Christian Horner, Red Bull, Circuit de Catalunya, 2020

Introduce customer cars to save struggling teams – Horner

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In the round-up: Red Bull team principal Christian Horner has called for the reintroduction of customer cars to prevent Formula 1 teams collapsing.

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The debate over whether racing behind closed doors is even practical for Formula 1 goes on:

Even a race behind closed doors is unlikely. A thousand team crew in the pit lane, a few hundred more for marshalls, timers, FIA officials etc, and another couple of hundred for camera crews and commentators, etc. There’s simply no way to run an F1 race with just a few people practicing social distancing. And this assumes that host and home governments will allow foreigners in and out. And that all the teams agree to race.

There won’t be any racing until either nations give up on the idea of lockdown (because they’re going broke), or a vaccine is available.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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  • 34 comments on “Introduce customer cars to save struggling teams – Horner”

    1. An issue with customer cars is that while some teams would benefit those in the mid-field who weren’t running customer cars would be hurt more.

      For instance let’s say the 2020/21 Williams is a big enough step that it allows them to be in the mid with the Alpha Tauri’s & Alfa Romeo’s, If you suddenly give those 2 teams a customer Ferrari/Red Bull you suddenly leave Williams well off the pace again which doesn’t really benefit anybody.

      And yes you could argue that Williams have the option of running a customer car themselves but they have made clear many times over the years that they want to be a constructor & therefore running a customer car isn’t of interest to them. In that situation it wouldn’t be fair to force them to run a customer car anymore than it would be to effectively penalize them for not doing so.

      And you also have the fact that all the teams have already spent money on designing/building a 2020/21 car in which case giving them a customer car now would basically mean they just wasted a fortune & likely wouldn’t actually save all that much given how most of the cost is likely in the initial design & production with the need to produce upgrades/spares been the bigger cost over a season.

      1. toomanymaxes
        19th April 2020, 4:52

        I don’t see anything but negatives in replacing any 20/21 cars so I’ll assume the proposal is for the next generation (2023? anybody, anybody?). Who doesn’t love Williams? But their preference shouldn’t be the deciding factor in anything that may be crucial to the survival of the series.

      2. This site doesn’t often need a like button. But this is the perfect example of a post that needs nothing added to it, except a like.


      3. There is also the long term issue if mid field and back of the grid teams can buy a customer car. Chances are these teams will get rid of some of their engineers who design their cars. After 2 years they are all then facing the question of whether to try to keep the customer car program going or try to get some of those engineers and facilities back. Some teams might not just get rid of some of their engineers but also sell some of their facilities. Because if you are not going to use that stuff for 2 years then why keep it? Not using does not mean not having to pay rent, leases and other running costs.

        And who knows what this does to the budget gap. I also dislike how this would give even more power to the top teams when they can make the mid field teams vote for their ideas. That being said customer engines are a requirement especially with these morbidly expensive and complex engines. Especially considering teams have not built their own engines since the 50s. But the fact is even regardless of the engine formula f1 teams need engine manufacturers (be that mercedes, cosworth or gibson) because the teams just can’t do it and it doesn’t make sense to ask them to do it. F1 is a chassis building championship. Not engine building championship. Drivers’ and constructors’ championships. No engine championships.

        Unlike customer engines, customer cars has a chance to permanently damage f1. The 2021 rules were already pushing it quite far with design limitations and standard parts and with customer cars the introduction of spec chassis would only become a question of time. Once merc or red bull leaves it is all indycars from down there. Spec chassis. We already in dire straits with the engines if merc for example leaves. Teams would not have engineers nor facilities to build anything and once their customer car manufacturer has gone the spec chassis becomes the only option left. That or have ferrari build.. a spec chassis… every year. After some time someone asks why build a new chassis every year. Why not every 5 years?

        1. Biskit Boy (@sean-p-newmanlive-co-uk)
          19th April 2020, 9:39

          I can never understand this ideological stance that dictates customer cars or standard parts somehow devalue F1. Perhaps it’s because what really matters to me is to sit down on a Sunday afternoon and be thrilled by the spectacle of a large pack of mechanical beasts ridden by skilled pilots. And to know I don’t know who will win makes it even more watchable.
          The best way to continue to make F1 flourish is to not focus on making it “chassis building championship”. Don’t get me wrong. I love technology and innovation, but the current approach is throttling F1 in an ever decreasing circle.
          F1 has gone through tough times before where compromise is what kept it afloat. These super rich teams and the powers that be need to allow the wealth to be spread, or the technology to be spread.
          I’m looking forward to a Green or Pink Red Bull with a new young driver taking on the established teams. It could be fireworks.

          1. @sean-p-newmanlive-co-uk there were accusations that, when customer cars were tolerated in the past, there were instances of larger teams sometimes screwing over smaller teams that started doing a bit too well (Super Aguri in 2007 is one that comes to mind).

            There does seem to be a fear that those larger teams that sell those customer cars will use their power and leverage over those teams to serve their own interests at the expense of the sport. In this particular case, there is a pretty obvious benefit for Horner to want customer cars – not only the obvious money saving opportunities for Red Bull, since it’s pretty obvious that Toro Rosso would be given a works car for a nominal fee, but also the fact that it increases Red Bull’s ability to interfere with their rivals during a race as well.

            It would also have the benefit that giving Toro Rosso a works Red Bull would potentially help keep outfits like Renault or McLaren from threatening their position as well. Toro Rosso, in that case, becomes a useful buffer that helps keep a team like McLaren further down the WCC – eroding their potential to earn money in the WCC and threaten their position, whilst at the same time making Toro Rosso a profit centre for Red Bull (since you then have minimal development costs, but gain the full benefit of your finishing position in the WCC).

            1. Biskit Boy (@sean-p-newmanlive-co-uk)
              19th April 2020, 17:42

              That would be solved by making customer cars available to any customer without conditions. Truly off the shelf.
              Meaning if Ferrari offered to sell customer cars, Mercedes could buy one. Obviously a customer Ferrari wouldn’t be a works one, but if there’s no contract then there can be no strings legally. A bit far fetched I know but I’m principle I don’t see why it couldn’t be made to work. Customer cars we much more than “tolerated” in the past. Back in the day F1 was much more open and less of a closed shop. So long as a car was legal it’s heritage made no difference. No bureaucracy, just sport.
              I can dream!

      4. Of course you would, Christian, you’ve a customer lined up. Dieter’s recent article about Prodrive & David Richards is still relevant. Williams would, no doubt, legally challenge any attempt to allow customer cars, but, as we’ve seen with the airline industry, folks seem to think they can pick and choose (I’m looking at you KLM) which laws apply just now.

        F1 may keep 1 “small” team, but would lose Williams. See also Adam Parr’s “8×3” concern (although 8×3 is a bit optimistic now, I think).

      5. I agree there @stefmeister, @socksolid, this idea isn’t really any different from Ferrari telling the world it would be a great idea to have leading teams who sell parts to others be allowed a larger budget and have the rest of the grid for lower budgets “since they save on development cost”.

        The issue is @sean-p-newmanlive-co-uk that with customer cars you create a two tiered field. Competitors who only buy parts and become also rans/field fillers, and competitors who develop & sell, who are the ones winning and profiting. Once you go full out to just buying things, you don’t need any team for development, so to save money you sell machines, ditch these engineers etc. There really is no way back then.

        And you can be sure that you will always be buying the last gen equiment which might be a tad more reliable, and could be predictably fast. But it won’t be the fastest. So you won’t be doing any winning.

        1. Biskit Boy (@sean-p-newmanlive-co-uk)
          20th April 2020, 9:11

          Well BaCB, I hear what you say, but I respectfully disagree.

          The argument you put forward propagates the same flawed logic that has got us where we are. Let’s just remind ourselves where that is:
          1. Realistically only 2 or 3 teams have a chance of winning a race because is so costly to be competitive.
          2. The cost of moving a back of the grid team to a midfield one, let alone a front one is colossal.
          3. The chances of a new team joining is just about zero.
          4. The danger of teams dropping out (with the corresponding loss of engineers etc) is high.

          I don’t like the cost cap idea, its fraught bureaucratical danger, accountancy instead if sport, I hope it works, but I think it will fail.

          So SOMETHING has to be done.

          You argue the introduction will create a two tier field, I’d argue it already is. Customer cars would be an affordable tier. Once a team is established, it can attract sponsors and survive. Besides a two tier field is better than a no tier field.
          What about the idea of customer cars supplied by a non-competitor? Ala Reynard or Dallara? Teams could use their engineers to modify, develop and refine these cars. Are you against these too? If not provided competitor supplied customer cars come with no contractual strings, I don’t see the difference.

          I see you comment on Racefans frequently so I know you share my passion for F1. I want it to survive. I fear unless deeply held principles are compromised upon, F1’s glory days are over.

    2. “If we were really serious about reducing the cost, particularly for the small teams, I would be in full favour of supplying for the next two years a full customer car,” he said. “The smaller teams wouldn’t need any R&D. They would run just as race teams and they would reduce their costs enormously.”

      OK, I’m not going to argue that this is against the “DNA of F1”, or any such hypothetical argument.

      No, I’m just conscious that with the focus on helping out entities, we lose sight of helping out the people in those entities. Nothing brings this home more than a recent article I read about US airlines planning to layoff a lot of staff after receiving billions as a bailout.

      So, let’s consider customer cars. Consider Williams pays Mercedes £25 million and gets a pre-built car. Or the designs to a car which they have to build. What happens to the people that Williams had to employ for R&D, and maybe manufacturing? There’s lesser/no need for them to be retained.

      On the contrary, it makes the employer market for those skills in the motosport valley that much stronger, a fact that will benefit the big teams supplying the customer cars. I’m not sure devaluing skills and experience is a road we should head down. In the long run, that would make the top teams amass more talent, and hurt small teams more if F1 ever decides to return to its constructor model.

      @coldfly had a better suggestion some days ago (sorry, my Google-fu isn’t up to scratch to find that comment) that went along the lines of giving teams a baseline design as a proven starting point and let teams evolve the car from there on. That still keeps their design and build staff engaged, it might even teach them a few tricks.

      Horner, however, says that some teams have used the budget cap debate as a chance to push their own agendas. It’s about trying to bring the top teams down to a level where the midfield teams feel they can compete.

      I agree that there is an agenda being pushed by everyone with an opinion, Horner included. I don’t think it’s only limited to midfield teams trying to clip the big teams’ wings.

      The reality is that whatever the level of spend there will always be teams that run at the front and teams that run at the back.

      This is a very disingenuous statement. Yes, the nature of a competition means that there has to be a winner, and a last-place finisher. But Horner is arguing that irrespective of the cost of a Lamborghini or a Lada, they can compete on fair terms.

      I disagree – there’s a huge difference between teams who can effortlessly afford to bring a few specs of front wing to trial on Friday and run one of them on the weekend with spares available, to teams who can afford to bring only one or two pieces of a new design, and have to no longer have spares beyond that.

      1. No, I’m just conscious that with the focus on helping out entities, we lose sight of helping out the people in those entities.

        Spot on, that is exactly why customer cars is an even worse idea now than it is at any other time, @phylyp.
        Any support to teams should help them survive the next 1-2 years in order to protect their staff, not to prioritise the protection of the shareholders.

        PS this is the comment you were referring to; helping the small teams to be prepared for, and competitive in, 2022/2023 without having to spend more than they can afford.
        This idea might help as well, to balance the teams who want to spend more and the team who cannot afford more.

      2. Well worded comment there @phylyp. As you mention, a team that would only buy in stuff will save money by firing the very engineers (and manufacturing personell) that make up the team and make it what it is.

        Thanks for filling in the blank there @coldfly. Would be a good idea to provide those designs. That way every team can profit from work already done to at least have a solid baseline.

    3. COTD highlights the worst case scenario of business as usual, I’m sure F1 can do better with some effort and goodwill from the teams and governing bodies, especially if they accept that a travelling circus is impossible and accept that basing the season at Silverstone until things change is the only realistic option. At the risk of being further derided as a rose-tinted spectacles wearing dinosaur I urge fans to watch video of F1 pre 1970’s to see how small teams were then.

      1. watch video of F1 pre 1970

        I’ll get my super 8 projector out.

        1. I would love the watch the 1960-1970 again as those were the races i started with.

    4. Could be 3 months, could be 18 months without real racing, who knows.

      In the meantime, if e-series like Indycar and Supercars are the substitute, I will certainly be watching. Both series have put on a great show so far.

      It might not be for everyone and that’s fine. But the racing and competition is real and its exciting to watch if you give it a chance.

      1. Agreed. I was quite pessimistic about watching IndyCar sim racing and have enjoyed it more and more every race. They have been surprisingly exciting. The fact that you have a full grid of actual drivers and their engineers working their strategy makes it much more interesting than I ever imagined. The production of the broadcast is done well too. All of it is much better than F1’s effort. Until we get the real thing back again, this is the next best thing. Thank you IndyCar!

    5. Toto now has a conflict of interest and should step down from his role at Mercedes.

      1. Until 2016 he had shares in Williams and it was never considered for him necessary to step down from Mercedes, why would it be necessary now?

        1. J_Oliver, I suspect the real motive behind kpcart’s comments would be a desire to break up Mercedes in the hope that it might then give Verstappen and Red Bull an easier time, given that he has shown a strong bias towards them. The reason why he didn’t care in the past is because, quite simply, that was back when Max was still a Toro Rosso driver and wasn’t competing against Mercedes.

      2. Isaac Jan Rosenthal
        19th April 2020, 7:29

        Mercedes itself has stake in Aston Martin

      3. It is a back-up plan.
        It is not like Force India wasn’t a B team already, their pit strategy used to revolve around Merc’s needs.
        This is a way for him to stay in f1 if Daimler pulls the plug and, in the meantime go up a step himself. It might be a good thing for Brackley.

    6. Potentially three races around Silverstone and Circuit de Catalunya? Silverstone is the best venue for racing on more than one weekend due to most teams having their bases in England. Regarding layout-variation possibilities, the most ideal one would be Circuit Paul Ricard, but like with Circuit de Catalunya, the location isn’t as ideal from the logistical-standpoint compared to Silverstone. Furthermore, the multiple Spanish GPs would most likely have to take place in August, although at least last year that month wasn’t bad temperature-wise. September and October would work as well. There’d be less room within those months, though, unless many of the regular non-European races at that time of year would get called off or make room.

      Chase Carey in Sean Kelly’s tweet, though.

    7. Toto Wolff has bought a stake worth about £37million in Aston Martin
      Wolff’s stake in Aston is 4.77 per cent, though that will be watered down next week. Fully diluted following the pending rights issue, this investment will represent a 0.95 per cent stake in the company.

      Would be ludicrous to invest now and not be prepared to participate in the upcoming rights issue.
      It seems that Stroll et. al. has devised a plan to shake out the old shareholders by forcing them to either invest more or see their participation dilute by 400%.

      1. The RNS says he bought in on 17th April at which time the shares were ex-rights. The shares were acquired from Yew Tree i.e. from Stroll & Co.

        This purchase is a “strategic” investment i.e. it doesn’t make any sense on the face of it. Private equity didn’t sell all of their shares when AML floated so there’s a further shake to come or they’ll be diluted out of existence (further). Get your popcorn folks & stand well clear.

        1. Thanks Not George.
          If he bought ex-rights shares then those are not worth GBP37M, but more likely something in the order of GBP10-15M.

      2. Can someone explain this is plain English? On the face of it he lost out..

        And what’s Wolff’s end goal with this? Surely not to go down the pit lane in the ‘forever losers’ camp?

    8. Reading the comments it looks like I intended it in another (wrong) way. I understood Chris Horner means a third car for paying drivers. You can still have a fair constructor championship by only counting the top two scores from your drivers in the end. And struggling teams can sell that third seat, at the high price they feel is needed for them to stay afloat, at every race to the best bidding driver (or sponsor of).

    9. Alpha Tauri, Haas and Racing Point are effectively ‘customer’ teams as it is.

      Frank Williams would NEVER buy a car from another team.

      CART in the late 90s/early 2000s had enough variety of chassis and engine suppliers to keep things mixed up and allow one combination to be the dominant pack package, but F1 doesn’t have that luxury right now.

      1. Exactly to your first 2 points.

        A Reynard-Honda-Firestone combination was pretty dominant. CART had Reynard, Lola, Eagle & Penske chassis if I remember correctly. Eagle & Penske were duds, Lola & Toyota were only competitive with JPM and when Reynard went bust.

        It was talent such as Greg Moore that kept Mercedes anywhere near the front. God help anyone who was on Goodyear’s. Great times though barring “the split” and the deaths of Moore, Rodriguez & Krosnoff.

    10. Horner being gracious and helpful to the ‘little’ teams when F1 is in mothballs and nothing is on the line on a slow news day is a wondrous thing.

    11. Hey @keithcollantine I’m getting very intrusive ads on racefans lately. (Whole screen covering ones)

    12. Horner, predictably, trying to get back their maximum benefit from Torro Rosso/Alpha tauri again. It wa smuch cheaper for them when they could simply design one car for both teams. Like in 2008.

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