McLaren team principal Zak Brown has vehemently criticised Ferrari’s opposition to a further reduction in Formula 1’s budget cap.
He also challenged McLaren’s decades-old rival to reveal why it prevented the FIA from disclosing details of the settlement the two parties reached following an investigation into Ferrari’s power unit last year.
Yesterday Ferrari described plans to reduce the planned 2021 cap from $175 million plus exceptions to less than $145 million as a “demanding request”. It warned it may race in other championships as a result, which some took as a veiled threat to quit F1.
Brown said other team representative he has spoken to are outraged by Ferrari’s response, and tackled their stance in a 10-minute oration at the start of a teleconference with media including RaceFans:
“We’re obviously in a situation now where if Formula 1 goes by its old habits we’re all at extreme risk for the future of Formula 1,” said Brown. “And I think if we think forward and get with the times we can not only survive what’s going on right now but I ultimately think the sport can thrive and we all win.
“When I look at the various comments that have been made, I’m all for a good healthy debate but the comments I’m being seen put forward don’t stack up, contradict themselves and don’t accurately reflect what I think is reality.
At the end of the day it’s all about the fans. Because if you get it right with the fans then everything else falls into place: Promoters will want more races, governments will want more races, there’ll be more sponsors, there’ll be more television, there’ll be more television ratings, there’ll be more journalists covering the sport. And I think we have a real opportunity here to have a healthy Formula 1 moving forward.”
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Devaluing Formula 1
Ferrari has warned lowering the budget cap further threatens to diminish F1’s status at the leading motorsport category. “There’s speak of devaluing Formula 1 as the pinnacle of motorsport if we bring the cost cap down to – pick a number, $135 million, $125 million,” said Brown.
“We all know motorsport well enough that there is not another form of motorsport even close to Formula 1 as far as the technical sophistication of the sport and at a $180 million spend which, let’s also not forget, that’s just one part of the spend. Depending on what you’re paying your drivers, paying for your engines, you’re still north of $200 million.
“I don’t know another form of motorsport that is remotely close to that level of spend, size of racing teams – even if some teams have to reduce in size. The majority of other motor sports are some sort of spec chassis and there are a few engines to choose or a spec engine, a few engines to choose from. Some are almost completely spec.
“So I don’t believe at all that a reduced budget cap in any way compromises the DNA of Formula 1 as being a technology leader in motorsport.”
Allowing smaller teams to purchase complete cars from manufacturers has been suggested by Red Bull and Ferrari, but other teams such as Haas are sceptical of the idea. Brown said the idea contradicts the notion that F1 should be the technological pinnacle of motor racing.
“One of the proposed solutions is customer cars,” he noted. “If the sport is all about the future, the last time there were customer cars I believe were the 1970s.
“So if Formula 1, which is all about being a constructor, and it’s been decades since there’s been customer cars, I don’t see how that potential solution is consistent with the other comment that the DNA of Formula 1 is a constructors’ championship and technology evolution. That feels like the solution from the seventies.”
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Brown then challenged the suggestion that smaller teams’ goal in lowering the budget cap is to turn F1 into a profit-making activity. “‘It’s not about profit’, was another comment,” he said. “I agree.
“Unfortunately there’s not many teams, really any, turning a profit. I don’t believe that the people involved in Formula 1 are involved to drive a profit, I think they’re there to drive franchise value. Each team has different reasons why they’re in Formula 1 and a lot of that is to deliver value to other businesses, whether it’s the drinks business or the road car business.
“But as you all know it’s going to be improved the new revenue sharing. The top team gets five times more than the least-funded team by Formula 1. So I would suggest if it’s not about profitability maybe it should be reviewed yet again as to what the distribution of the economics of the sport should be.
“If we look at probably one of the most successful forms of sport and the most balance revenue distribution I think you look at the NFL as a model which, while it has the big teams and the smaller teams, the small teams do have the ability to win the Super Bowl and, from time to time, they do.”
No time to lose
“Another comment was that we should not react in a hurry and take our time,” he said. “I’m almost at a loss at what to say to that.
“I think we all recognise that in modern times we’re going through the biggest crisis the world has seen. We have countries shut down. We have industries shut down. And to not be in a hurry to address what’s going on I think is a critical mistake. It’s living in denial.
“I think you would find pretty much every president or prime minister or CEO around the world is operating in a hurry to tackle this issue head-on. And I don’t think any of us know how long it’s going to go or how long and how deep the impact will be. But to take our time I think is a very poor leadership strategy. Certainly not one that myself or McLaren and many of the CEOs I’ve spoken to around the world are taking. I’ve not heard ‘take our time’ be on anyone’s approach.”
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Ethical duty to employees
Brown agreed teams have “an ethical duty to look after employees” and is sympathetic to larger teams’ concerns a lower budget cap could force them to lay off staff. However, he pointed out, the idea they could deploy them in other racing series was not credible.
“I don’t quite understand the commentary around potentially looking elsewhere to race. I don’t see anywhere else that has the DNA of Formula 1. And also knowing motorsports pretty well I think if you competed in about every other form of motor racing combined you still would be over-staffed. So I’m not sure I follow both the ‘DNA’ and ‘putting people to work’ logic in other forms of motor sports.”
He also questioned whether Ferrari’s behaviour over its recent secret power unit settlement with the FIA was ethical.
“I’m all for having ethical duties and along the line of ethics I think it would be great if Mattia [Binotto, Ferrari team principal] would share with us, as the FIA has volunteered to share, what the details were behind the secret agreement that they came to over the alleged breach of regulations around their engines. So while we’re on the topic of ethics and transparency, I think that would be a good point and time well served.”
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