Zak Brown, McLaren, Circuit de Catalunya, 2020

McLaren’s Brown blasts Ferrari over opposition to budget cap cut

2020 F1 season

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McLaren team principal Zak Brown has vehemently criticised Ferrari’s opposition to a further reduction in Formula 1’s budget cap.

In a press conference on Thursday evening Brown dismissed Ferrari’s arguments against lowering the cap, saying they “don’t stack up, contradict themselves and don’t accurately reflect what I think is reality.”

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.”

Customer cars

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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Chasing profit

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

The effect the financial crisis is having on teams needs immediate attention, Brown urged, pouring scorn on the suggestion F1 should not rush its response.

“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

Mattia Binotto, Yas Marina, 2019
Brown told Binotto to reveal details of its power unit settlement
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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Author information

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...
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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  • 26 comments on “McLaren’s Brown blasts Ferrari over opposition to budget cap cut”

    1. lovely rant there from Brown!

    2. Absolutely love it how he adresses the BS mainly comming from Ferrari. Candidate for comment of the year if you ask me.

      1. Saving workplaces and being social is not BS

    3. Brown is an idiot, the meaning makes me think McLaren is in financial problems. Good, hope so, McLaren are not worth anything next to Ferrari. Powers that be will listen to Ferrari.

    4. Well done Zak.
      Did he fire his PR manager? Finally some real opinions and content. Love it.

    5. Good on you, Brown.

    6. Cristiano Ferreira
      23rd April 2020, 23:12

      I disliked Brown since he arrived in McLaren, but over the last year i started to like and agree with most things he says. Well done again.

    7. Speaking about ethics : Is it ethical to put your stuff on a furlough (à la charge du contribuable) when the team is owned by rich oil billionaires ?

      1. With the negative oil prices they might be themselves on furlough :P

      2. @tifoso1989 the thing is, the owners of the team will still have to pay that money back at the end of the scheme as most companies are only able to borrow money to pay for staff to go on furlough – and quite a few companies have indicated those loans aren’t being offered at any sort of discount (the government is underwriting the banks, but not the companies themselves).

        In that respect, those “rich oil billionaires” you complain about will be paying one way or another – it’s a difference between paying now and paying later.

    8. Customer cars is interesting.

      If they made it ok to purchase virtuallly all the components bar the chassis why not?

      Also though make a rule that the chassis cannot influence any other component of the car.

      Then we will have something.

      1. I don’t see a customer Ferrari beat a real Ferrari. Ever. So it leads me to think it will just be recreating a sub-par category, solving nothing and just perpetuating old schemes. Not even talking about the engineering aspect loosing big chunks with spec cars looking alike those of the other teams. Not a fan of this idea.

    9. This guy represents the once mighty McLaren?! What a joke. Find the money to compete or get out of the way. It’s not like McLaren is spending big money on top drivers.
      Seems like he always wants to compare F1 to other categories. If they’re so good, then McLaren should go race in other series.

      1. Harold Wilson
        24th April 2020, 14:52

        The joke is someone else here. Ferrari is used to spending with little or no regard to those they have to compete with. After all, if you get $80 million just for turning up, you are not likely to see things from the point of view of others who have to find that extra funding. F1 has needed a reset on costs for years, and this unfortunate pandemic is the perfect time to do it. Ferrari and Red Bull just need to live in todays world, and the new realities. Going forward this can only be a good thing.

    10. I think his comments are sensible. F1 really does need a reality check. Who does everyone spending vast amounts of money really benefit. We can see the effect it has had over the past 10-15 years.

      Of course in the end there will need to be some kind of compromise but the long term future of the sport really is in doubt.

    11. Getting tired of hearing everyone bashing Ferrari. Any team that is in danger has only themselves to blame. Maybe if they start taking responsibility for their actions they’ll be better off in the future.

      Team’s as old and famous as McLaren and Williams should not be fighting in the mid field and at the back. They should not be struggling financially. Maybe they should stop blaming Ferrari and act more like them

      1. Any team that is in danger has only themselves to blame.

        None of the teams would be in financial strive if they had the same commercial deal as Ferrari.
        @suwperman

        But I don’t bash Ferrari for that; it was Bernie who orchestrated that.

    12. “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.

      That’s a bit harsh form Zak…. Ferrari was/still is in the middle of the epicentre in Italy…. They of all teams really know what’s going on and they’re certainly not living in denial. This comment takes away from all the other comments he made (sensible or not).

    13. Weirdly but for once I agree with Ferrari and the little teams should stop complaining and be happy there is a budget cap coming.

      They all jointly agreed on 175 million – so why does it need to be lowered just due to Covid-19. The 175 million is a HUGE win for the little teams particularly Mclaren/Renault – they don’t need to cut any spending yet the main 3 teams need to cut spending.

      The flawed logic that Cap should reduce further because of Covid-19 and financial difficulties of smaller team is BS. You do not need to spend all of the 175m, you can spend less as multiple teams have been doing. If you have less money due to Covid-19 then spend less money.

      The only thing that the smaller teams should focus on and have a fair and good claim is the better (read more fair) distribution of F1 income.

      1. I don’t think this argument holds much water. Surely what the smaller teams are saying is that, owing to the effects of COVID-19, they will be able to spend even less than expected. So if the cap on spending is left at $175 million then there will be no effect on the gap in the spending between large and small teams compared to the present. The argument being larger teams will be more able to sustain their spending.

        We need to ask why F1 teams need to spend so much per annum. The whole sport has become too costly and overblown. There is still a world of difference between being able to spend say $145 million (not including salaries, etc) and F1 descending into a spec series.

    14. This guy must be joking. 175 million is a perfect compromise, if you want to spend less than that nobody prevents you to do so but you can’t force other team to lower the cap just because you can’t afford to spend the whole budget…and putting the Covid-19 emergency into the equation is even more pathetic. Back in the ’80 and ’90 McLaren and then Williams where able to spend a ridiculous amount of money, much more than anyone else including Ferrari. Does the Italian team ever complained? Brits/Americans are a disgrace for this sport.

    15. If money is the driving factor here for MacLaren why stop at $145m, why not try for $80m or $50m then when you add in the cost of engines and salaries you then get it to the $150m level? The point of having a cap is to save the sport but if you want to cap the money too low then it just becomes another spec series. Plus i suspect if a team builds a dog with a cost cap theres no chance to have a revival in the season, your locked in and hope your better off next year.

    16. Many comments above here were exactly my thoughts too.

      No BS, fact, critical-thinking and economic-viability based arguments. And don’t forget he’s a marketing & sales guy. They know psychology and human emotions, alright. So, we don’t have a ‘robot’ talking. Love this guy Zak.

    17. Well said Zak. And I’m a Ferrari fan.

    18. I note that Zak Brown made this comment about customer cars:

      “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.”

      Presumably, he has forgotten about Toro Rosso and Super Aguri in the mid 2000s – although customer cars were technically meant to be banned, those teams were running customer cars in all but name. Super Aguri, for example, bought the Honda RA106 and converted it into the SA07, with a fairly elaborate system for Honda to sell the rights to a third party organisation so the rights could then be transferred to Super Aguri so they could claim it wasn’t a customer car (though it really was a customer car in all but name).

      As an aside, there was, of course, the plan that David Richards had for buying cars from McLaren and running them back in 2007, so McLaren itself was once a supporter of customer cars (albeit that was quite a few years ago and under different management as well).

      1. How about Racing Point 2020? :)

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