Mercedes 2018 championship celebrations

Analysis: How F1 teams kept getting bigger in 2018

2018 F1 season

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Formula 1 teams continued to hire more staff in 2018 despite the sport’s owners planning to cap budgets after the next two seasons.

RaceFans compiled data on the staffing levels of each team over the past six seasons. For ease of comparison only the teams’ chassis building operations were taken into consideration, excluding the engine-building programmes which only Mercedes, Ferrari and Renault have.

Over the last five years the average F1 team has grown from 450 staff to 620 – an increase of more than a third. It isn’t just the big teams which are hiring: Racing Point intends to hire at least another 100 staff over the next two years, growing to more than 500.

The team was known as Force India until went into administration at mid-season, which prompted fears among senior management that they might lose key staff to their rivals.

However team principal Otmar Szafnauer told the official F1 website last week they “lost nobody” during the period of uncertainty during the summer break.

“Not a single soul,” he said. “It was a big deal and very difficult to do because usually the best people that are known to the other teams will have had offers and they did have offers from the likes of McLaren and Williams and Renault, and some others.”

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Haas remains F1’s smallest team by far as a result of its unique structure. The team has exploited the ‘listed parts’ regulations to the fullest to obtain as much of its car from suppliers as it is able to, allowing it to operate with a far smaller staff – little more than a quarter the size of Mercedes or Ferrari’s chassis operations.

Romain Grosjean, Kevin Magnussen, Haas, Circuit of the Americas, 2018
Haas is at the fighting weight of 1996 title-contending team
The staffing levels required to run a championship-winning team are considerably higher. Haas’s 250 staff is approximately as many Williams had when it won the 1996 championship. During a previous successful championship campaign in 1987, Williams had just 85 staff.

Today Williams closely matches the levels of spending and staffing targeted by the budget cap plans, yet it finished 2018 last in the championship.

A key sticking point in the ongoing debate around F1’s budget cap is its potential effect on staff levels. Teams are concerned a sudden reduction in their budgets could force them to lay off large numbers of staff.

Liberty Media has revised its original plan for a $150 million cap to come into force in 2021. The initial cap will now be set at $200 million, then fall in $25 million increments to $150 million by 2023. However there’s little indication yet this is having an effect on staffing levels.

*Excluding engine-building operations

How much money did F1’s teams spend in 2018? Read the first part of Dieter Rencken’s analysis in his RacingLines column later today on RaceFans.

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2018 F1 season

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24 comments on “Analysis: How F1 teams kept getting bigger in 2018”

  1. Great data. Can’t believe Mercedes grew so much in Ross Brawn’s final year. He clearly did the right things but left before reaping benefits. Mclaren the only existing team to de-grow in at least one year. Another sign that the team has lost its marbles.

  2. I will certainly find it interesting to see how this budget cap thing plays out. For everyone other than Merc, Ferrari, McLaren and RB, it probably won’t matter. But to those 4, it will be massive if they have to cut their workforce down to the level of others.

    Firstly, there are real people involved here that will lose their jobs. If the 630 head count that Williams have is the target, that means there will be 940 people who lose their jobs in the top 4 employers. I say that again. 940 people will lose their jobs! At Ferrari and Merc, 33% of their workforce will lose their jobs. I know it isn’t as simple as that calculation, but even allowing for variables, a lot of people will lose their jobs.

    But lets put that emotion aside and look at the mechanics of this. The top 4 employers are going to go backwards on employment numbers. That is going to be a huge task to undertake. And it’s going to be massively disrupting to morale. People will argue that cutting back on number allows a company to sweep out the dead wood and retain only the best staff. However in reality it doesn’t work like that. The minute a companies staff knows that 25% of the workforce is about to be cut, everyone goes into protection mode and their focus shifts. And it is likely that the job cuts will come 2 years after the FIA announcement. That is a long time to wonder if you are on death row.

    And then after the cuts are made, there is always the morale problems arising from the “Why did Jimmy get cut when clearly Bob is worse at his job. Management doesn’t know anything”. And don’t forget the budget cuts to all departments which will result in staff trying to do the same with less money and getting frustrated as a result.

    Morale has to take a hit here and you may manage it well given the circumstances, but it can never be a good exercise no matter how good your management is.

    So that leads me to question whether the real winners here are the teams that don’t need to cut staff or only need to cut a few. Renault for instance could be a massive winner here. I have heard Abiteboul talk about staff numbers and the budget cap a few times. Does he have half an eye on this? Well of course he does. They all do.

    I do worry about McLaren though. They already have staff problems without the cuts. If they can’t increase morale quickly, this might kill them.

    1. @mickharrold You forgot to add Renault.

      1. I did add them. I said they might be the big winners here. They are on the limit for staff now, so no cutbacks.

    2. Those people who will lose their job at the top 4 teams will for some part probably go to the bottom 4 teams as their staff numbers are a lot less than the target.

      1. Possibly, but not so sure about that.
        About 4 years ago, Toyota decided to cut 600 staff from their 1800 manufacturing staff here. It wasn’t last in first out stuff either. They cut the dead wood and the union made a big deal of it. I own a business in close proximity to the factory and the local government got behind trying to get them jobs. But who is going to employ the “Dead wood” cut from other companies. Rightly or wrongly, they are tarnished with a brush.

    3. Interesting point… but your initial comments about redundancies fail to move me. How can you have sympathy for people who are being taken on now (or in the last year or two), or their employers, when they all know there are likely to be cutbacks in the next couple of years…! You have to regard such jobs as ‘freelance’ – and I suspect many of them are – or are short-term contracts…
      But I will have no sympathy for the employers’ whines when this occurs. They are deliberately (and perhaps unnecessarily) taking on extra staff now in order to have them when the cuts arrive.
      I worked for decades as a freelance in the entertainment industry, and then for several years on 12-month contracts for a major international organisation. When they were taken over more than 60% of staff were laid off. I happily volunteered – for the redundancy payments…
      There was publicity in the press about the company’s loss. I recall no sympathy for the employees – nor did I expect it.

  3. Just in case anyone’s wondering the order of the Mercedes cars in the top image from left to right is as follows:

    1. @jerejj

      With the respective champions number on the car

  4. Williams and Mclaren employed 730 to 760 people to still finish in last and second last respectively. They’ve both hit a seriously poor level of efficiency recently. Crazy to think that Red Bull hires pretty much the same number of people as them yet, and is around 2 seconds a lap faster than either of their cars.

    1. Sorry.. Didn’t mean Mclaren finished in last. but they had the second slowest car by the end of the year.

    2. Yes, and heads rolled at Williams too. It’s been a long season for them. Hopefully their new car will be a big improvement on this year’s one, otherwise they might have to consider going down the path of Haas and making as much use of the “listed parts” database as they can.

      1. It would be a sad day if Williams became a glorified outsourcing unit as well.

        1. @todfod, on the other hand, some have argued that part of the reason why Williams is not particularly efficient when you account for the size of their workforce is the insistence on manufacturing as much as possible in house, even for components where there is no real benefit in terms of cost or performance – indeed, in some cases it would probably be a lot more efficient to buy from a third party (and that isn’t necessarily another team either – they really don’t seem to making the best use of third party component suppliers either).

          1. Agree.

            I mean every midfield F1 team in the paddock could go for parts supplied by Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull to reduce their costs and improve their overall performance. But just think about how sad the state of the sport would be. While I do think Williams could help themselves going the Haas route, I respect them for taking the moral high ground.

    3. Williams did not exactly had the drivers to do any better than last. McLaren had Alonso who clearly gave up on his team while Vandoorn just never had it.
      Both teams clearly did not produce a competitive car despite both having years of experience compare to Haas and Force India/Point Racing

  5. Nice info. @keithcollantine @dieterrencken Did you have a data of some assumption on what percentage does staffing cost on team overall budget?

  6. unrelated to the article, but look at the size of those cars! perhaps it’s an odd artefact from the perspective of the photographer, but they just look huge. I realise there’s a lot of complex machinery going on behind the driver and the frontal impact structure is necessarily quite long, but my word, they look outsized!

    1. @frood19 Yes, indeed, although the image angle might give out a slightly wrong picture of the actual sizes.

    2. You can tell by the minute size of the people at the back that the foreground is ‘larger than life’… caused by a wide-angle lens.

  7. Seems to me the big teams are gearing up for the budget cap battle by making themselves so large Liberty will have to increase the cap in order to preserve employment and avoid negative headlines.

    I seriously doubt the cap will actually eventuate like most thinks they’ve touted.

  8. One option not mentioned is for Liberty Media to get more parts allowed to be bought from outside F1 under the Listed Parts regulations. If staff sizes are going to be cut then teams will need to get more parts and stuff like software from outside F1, so why not prepare the ground and see what happens?
    Haas finished the season arguably in 5th place in the Constructors’ Championship thanks to maximising the use of those regulations, so what’s to stop other teams doing the same? Nothing is stopping it other than their belief they can do better than Haas by following the path the top teams are following. If Haas were to start getting podium finishes that viewpoint would change, other teams would see they can use their money more wisely by buying in parts made for the job than spending days or even weeks building their own. When that happens there will be a very quiet reduction in staff sizes.

    1. @drycrust: I find the Haas strategy a short-term solution and disingenuous at best. They are totally dependent on the massive Ferrari budget. They rise and fall on boot lace’s of Ferrari’s performance. So far it’s been successful.

      But if Ferrari’s budget is cut, staff eliminated and performance suffers, then so does the performance of Haas. If the budget cap were to be implemented as designed, those teams dependent on the big teams for technology will suffer as much or more than the big teams. Which would maintain the current F1 pecking order.

      A budget cap is no solution for the mediocre teams to be less mediocre. But, could make the big teams more mediocre. Which possibly helps Liberty’s shareholders – it would give Liberty the excuse to keep more revenue for themselves – since the teams won’t need more money.

      As you suggest, F1 teams could look outside for parts (which it does already), but getting more parts from outside is the slide into spec series mediocrity. For me, there’s plenty of mediocre spec series available to watch – F1 needs their bespoke allure or fall back into the pack of also-ran racing.

  9. Not knowing how the proposed caps may be structured or implemented or if they will even happen all is speculation. But in reality if the teams feel that they cannot function at the current level if they reduce staff numbers. There are ways for Merc, Ferrari, Renault and Honda to continue to keep the same level of commitment (staff & budget) while actually reducing the numbers and budgets on the face of it.
    Like I said it depends on how these proposed changes are structured implemented and enforced if they are brought in.

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