soon threatens to be.

Follow Dieter on Twitter: @RacingLines

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Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...

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76 comments on “Why F1’s playing field is unlikely to be levelled in 2021”

  1. Excellent column, Dieter. The best so far that I’ve read.

    Indeed, according to multiple sources, some of the discussion points centred on the competence of the F1’s current executives, and whether they were up to the task of resetting and growing the sport

    Ah, so it’s not just Hartley worried about his seat :)

    1. Interest point you quoted about competence…
      It’s a minor detail, but they add up in the end: the Liberty Media website doesn’t answer HTTPS requests, only HTTP. Sure, the bosses don’t take care of a detail like this, but to me it indicates they don’t run as tight a ship as Bernie did.

      1. @mtlracer: Google will surely punish them for the lax attitude. Bernie already has.

  2. @dieterrencken is fair to say that you have been following F1 for a long time right? That you have an amazing history with the sport and know in depth what happens around it correct?

    With that said, when was the last time we didn’t had this so called F1.5? Why is it a problem now, what is different from the F1.5s of old? Is it because this one has political roots because it was incubated by the manufacturers? What is it? Why should we be worried about it, I honestly don’t get it why things that always happened are a problem now, but I’m genuinely interested

    Ok, so it is political, and the article earlier in the day was just a decoy. And the issues talked here were previously explained to us in other articles. We know it is wrong, we know that teams don’t get a fair chance when it comes to prize distribution and the agreements they have with FOM or whoever and we know everything seem to be made based knee jerk reactions.

    That’s the tactic then I assume, we will use the F1.5 (that always existed regardless of the era, we even had teams turning up just to try and qualify for the race) as an argument to use against the current and probably future deals that teams have, especially those with more power.

    As usual the column is a good read. But lets say that everything gets fair to everybody and we reached that premise because we based our approach on the F1.5 championship which is the perfect image of the difference in power between teams. We get to a new season and we have again two/three teams, and lets say those teams are Force India, Renault and dare I say McLaren (crazy right?) and the other are playing catch up, don’t we have again a F1.5 championship? Can’t that be used again but this time against all the good that it has been done?

    So I get back to my initial question, but that was based only on the sport, not the politics

    1. I disagree as I did on the other topic. If Force India, Renault, and Mac suddenly became the top three teams, we’d still see Merc, Ferrari, and RBR as strong potential contenders to develop over the season and become podium worthy. Right now, you not only need to be a manufacturer team, you need to be Mercedes, and there is little glimmer of hope for everyone else. In past eras at least a Williams team could actually win a Championship and/or at least look the part. And that gave fans and lesser teams hope. There’s been less reason for hope (probably the least ever) unless you’re a manufacturer works team thanks to BE’s behaviour in his last ten years heading F1.

      1. On the other topic you didn’t disagreed, you talked about another subject that I didn’t touch. On this one you are disagreeing on a hipotetical reality

        1. @johnmilk Sorry man, I probably haven’t taken the time to completely digest what you are saying, due to being rushed for time. I’ll take some more time later to understand your point.

          1. Really Robbie… Amazing… . . . lol.

          2. @johnmilk Yeah so I’ve re-read what you’ve been saying on the two headlines involved yesterday. You posed the question initially as to why basically having a second tier of performance and teams (F1.5) is an issue now when it has been like this for a long time…it’s not new so why is it a problem now. You asked is it politics? Or what is it?

            So I don’t see how my answer was unrelated. You suggest politics but open it up for whatever it is, and then tell me my answer is unrelated. I see F1.5 as an issue now, because times are now different. I think as audience now continues to diminish, and sponsors remain hard to attract, and people have to pay more than ever to watch on TV, and while there are so many other distractions for new young potential viewers, there is more urgency than before about this gulf that exists and always has a you point out.

            That it has always been this way does not eliminate the concern, obviously. That the teams all seem to be fairly on board that several things need addressing, and will be, indicates to me that what was before doesn’t fly anymore, and after all, the way it is and has been is not exactly growing the sport like Liberty thinks they can as things evolve in these coming years as they get to put their twist on the plot.

            If F1.5 has existed for a long time, but we have an F1 that is rife with issues that are currently being addressed because F1 feels it needs to do that, then I think the answer to your question is that these are different times now, and perhaps had they not been under BE for so long, perhaps things wouldn’t have been so 1,5-like and there wouldn’t be as many problems now that times have changed and F1 is playing catch-up with the times.

            Yes there are always going to be stronger teams and in a way a 1.5 faction, but right now that insurmountable gulf has been too damaging for a sport that is more fragile and vulnerable than before. Closer racing and at least a glimmer of hope again for lesser teams has perhaps been a problem brewing for a long time, but with a different global climate things must change from the way it has always been.

      2. “In past eras at least a Williams team could actually win a Championship”

        Why that is so special? Williams team was one of most powerful teams at those times. That is why they could get a already famous Ayrton Senna in a car.

        What killed the chances of lesser teams was the reliability change.

    2. There was always a “Formula 1.5”, but the differences were not that huge, especially in the race stint. Go check the 2008 season for example.

      The problem is not that some cars are faster than others, it’s that more than half the grid is almost irrelevant to the outcome of the race. Nobody in the “1.5 league” fights the top teams for position, because the difference in performance is such that a top-3 driver could literally start at lap 2 and still finish P6.

      Remember Abu Dhabi 2010? It would have never happened in the current era. This needs fixing in my opinion.

      1. @afonic no one said it doesn’t need fixing, point is it was always like this, but nowadays with improved reliability it is harder for the top teams to lose their positions in the race. Would I wand to have the 10 teams fighting for the championship? Absolutely, but have we ever had that, or will we have it? Don’t think so

        The 2008 season is the exception, and even though 5 teams won races. STR had the perfect storm to win theirs and Renault fixed one. Oh and btw, the top 5 in that championship were Ferrari, McL-Mercedes, BMW-Sauber, Renault and Toyota.

        1. @johnmilk generally in the years I’ve been watching F1, I feel (I cannot check stats right now) that this is the worse differences in have seen, at least since 2005. It’s not only about who wins the races or even about who can win a world championship, even if it may sound weird, it *does* make a difference if the 7th place is 30secs or 2 laps from the leader.

          And why is that? Just look a the front wings. Budget cap needs to come as fast as possible.

          1. *these are the worst differences (in performace) I’ve ever seen

          2. @afonic, since you mention that you’ve been watching the sport since 1995, maybe it is worth looking back at how far apart the field was that year.

            In the opening race of that season in Brazil, the only other driver on the lead lap was Coulthard, in second place – third to sixth were all one lap down, and everybody beyond that were two laps or more down. That was actually fairly commonplace too – the next race, in Argentina, saw the top three on the same lap, 4th place one lap down and everybody from 5th place down two laps or more down on the leaders. Monaco was similar as well – top 3 a lap ahead of 4th and 5th, and 6th two laps behind – basically, the performance gap in Mexico was more similar to the sort of performance gap that top teams usually had in the mid 1990s.

    3. Nicely put. F1 has never been a level playing field, so now this new idea of F1.5 is just ridiculous. 7th place finished 2 laps down on Sunday, but what were the reasons behind that? This is nothing new, McLaren lapped everyone up to 3rd place in Australia 98, so why now are we acting like surprised teenagers?

      There has been this new phenomenon to view the current era of F1 has being anti-racing compared to the so called ‘golden era’, when racing was pure and equal. Which quiet frankly is nonsense! Sure F1 has issues it needs to resolve, case in point the equal distribution of equity. But please let’s stop acting like back then it was any better than it is now, when in fact it was probably worse!

      1. I don’t know that Liberty is trying to claim it was better ‘back then’ but they and the teams obviously feel that the way it has always been doesn’t cement in stone the way it must be going forward nor that they should just ignore the 1.5 concept as just the way it must be. Back then the economy was different, social media didn’t exist, etc etc. Many things have changed since ‘back then,’ even if in some ways F1 hasn’t.

      2. Absolutely agree, anon, the benetton and williams were often in a class of their own those years, with only ferrari occasionally competing, the others were like the b-teams of this season, 1994-1995 at least.

  3. Nobody said it was going to be easy. I know I personally was not expecting sudden equitability in 2021, but at least a start toward it. And I think that is still very possible. Surely all the parties involved know all the aspects that need addressing, and have hinted that they agree. If some are now digging in their heals to retain their own advantages and power, them Liberty needs to lay out the plan asap. I don’t believe any big team has or will have enough reason to actually leave. I think Liberty can lay out a plan, which they’ve already basically done, just not announced the final decisions, and those plans will satisfy the teams enough. They can all work together to try to grow the thing, or they can try to continue with more BE days and continue to watch the decline. I think the teams are smart enough to take this opportunity to try some things differently and see where they can take F1. Would that really hurt them? Or would they rather have 100% of nothing? That’s what they have to ask themselves.

  4. Franz Tost, … added another factor: “Because the top teams can invest as much as they want during 2020 for developing the car for 2021, and once they have this big advantage it’s difficult for the other teams to catch up.

    This is a very interesting observation, and calls for a budget cap to kick in before the technical regs are frozen, otherwise a budget cap is a moot point for the first few years.

  5. The gap between the top and the midfield is the greatest it has been in probably something like two decades. I think the regulation changes in 2014 and 2017 were the biggest contributing factors for the gaps being so large. During the V8 era, we always had a team or teams that dominated, but the gap to the rest was never this big. There were the occasional races where a midfield or backmarker team could get an unexpected result or a podium. Since the start of 2017, only Williams and Force India have managed a podium outside of the “big six” (with one apiece). And both of those were in extremely fortuitous circumstances, and it surely isn’t a coincidence that it happened at the same track (Baku). In fact, I don’t recall a race where one of the midfield teams beat any of the top 6 on merit. The fact that Red Bull could be up to 1.2-1.3% slower than Mercedes and Ferrari in 2017 and still comfortably be the third-best is alarming.

    The 2014 regulations played a part in creating this gap by putting a greater emphasis on power unit performance, as during the V8 era, they were all relatively equal by the end, and now anyone that didn’t have a Mercedes PU (or Ferrari later on) would have a colossal handicap. And the works teams had an advantage over the customers, which added to the gap. Additionally, a change in the aerodynamic regulations meant that the top teams, who could afford to start focusing on 2014 without compromising their 2012 and 2013 seasons as much, benefitted. But even still, the field was relatively close.

    The 2017 regulations were the main culprits of what we have now. If you give teams greater freedom to design the cars, you end up with a greater engineering challenge, which is great for engineers, but also means that the teams that have the best engineers, and more of them as well, will eventually succeed, and by quite some margin. I say that in order to have a closer field for 2021, some parts should be standardized for all the teams, and there should be more restrictions on what you can add to certain parts of the car such as the bargeboard area. It takes away from the engineering challenge of F1, but it is a necessary evil if you want a closer field. A budget cap will also aid the goal of a closer field, and of course there is a more even distribution of income throughout the field.

  6. also means that the teams that have the best engineers, and more of them as well, will eventually succeed

    Zak Brown pauses reading your comment, looks up through the glass wall of his office upon cubicles and cubicles of designers, shakes his head and wonders “Just how the heck did we get it so wrong?”

    1. @phylyp I said “best” engineers didn’t I? McLaren seem to have more quantity than quality at the moment. James Key cannot join soon enough.

      1. @mashiat – oh, they’re the best… (in their own eyes) :-P

        James Key – hmm, I’d wait and watch. Paddy Lowe didn’t exactly catapult Williams forward, and it seems that apart from a big name, teams also need a good structure and processes in place, something I’m afraid has been called out as lacking in McLaren from recent seasons (apart from PU woes).

        1. @phylyp To be fair, McLaren doesn’t seem short of innovations, as can be seen from the fact that many teams have copied aspects of their design (mainly Ferrari), which shows that they are still capable of being pioneers. But I think they might be trying to think outside the box too much. They seem to go radical on something, but it turns out to do more harm than good. The block-wishbone that they had in 2014 is an example, which they kept for one season, then abandoned. The slotted rear-wing endplate was another which they pioneered, then dropped. The boards just behind the nose cone were also something they started, then dropped. This shows a worrying trend of McLaren seemingly not being able to know exactly what they are doing. I feel like maybe they should take the Haas route of keeping it simple, and extracting the most out of the car, instead of creating “potential” downforce and then not knowing how to use it. This is a problem that dates way back. I remember when McLaren’s 2013 car came out, everybody was talking it up due to the level of detail they had and the innovations, and it looked good in the first few days of winter testing. But unlike everyone else, they couldn’t get any more out of the car as they didn’t understand it.

          1. From the outside, the big problem that I can observe at Mclaren has been the lack of direction for the best part of this decade. As Zak Brown has mentioned a number of times this year, the constant state of flux at leadership level has certainly had an effect. Couple this the disastrous relationship with Honda and you have a perfect cocktail for utter chaos. The simple fact is, Mclaren have been a organisation that’s become victim of bad management. I think they still have some talented individuals in the team. Pete Prod went there with a big reputation, although that may have taken a bit of a beating lately, he hasn’t lost any of that talent. Andrea Stella is no slouch when it come to race engineering and the likes of Neil Oatley are still there. These people are proven winners, I’m sure they haven’t forgotten how to win, they’ve just not been led effectively.

            This years car is a culmination of all those years of to-ing and fro-ing. The good thing about this year is that its shown them where they actually stand, just ahead of Williams (which warrants its own story). If it wasn’t for some of Alonos’ heroic drives, they’d be much further down in the standings. They’d do well to retain they’re current position next season, because they wont have Alonso to drag them up a few places.

    2. Peter Scandlyn
      1st November 2018, 3:27

      @phylyp You’re giving the lump too much credit. He’s not smart enough to ask that question.

  7. The problem is the historic value of Ferrari. So, either accept multiple tiers within a championship or grow a pair and kick out all manufacturers. This way F1 becomes a car builder and race driver championship where no engine supplier is allowed to do anything else but supply an engine. Very simple. Sure Ferrari, Mercedes and Renault will start complaining. But these are just 3 of the worlds engine builders. Ignore them, forget them. Plenty of parties that will want to supply engines to this new set up.

    1. I think the example of Top Gear needs to be considered: The star actors left and now hardly anyone watches the program. Like it or not, broadcasters buy what they see attracts audiences in other countries, and conversely, they won’t renew a contract if it doesn’t attract a certain threshold audience.
      Fans watch F1 in part to watch Mercedes and Ferrari fighting it out on the race track, so if they and Renault left what would be left for fans to watch? Loosing them looses audience, loosing audience means less TV rights money, less money means less competitive cars, less competitive cars means less audience, etc.
      Meanwhile, at Formula E, Indycar, or some other racing series, subsidiaries of Fiat, Mercedes Benz, and Renault will suddenly get an injection of money and engineering talent, the racing will become better, the audience will grow, advertisers will pay more so their brand can be associated with success, etc.

      1. @drycrust, you are certainly right that, with the sizeable fan bases of those manufacturers, and especially Ferrari, kicking them out is suicidal – Ferrari alone accounts for around a third of the fan base, and a sizeable chunk of those fans have indicated that, if Ferrari left, they will quit the sport as well.

        @mayrton, in the case of Aston Martin, nobody has taken their proposals for entering as being remotely credible – it was pretty plain from start to end that the only reason Andy Palmer was being so vocal about the idea was because Aston Martin were being put on the stock market and the parent company were desperate to publicise the IPO as much as possible in order to pump up interest in the company and to push the share price up.

        The problem is that tactic really hasn’t worked – the IPO was held on the 3rd Oct, but the shares tanked nearly 5% on the first day alone and, at the moment, are currently about 20% off their original share price.

  8. @mayrton – while the tough-guy approach might be appealing, the reality might not be that easy.

    You assume that these “other” engine builders are a bunch of benevolent entities that want to come in and start supplying engines. Reality check – they are profit-driven corporates no different from the incumbent engine builders. We’ve already seen how Aston Martin made all manner of noises expressing interest in F1, but when push came to shove, they quietly backed out.

    I’m sure that after every difficult meeting that Chase Carey has with Mercedes or Marchionne, he’d have come away fantasizing about Liberty not being so dependent on the status quo that he could boldly let teams like that leave :-)

    1. @phylyp It is not so much about taking a tough guy approach, rather a step forward from wanting to keep all happy, which is clearly not working. These other guys are sincere in their desire to become part of F1. There have been plenty. There is a circular issue that prevents them from entering, being the dominance of the manufacturers. So again, get rid of Ferrari, Mercedes and Renault. Then others will come and I assure you Renault will be the first to accept their supplier only status. Liberty are cowards and they will fall because of it.

      1. @phylyp Ok, my last sentence is a bit too much tough guy, but on a serious note: where is their real leadership (the one beyond ‘I can lead to great profits’)? Are they not missing the bigger picture here and are thinking too much short term gains (read: profit). The next generation in their audience is all about authenticity. They will see right through this over-commercialised approach. Liberty needs to do just one thing: be true to the racing DNA that started all this (albeit a rich mans game at the start, for sure.. but I am going for the ‘passion’ part here): Let teams build cars. Let them get an engine in this car from a outside supplier. Then let them put the worlds finest drivers in those cars.

        1. You don’t make any sense you talk about authenticity and then you want to “manage”competitiveness. That is the opposite.

          If you want autenticity then Ferrari is the oldest team in F1 and always build their engine.

          Do you even know what the words you employ mean? Maybe you just have to read George Orwell’s 1984 . Maybe you’ll recognize yourself there.

  9. (warning: this will be slightly depressing – or depressed, depending on your point of view)

    I was a huge F1 fan years back, lost touch with the sport and came back five or six years ago. Ever since I have heard and read uncountable discussions about how it will improve “next year” or “post 201x” or “post 202x”. New rules, new formats of qualifying, new tires, new races, new whatever (when they got to “new graphics on TV” is when it became a bit desperate).

    Don’t get me wrong: there have been good races and interesting stuff. But the constant promises of “next year it will be so much better” hasn’t materialized.

    I have given up on the idea that F1 will improve. It is the way that it is, so better evaluate it on that, rather on pie-in-the-sky plans and promises for sometime in the future.

    This year was the first year where I didn’t make any particular point of arranging to see any races. If I was at home, and didn’t have anything particular else to do, I tuned in and watched the race. I guess I have watched about half or a bit less, and I don’t really feel that I have missed a lot.

    Maybe that’s all for the better?

    1. Maybe that’s all for the better?

      Liberty doesn’t mind as long as you pay your cable bill, which includes a channel that covers F1. 😏

      when they got to “new graphics on TV” is when it became a bit desperate

      This made me laugh 😊

      1. Liberty doesn’t mind as long as you pay your cable bill, which includes a channel that covers F1

        Naah, I’m one of the lucky (?) ones who gets in on free to air, on German RTL (I’m in Denmark, where most basic cable packages throw in a handful of German channels without any extra cost. They are, except for great daily news broadcasts, uniformly horrible.).

        So, if nothing else, F1 has helped me develop a detailed understanding of the German beer, cars, mobile phone and shaving gear market :-) D*mn, they have a lot of commercial breaks to pay for the show.

        1. Ha ha, you’re living the F1 fan’s dream (minus the ad breaks). We have a roughly similar system here, we get the C4 broadcast of the F1 race, with ads interspersed. The one time I start swearing is when the local broadcaster is happy to show cars chugging around behind a VSC/SC, but the moment the announcement is made that racing will resume shortly, decide to cut to an ad break!

    2. Myself went to Zandvoort 1966 with my uncles as a kid and i was a f1 fan. But did you Know the winner Jack Brabham lapped the rest by 2 laps or more and we (as spectator) didn’t care and we saw only 17 cars at the start.
      start points
      1 16 Jack Brabham Brabham-Repco 90 2:20:32.5 1 9
      2 1 Graham Hill BRM 89 + 1 Ronde 7 6
      3 6 Jim Clark Lotus-Climax 88 + 2 Rondes 3 4
      4 14 Jackie Stewart BRM 88 + 2 Rondes 8 3
      5 32 Mike Spence Lotus-BRM 87 + 3 Rondes 12 2
      6 2 Lorenzo Bandini Ferrari 87 + 3 Rondes 9 1
      7 30 Jo Bonnier Cooper-Maserati 84 + 6 Rondes 13

      Just the sounds and speed was mystic (for me) and bewitched me forever….

      1. Ok Graham was almost overtaken for the second time so +1 lap (rondes + laps)

  10. Here is an idea. Dissallow front running WDC and or WCC from bringing updates to the races as long as they hold the lead. Discuss?

    1. It’s effectively success ballast as per the BTCC. It might have helped Ferrari this year ;)

    2. Good idea, finally mercedes would stop winning.

  11. They need to take massive action to get this fixed.

    How about do something like FE? Insist on standard aero on all cars for the first couple of years, then slowly open parts of the car up for modification at a rate that all teams can cope with.

    And/or allow teams to buy an off the shelf car with a good basic engine and give manufactures the option to come in and brand these engines or install their own.

    F1 will simply not survive on the shrinking minority who get excited over end-plates and winglets. The world has changed, not necessarily for the better, but its changed and people expect to see exciting close action in a racing series.

  12. Disheartening to see the ineffectiveness of F1’s new leadership. Good managers are so few and far between anymore.

    1. I think it is early days to be making such a judgement. Liberty and Brawn have opened up a whole world of dialogue and change is coming as contracts run out and as teams will be given time to adapt to the new regs. BE had 50 years, Liberty and Brawn barely 2. They have a massive task in their hands. I’m grateful they’re there trying. Someone had to take over from BE at some point. Let’s give them some time to sort things out. Do they not deserve that?

  13. Here’s a thought, don’t require a cost ceiling, but allow increased prize money for those who do stay below whatever the cost cap is (obviously the cost cap would not include end of year prize money).

  14. Im halfway through the article. But I just wanted to comment before succumbing to the depression of F1s current state.

    This tyre thing has “hybrid engine” situation written all over it in the sense that ita going to cost a FORTUNE for everybody and it make the competition any better… Even if the budget cap goes through, with everything surrounding it, which I seriously doubt at this point. It all seems like a whole waste of effort and money…

  15. Well, maybe total implosion and complete reset ARE the only way forward long-term…

  16. There are 2 problems: what to fix? And how to fix it?

    The current process of having all the teams involved in determining technical regulations and so on, is crazy. Nothing will ever be agreed that pleases everyone, so we either get what we have – F1 teams and F1.5 teams, or suddenly Ferrari threaten to flounce out. Again. Meanwhile revenues overall drop, along with viewers. Someone has to take charge, even if it means a reformation of F1. It simply cannot carry on like this for much longer. There will only be 3 teams left…

  17. Not only will the field not be close to being leveled, until their are strict budget caps, Mercedes will continue to dominate, no matter how hard Ferrari tries, even if Vettel has perfect season. Why? Because Mercedes has a staff 1,500 and better technical resources. So even when Ferrari makes a big step, Mercedes will relentlessly push and push until they equal and surpass it. The only things that could stop Merc are if they make a technical blunder (VERY, VERY unlikely) or if Hamilton retires early and his replacement isn’t a great driver (also unlikely).

    Personally, I don’t think Liberty has the stones to stand up to Ferrari, Merc and Red Bull and do what needs to be done. If they don’t, I suggest that we all enjoy F1 as much as we can for the next few years because without the needed changes, it will either be unrecognizable or gone within 7-10 years.

  18. Actually, in my opinion the only real way to address the Formula 1.5 issue is to relentlessly highlight “Formula 1.5”.

    If people tweet in to broadcasters talking about F1.5 and journalists ask press conference questions about F1.5 and drivers talk about winning Formula 1.5 races and championships it’s probably the only way Liberty will really feel the need to get addressing it – because it will be bad for business if it gets that normalised as a label. It’s already picking up steam surprisingly quickly, and it’s a constant, snappy, flippantly easy reminder of a playing field that’s utterly broken in all sorts of ways. If the F1.5 teams themselves get together and start actually referring to themselves as that (or even something else a bit less flippant), well…”F1″ teams can only have a proper race if there’s “F1.5” to beat, so those 7 other teams should be leveraging their collective bargaining power.

    The two laps in Mexico was a bit freak with the tyres, granted, but the gap is far too big. The hybrid era is technically brilliant but for the competitiveness of the sport it has been an unmitigated disaster. Until another team wins a race – at the bare minimum a freak race but preferably just due to being clever or having the perfect strategy or genuinely having one off pace due to hooking up specific tyre compound, or something else – then F1.5 is just going to get bigger, to be honest.

    I can’t get interested any more in a Merc/Red Bull/Ferrari recovery drive through the field because they have that much pace advantage PLUS DRS, it’s almost embarrassingly easy for them.

  19. Of course it was going tobe impossible for the weak Liberty Media to reset F1.

    F1 used to be Ferrari and the rebellious McLaren. Now is F1 has another Ferrari in the name of Mercedes. These 2 teams work together to shape F1 to benefit them.

    Fercedes will only get stronger as time goes on as they think of a Formula that suits them, while no other teams know what’s happening.

    Only 3 thing needs to happen

    1. Brawn finds couple of outside engine manufacturers who will build the simpler engine to offset the threat of Mercrdes and Ferrari leaving.

    2. Brawn draws up the new rules alone with whatever team he has.

    3. Budget cap and fair distribution of money

    After all this everything else will take care of itself. More manufacturers will join F1, more privateers will join.

    It is that simple, but it will never happen. Again, Liberty are weak. Spineless if you will.

  20. I’d never thought I’d say this, but Liberty needs to learn from Bernie, and play dirty to break the logjam.

    Bernie was the master of divide and conquer, playing off one side against the other. People hated it, but he was able to push his way through.

    Right now, Liberty probably feels like their arms are twisted by Mercedes and Ferrari, as they are two marques for F1. Red Bull also hold sway as they control two teams. And Liberty thinks that they are being backed into a corner by these teams and their conflicting demands.

    Moreover, with the teams meeting, although they don’t seem to be reaching a consensus, they are informally allying against Liberty.

    – Liberty needs to break that hegemony.
    – Liberty should drop a fake hint like “Mercedes have committed to F1 for 15 years”, and thereby indicate that Ferrari are expendable. (Or vice versa, though I personally feel the risk of Mercedes pulling out is higher, whereas Ferrari and F1 are more symbiotic).
    – Then pitch F1 to the other two German autos indicating there’s room for a big name in F1 with Ferrari likely to exit, open discussions with them.
    – Play this back against Mercedes that Liberty are courting both VW and BMW as replacements for Ferrari and Mercedes, to wring out some concessions from Mercedes in terms of fairer regs.
    – Strengthen the media alliance between F1 and these big brands (e.g. Liberty putting out ads about F1 that also splash their names far and wide – separate ads for each, obviously). The smaller teams may not like it, but in the short term this is something needed to get new manufacturers committed.

    Separately, as a sweetener to the smaller teams/independents:
    – Buy out Adrian Newey’s contract from RBR, and get him to design a reference car without any limits on CFD/etc. This can be licensed to the smaller non-manufacturer teams who run on a <£100m budget. They can customize/tweak it if they wish, but the base car should be good enough for most teams. This would bring in a "semi-spec" nature to help the poorer teams better focus their budget away from the complexities and vagaries of aero and wind tunnels, and prevent teams like Williams being forced to sell out in the pursuit of a car/designer that makes them competitive.
    – This should also make it easier to keep up the number of teams involved, as rich investors can also dip their toes in F1 in an easier manner (e.g. Mazepin).

    While there will still be a two-part nature to F1 (manufacturers + independents), it will give a more competitive platform for the independents; since this is achieved by saving them from having to design major aero chunks of the car.

    (Of course, the likely outcome is that we’ll all sit back and watch while F1 implodes if these steps are carried out!)

    1. Very good post. In MotoGP they have the claiming rule, a version of which might work in F1. But as you suggest, allowing teams that spend less to have more power, or better aero, would also improve things a lot.

    2. You can’t pull that sort of crap when you’re a public company, as opposed to what was basically Bernie’s own fiefdom. For one thing, misleading shareholders like that would most certainly be illegal. And Merc is much bigger than F1, so there is no way they would play along and not publicly deny it.

    3. That will never work. Liberty can’t/wont do 1 simple thing never mind all that you’re talking about.

  21. Better distribution of prize money should be prioritised over budget caps. The latter will be impossible to police in practice and runs counter to F1 teams running as businesses.

    Gradually increasing the prize money for those lower down in the championship will help level the playing field in a less top-down way.

    No-one listens to me though :)

    1. It’s common a point of view, albeit wrong. Budget cap could work.

  22. My take is that,amid all this doom and gloom,there’ll be a regeneration of the sport post this regs, whichever year they’ll come. It’s quite difficult accommodating all interests from all parties (FIA,FOM, LIBERTY, TEAMS etc) and coming out of all this with everyone happy. A walk out from Merc or Ferrari will leave the sport on its deathbed. But liberty has to face up to them and come up with a compromise on revenue sharing. I don’t envy Liberty as it stands now.

  23. Just 2 points, 1: It’s not F1.5, it’s F 0.97, and 2: It has been ever thus, whether it was McLaren-Williams-Ferrari or Lotus-BRM-Ferrari etc.etc.

    1. I think the implication with the F1.5 is that it’s the step between F1 and F2; faster than F2 but slower than the top F1 teams hence F1.5 (well, probably F1.85 but still….).

    2. And that’s the point. Liberty should learn from that. Of it wasn’t thustly then it wouldn’t need “fixed”.

  24. Sounds completely dysfunctional. Good to see some media pressure being applied, the teams seem unwilling to stand up at all.

    What I want to know is what is Brawn up to while all this all too Bernie-esque F1 circus is going on. Hopefully spending his days in the office poring over CFD models of potential body shapes moving forward.

    At the end of the day these guys aren’t the ones to be talking regulations and it makes sense that the meetings are seen to be going no where when the guy who is responsible for the regulations isn’t actually present. Liberty, Chase, the teams, certainly Bratches can all have as many meetings as they want. But we all know Brawn is the one who is actually developing what matters on the sporting side.

    1. Bernie’s legacy will be around for quite some time yet. Many of the circus agreements still exist – hence it’s still a circus.

      Things like the F1 TV Pro can’t generate the revenue they’d like (technical issues aside) whilst there’s Pay TV commercial agreements in place locking it out in certain regions. In Australia we’re unable to gain access to F1 TV Pro until 2021 (or something). This is but one of many, many legacy issues which will linger for some time.

      Changes simply can’t happen overnight – and Liberty do fear getting it wrong and ultimately wasting the billions they’ve paid.

      The bigger the ship the harder it is to turn around.

  25. Perhaps we ought to call things by their correct name.
    All the talk about budget caps and levelling performance is just another name for handicapping, so why not call it what it is and properly explore the options.
    IMSA have a Balance of Performance formula that lets different engine formats compete together, from big-banger V8’s down to small capacity turbocharged engines.
    Alternatively BTCC has ‘Success Ballast’ which seems to work quite well.
    I know that to some of the purists on the forums would hate the idea of handicapping and argue that it is against the DNA of F1.
    Realistically though any talk of ‘Equalising the Field’ is just code words for handicapping, so lets just ‘own it’ and discuss possible solutions openly and honestly.

    1. No, no it’s not about handicaping at all. And it’s not just some purists on sites like this, it’s a majority, probably an overwhelming majority.

      Call it what it is – it’s a budget cap. Very different from what you mention. B.o.P has its own issues.

      I’ve been watching GT racing for years and there’s always a way to get around it.
      Look at the Blancpain GT3 Championship. It used to be filled with every kind manufacturer, but slowing they dropped out as Audi started to dominate. Audi started to dominate just as the championships was getting more attention. And by Audi I mean Lamborghini too. Now that championship just looks like DTM, all Merc, Audi and BMW up front with Porshe and Lamborghini floating around.
      There your B.o.P.

  26. Do you remember Formula 1?

    1. Yeah I watched it on Sunday and it was the same as 20 years ago.

      Smaller teams have been getting lapped forever in F1 so no need for faux romanticism along with your opnion.

  27. I don’t want to see the F1 field equalized. At least not dumbed-down to the extent that everyone wins a pony. F1 has never been a level-playing field – it’s a spend-what-you-brung bespoke contest. There’s plenty of spec series to watch the battle of sober cost-accounting.

    F1 is the only autosport left that spends obscene amounts for the tiniest improvements. And many want to see such grotesque gratuitousness curbed. For what? To give the poor teams a shot at reasonably-priced glory?

    Rather than lower the performance bar, I prefer the weaker cheaper teams dropout. Then watch the top teams spend themselves into insolvency. That’s the sort of ‘equalization’ of the grid I’m interested in viewing.

    The insane extravagance of F1 is part of the appeal. Are you not entertained?

  28. As many have pointed out, there’s always been a gap, but there are differences now that didn’t exist in previous iterations of the regulations.
    Yes there was a gap, but the teams at the top varied and the teams in the second tier also varied. There were also chances for lower tier teams to pick up podiums and the odd win. Remember Brawn when it first arrived as a new team?

    Normally during a particular iteration of regulations, the gap as tended to shorten as the development of cars starts to level out and more cars become competitive. This cycle (hybrid engine era and extremely tight chassis regulations) has really failed to do that – maybe there’s something to be learned from that.

    If there’s to be any hope for the future, there needs to be more scope for innovation, whether it be active suspension, moveable wings, ground effects or exhaust blowing or something completely out of left field. That doesn’t necessarily have to favour the top teams – smaller teams have engineers and designers that I’m sure have ideas as well. They just can’t act on them because pretty much everything has been banned under the regulations.

    On the PU front, maybe the only thing that needs to be changed is for manufacturers to build the PU’s with the ability for the teams to develop their own control software or at least allow the teams the option of modifying it. Currently all teams get the software supplied by the PU manufacturer so there doesn’t seem to be much they can do (other than play with fuel) to make any difference to the power or driveability of the PU married to the car.

    Its a great article, and its pretty apparent that nothing much is going to change in 2021 (or beyond) as the impasse that existed in Bernie’s time hasn’t really changed. Again it begs the question of what on earth Liberty bought F1 for, something that I’m not really sure has been revealed yet.

    1. What is different this time is nearly complete lack of testing in season. Meaning cars start more equal in Australia and bigger teams with better CFD and engineers will eke out in front by the end of year. It is really hard to fix something if you can’t even tell what is wrong – having huge team of engineers especially for track-to-computer analysis helps tremendously.

      Even more, the whole point of banning testing was to bring down budgets. Well, has it?

  29. Great discussion. A couple of unmentioned irritants.
    In order to “reduce costs” testing was first limited than cut out. Basically the current testing schedule is so short that teams, both the E1 and F1.5, can’t do development work and on track testing to improve performance during the season or prove the effectiveness of their upgrades. Ferrari, McLaren and Williams are obvious examples of this in 2018.
    Question then, does limiting testing actually save money or does it also give the big budget teams opportunity to do simulation and bench testing as a replacement.? Something he smaller budget operations don’t have the resources to undertake with the same effectiveness.
    The current Parc Ferme rules effectively guarantee that the team that is fastest in qualifying will be fastest in the race. Yes, I appreciate that there are minor issues to counter that, but in general, without being able to fix, modify, adjust or tweak the cars between qualifying and the race may have reduced some costs, but it also prevents those who qualify further back from resolving issues they may have prior to the race. Does not this overall process promote processional races.? It would certainly take away a component that could otherwise add some spice to the proceedings.
    The two items, testing limitations and Parc Ferme rules have possibly reduced some costs, but has either concept improved the racing? I doubt it and would say the opposite has occurred in both cases.

    1. Yes the costs of having truck to carry your car to track and renting the track are gone (also gone are the profits for track..).
      But to simulate this new engineers need to be hired. And yes when you have gone in the wrong direction or your wind tunnel is simply off, it will take months to find this out. I seriously doubt Williams and McLaren would have been in the dump for so long when they just could have gone to the track and check if their assumptions of car behavior have been right.

  30. Toto described their cars as F3 after Mexico race, so those Formula 1.5 should be fixed as Formula 4.

  31. I don’t really understand why people think Liberty can just wave a magic wand and suddenly make F1 better.

    There are many, many, many hard lessons to be learnt (which Carey and Liberty are learning) – not to mention the destructive legacy from BE which needs to be slowly unpicked over time.

    The F1 machine is unique and horrendously complex. There truly is nothing else like it in the world.

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