Mercedes Brackley factory 2018 - wind tunnel

Why F1 is talking wind tunnel bans and driver salary caps – but not an engine freeze


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Last week’s Formula 1 Commission meeting was the first held under the new, slimmed-down governance procedure introduced simultaneously with the 2021-2025 Concorde Agreement.

The new structure was revealed here a year ago as follows:

  • Simplified structure with only one level below the World Motor Sport Council (the previous structure had two lower tiers: the much-derided Strategy Group and full, 24-member, F1 Commission)
  • Reduced number of representatives within the F1 Commission from 24 to 12 members, namely the teams plus FIA/Liberty representation, with each group having 10 votes
  • Improved representation of all teams within the F1 Commission – all teams hold full votes, rather than half the grid being members of the Strategy Group
  • Secured the influence of the FIA, the F1 commercial rights holder (Liberty Media) and teams in the decision-making process via the treble voting-block system, with the four power unit suppliers having one vote each where on relevant votes
  • Ensured a certain degree of stability in key regulations of the championship via a restructured voting process
  • Maintained the FIA’s discretionary power on safety, although it may only be applied in instances of bona fide safety issues after consultation with relevant bodies.

The incoming structure provides equal voting rights for all teams – one for each of the 10 – while the FIA and F1 have blocks of 10 votes each, making 30 in total. Compare this with the previous structure where the commission numbered 24 which was made up of all teams, F1, FIA, technical and sponsor delegates, and representatives of circuits and promoters.

Crucially, the commission voted only on matters escalated to it by the now-discontinued F1 Strategy Group, which consisted of the FIA and F1 (six votes each) and six teams (one vote each). The new structure eliminates two major bugbears of the old system, namely unequal team representation and voting on sporting and technical matters by commission ‘outsiders’ who may have vested interests or no competence in specific areas.

Grid, Circuit de Catalunya, 2020
F1 claims fans want reverse-grid qualifying races
Last Monday’s meeting was convened as a videoconference after Portuguese authorities scuppered plans for it to be held face-to-face in Portimao. Opening talks covered topical items: approval of rule changes ahead of the 2021 season; rejection of F1’s quest for reverse grid races; and the repercussions of Honda’s plan to leave at the end of 2021, potentially leaving both Red Bull teams power-less.

Approval of the revised regulations was the easy part as these had been agreed in principle, with the commission simply rubber-stamping the changes.

Reverse-grid qualifying races were ruled out, despite F1 claiming over 60% of fans polled via its Fan Voice website were in favour of the change. Four Mercedes-powered teams – Mercedes, Racing Point, Williams and McLaren (from next year) are said to have blocked the proposal.

Red Bull’s threats to leave F1 unless engines are frozen from 2022 to enable its teams to race with Honda’s discarded engines as-is fell on deaf ears. Red Bull was reminded that when freezes were mooted in May they blocked them on the basis that ‘Honda would leave’, while the FIA made clear it refuses to be dictated to. Saliently, Ferrari and Renault confirmed they are prepared to supply engines to the Red Bull teams.

This one is likely to run for a while…

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Then came strategic topics: Although at an embryonic stage, F1 plans to phase out wind tunnels by 2030, not only on cost grounds but also for environmental reasons. According to a source, wind tunnel efficiencies – the actual ‘wind-on’ time during an eight-hour shift, with the rest spent on powering up and setting up models – vary from 15% to 35%, with the main concern being exponential energy usage as airspeed increases.

In addition, wind tunnels require a regular flow of models plus constant maintenance, refurbishment and updates. McLaren’s upgrade of its existing facility to state-of-art standards is estimated to come in at around $20m. Over a wind tunnel lifecycle that pans out at $200m (or more) for the 10 teams.

Red Bull’s engine freeze plan was shot down
The average F1 wind tunnel consumes around 10,000 kilowatt-hours per day to maintain temperatures and operate rolling roads and fans – about the same as an average family house in a year. That pans out at the same energy consumption usage as a 250-house village over a working year – all to hone front wing endplates or barge boards until the next upgrade. Clearly F1 needs to outlaw this dinosaur technology soonest.

Such plans would have been unthinkable just five years ago, although, to be fair, Nick Wirth and Virgin foresaw such a scenario in 2010 but the technology just wasn’t up to it at the time. Great advances in computational fluid dynamics – effectively a computer simulated wind tunnel – and other innovations have been made since.

One is the high-speed Catesby Tunnel, a perfectly straight and level 3km disused Victorian railway tunnel with a 40 square metre working cross section which is being converted to provide repeatable conditions by physically propelling an object down its length at high speed. Thus F1 can finally work towards its wind tunnel-free future.

The prognosis is that the next set of technical and sporting regulations, covering 2026-30, will contain a definitive sliding scale to phase out tunnel usage, although the prevailing framework is expected to provide early pointers and increasing restrictions on tunnel testing.

Also discussed, again conceptually, was the direction of travel for F1’s future power units, particularly as the sport seems committed to hybrid internal combustion engines for now. Thus, sustainable and/or carbon-neutral fuels feature increasingly during such discussions, with the sport’s overall sustainability programme as outlined here last year regularly coming under the spotlight.

Sauber wind tunnel
Wind tunnels may be phased out…
The plan is for F1 become a highly visible pioneer in the use of sustainable materials plus production and logistics processes. Exhaust pipe emissions comprise just 0.07% of the sport’s total carbon footprint, yet F1 is perceived to be a great dirty fuel-guzzling monster. F1 plans to double the bio content of fuel from 5% to 10% from 2022, but the eventual plan is to turn the dial to 100 – an impossible task under an engine freeze.

One of the unintended consequences of the current engines is their cost, which in turn frightened off potential power unit suppliers. The reason for the expense is simple: back in 2009, when the engine formula was conceived, engineers were requested to compile their wish-lists of technologies, then collate them into engine regulations. The result: two complex energy recovery systems, massive batteries and heavy cars.

Thus a different philosophical approach has been proposed: rather than starting ‘bottom up’ as in 2009, the incoming engine regulations for 2026 (or earlier by mutual agreement) will be framed on a ‘top down’ basis: Set an acceptable price for the entire package, then determine the priorities before combining the most desirable technologies that can be afforded within the ‘cap’ into an affordable power unit.

The differences in philosophies is best compared to ordering a new car. If you start with a base price then add the wish-list of options, the result may soon become unaffordable; the alternative is to determine a maximum price, then mix and match the best selection of options within that ‘cap’. A logical move, yet one which has taken the sport 10 years to arrive at.

Whatever, it is clear that F1 is committed to internal combustion engines for the foreseeable future, which is good news for the wider world as the development of bio- or synthetic fuels with road car applications have the potential to reduce vehicle emissions more than a 100 million e-vehicles could – certainly over the next decade.

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Matters relating to the 2021 F1 calendar were also covered. The commission is understood to have unanimously agreed reductions in pre-season testing to a single three-day session at a venue to be decided, most likely Bahrain, but with Catalunya also in the frame. The final decision rests on the realities of Covid-19 as team executives are concerned about subsequent travel restrictions – particularly as Australia is scheduled to open the season and may have exclusions in place.

Computational fluid dynamics aerodynamics work
…in favour of more virtual car development
As part of the early planning there were suggestions that team gear would be transported to Bahrain after this year’s finale in Abu Dhabi in to reduce costs. Then, after the test in early March the new cars plus all kit and any advance party personnel would head to Melbourne from Bahrain. ‘Plan B’ is a return to Catalunya for a single three-day session.

To put this test window into perspective, consider that just six years ago pre-season testing ran to 12 days, spread across three four-day sessions in Jerez and Bahrain. The count has gradually reduced since: F1 this year staged two three-day sessions in Catalunya. The 50% reduction for 2021 continues that trend.

While three days may suffice for the 2021 F1 season, will that hold true the following year when the sport belatedly introduces new technical regulations prescribing major changes such as 18-inch tyres and massively revised aerodynamics? Reducing testing under largely stable regulations is logical, but 2022 will bring new sets of technical challenges, and F1 may discover that additional testing is required, particularly as teams acclimatise to the regulations.

Discussions over salary caps for drivers and the top three executives in each team were more controversial, though the idea has obvious merit. What use, after all, in imposing caps on spending then standing back as teams spend multiple millions on their driver drivers? Top engineers and designers also command seven-figure salaries.

It must be stressed that talks are very much at a preliminary stage, and while the target date is 2023 it seems unlikely salary caps will be enacted before the new regulatory period starts in 2026 – although a two-or three-year notice period is likely to be issued to shut off loopholes in pre-existing contracts. The wording of the regulations will need to be European and British contract law-compliant, which is no easy task in itself.

Drivers, Circuit de Catalunya, 2020
Analysis: 2020 F1 drivers’ salaries
However where there is a will there is always a way and, saliently, only two teams have reason to oppose the suggested annual caps of $30m for two drivers. One wonders how shareholders feel about paying $50m when teams could escape with a third of that. Ultimately objections revolve around the removal of performance differentiators only the well-heeled can afford – precisely the reason for evaluating caps in the first place…

The proposed system is simple enough: Budget caps remain as is – so $145m for 2021, reducing by $5m in each 2022 and 2023 – and teams are permitted to spend $30m on drivers. Should they spend, say, $50m, then the excess of $20m would be deducted from their permitted under the cap. The same format will apply to executive salaries if introduced.

There are doomsayers who vow such restrictions are unenforceable, but they said the same about cost caps, yet these are due in two months, albeit with a ‘soft landing’ through to June to ease the transition to lower headcounts. There is, though, a looming problem: On Friday Italian prime minister Guiseppe Conte legislated against the laying-off of staff before the end of March 2021, throwing Ferrari – in the process of reducing headcounts to meet the 2021 cap – a lifeline.

The word is Ferrari is pushing for a delay to the ‘soft landing’. But the Scuderia has an alternative: It could ‘remove’ those that are deemed to be excess under the budget cap, then deploy them elsewhere or place them in a ‘holding account’ unrelated to F1 activities. How F1 handles this one will be interesting as it provides the first major test of the cap.

Finally, a further cost-cutting measure in the form of reductions to race-going headcounts was discussed. Following lessons learned from Covid races a further reduction in 80 staff was proposed, rather than the 120-150 usually deployed by major teams across all activities. A reduction was suggested here in June, but shot down at the team by figures who said we did not understand what it took to operate an F1 team…

Still, the first F1 Commission meeting under the new structure ticked most boxes, with sensible proposals making it to the next round. True, some are likely to be watered down and others may not make the cut, but F1 seems to be heading in the right direction with regards to sustainability and cost controls. Thus, the F1 Commission achieved more in one meeting than the (now-defunct) Strategy Group did in almost a decade.

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45 comments on “Why F1 is talking wind tunnel bans and driver salary caps – but not an engine freeze”

  1. Red Bull’s threats to leave F1 unless engines are frozen from 2022 to enable its teams to race with Honda’s discarded engines as-is fell on deaf ears. Red Bull was reminded that when freezes were mooted in May they blocked them on the basis that ‘Honda would leave’, while the FIA made clear it refuses to be dictated to. Saliently, Ferrari and Renault confirmed they are prepared to supply engines to the Red Bull teams.

    It’s going to be interesting to see how this develops. If Red Bull does indeed pull both teams out of the sport, as they sometimes threaten to if they don’t get things going their way, any new entrant could buy the teams or their assets, and join the sport without having to pay the anti-dillution fee, that’s 200 million reasons for any potential entrant to be drooling at the idea of getting a free pass on one of the top F1 teams of the past decade.

    Red Bull must be aware that they have to play by the rules, rather than change the game to suit their needs

    1. @xenn1 I doubt RBR are going to leave. And of course RBR are well aware of the rules and will play by them. Of course teams are always going to look after their own best interests. The change they speak of would be good for F1 too, by retaining a fourth pu maker in F1. Looks like that won’t happen and RBR will take on Renault pus, imho, but there is some merit to what they are (were) trying to do.

      1. @robbie agree that they won’t leave, they’re acting a bit childish though, generally speaking. Horner saying that Renault doesn’t want to supply them or complaining that they don’t have any alternatives. I get that they’re trying to maintain a sort of an advantage that they may have, but there’s ways to go about it that are reflective of a professional sports and tech organisation taking part in the pinnacle of motor racing.

        The change they speak of would be good for F1 too, by retaining a fourth pu maker in F1

        They only want the change because they benefit from it though. As the article points out, they blocked it just 4 months ago on grounds that their PU manufacturer would leave if there was a freeze, and their PU manufacturer left, even though there was no freeze. They made their bed, it’s time they act like grown ups and sleep in it

      2. @robbie I agree – I doubt they’re going to leave, in fact I don’t recall them actually threatening to do so at all over this last issue.
        I do get that Renault might not be happy to supply them – they seem to struggle in matters of supply generally so to have to supply both RBR and AT I think will strain them, but other than logistical issues I suspect that the previous “angst” about their complete inability to produce a reliable PU with any modicum of performance in 2014 & 2015 is very much a thing of the past.

    2. Red bull leaving will be good for f1. Maybe have a team that has something to do with cars take their place

      1. @carlosmedrano Like Honda and Renault who leave, then return to the sport every 5 years?…

        Red Bull is the best thing to happen to F1 in the last 20 years.

      2. @carlosmedrano Ah yes, because the car company that they took the team over from was so successful in F1! Road car success has little to do with how well the team will do in F1.

      3. Redbull leaving does nothing good for f1.

      4. Depends on how they are leaving if they disband the companies they are gone and no replacements. Or they sells the teams which is always much harder then the teams stays under other mangament.

  2. No driver representation? That’s something the drivers could take to the EU and win.
    RB threatening to leave? Lol see ya thanks for coming!
    The wind tunnel restrictions are a load of &^%$&, trying to eliminate future aero use using very likely inflated costs and environmental grounds? How about sharing or the teams paying an independent organisation for the use of their facilities? But no they want to stop ALL aero. So who will develop the chassis and body panels? They are pushing for a single chassis/aero design from an outside company, well what other series does that I wonder?

    1. @johnrkh As it says above, “Great advances in computational fluid dynamics – effectively a computer simulated wind tunnel – and other innovations have been made since.”

      As with many things, wind tunnels will be phased out in favour of computer simulations. That doesn’t mean the stopping of aero whatsoever, just the stopping of the usage of highly energy hungry physical wind tunnels.

      As to RBR leaving and your attitude towards that? Pretty sad. That should be the last thing anyone who supposedly enjoys F1 should take glee in.

      1. @robbie whilst I would admit that my knowledge of fluid dynamics is not the most exhaustive, and it has been some time since I studied that field, I would definitely question the assertion that “Great advances in computational fluid dynamics” have been made since the time of the VR-01.

        It may be that, since then, some programmes have developed more efficient ways of utilising the increased performance from newer computer hardware, and those improvements in hardware means the raw computing power has increased since then.

        However, our theoretical understanding of the behaviour of turbulent flows is still fundamentally incomplete, and I am fairly sure that most commercially available software packages will still be the same type of Large Eddy Simulations that would have been available at the time that the VR-01 was developed, and probably are not any more advanced than what we would have been using a decade before that (if not longer). The only thing that has really changed is the hardware – the software and our theoretical understanding hasn’t changed since 2010.

        Generally, the view has been that wind tunnels and CFD are more complimentary tools that are often used in rather different ways to support each other, and have been used in that mode for a long time now. There are limitations to what CFD can achieve and there are limitations to wind tunnel can achieve – both have their strengths and weaknesses.

        I wouldn’t be surprised if teams might still continue to use CFD for the more rapid evolution of parts, but will still continue to use wind tunnel testing as a means of additional verification and calibration, and potentially for acquiring information that cannot be gained through CFD right now. I suspect it is more likely that you’ll see most teams outsourcing wind tunnel testing to third party independent wind tunnels if in-house wind tunnel testing is restricted.

        There is also the question of whether it is necessarily that much more environmentally effective to shift to more CFD use – whilst the power consumption of a wind tunnel is presented in the article, there would also be the question of what is the equivalent energy consumption of the servers if you were only relying on CFD to design your car. Maybe Dieter could provide some light on that side as well, so we can make a judgement on how much of a difference it might make if you were switching to CFD only?

        There is also the question of both initial capital expenditure, ongoing maintenance and upgrade costs. Whilst Dieter quotes a figure of $20 million for McLaren’s upgrade, what is not clear is how many years of service does McLaren think they might get out of the wind tunnel before it needs another upgrade. How much is the average cost of upgrading their CFD facilities, and how frequently does that need to be undertaken?

      2. @robbie also, as an aside, I would note that the Catesby Tunnel project is actually not that innovative. Whilst Catesby Tunnel is on a larger scale, they’re by no means the first to produce a coastdown tunnel – Chip Ganassi built their own coastdown tunnel back in 2004 at Laurel Hill in Pennsylvania.

        In fact, I am half surprised that Ganassi haven’t tried to sure the Catesby Tunnel project, as Ganassi reportedly filed at least two patents to try and protect their idea. The patents are, admittedly, almost certainly unenforceable though as Paul Van Valkenburgh, an author for Racecar Engineering, published his own articles that theorised about the benefits of a coastdown tunnel in 1995, pre-dating Ganassi by a long way.

      3. @robbie I don’t think RB will leave so they should stop threatening to. It looks stupid when Ferrari say it it looks worse when RB say it. If they did though F1 would be fine.
        As for computational fluid dynamics it will turn into a who has the biggest most powerful computers. They make the cost of wind tunnels look like pocket change.

  3. So what would AN do if the teams were sold? There would be no guarantee that he’d stay on and i suspect that he doesn’t have a long term contract…. Who’d buy a team with no current engine supplier past ’21? RB have not won a championship for 7 years and that looks like being a minimum of eight!! With no end to the virus in sight who’d gamble on the future of F1 in the short to mid term? So many issues that make the threat to leave the series more like a thinly veiled attempt to coerce the teams into allowing the freeze to be implemented. Thankfully Ferrari have a veto to counter the crass attempts to manipulate the existing regs.

  4. Thanks for the article

  5. Correct me if I’ve misinterpreted the suggestion that team gear could get transported to Bahrain after the Abu Dhabi GP. Should this happen, would the cars and other stuff, as well as even some people, stay in Bahrain throughout the off-season period?

    1. @jerej seeing only team gear is referred to as potentially being transported to Bahrain after Abu Dhabi I can’t believe that is a serious question.

      1. Let’s face it, English isn’t your strong suit and there seems to be no editor on this site so a question like that is inevitable.

        1. You’re entitled to your opinions and snide criticisms whether aimed at me or readers, but the paragraph in question refers (only) to team gear going to Bahrain from AD – and not to cars or personnel – then makes the point that said gear and NEW (so 2021) cars plus ADVANCE personnel would proceed to Australia directly after testing.

          Why would any team leave future cars or advance personnel in Bahrain for three months?

        2. AJ (@asleepatthewheel)
          4th November 2020, 17:18

          @darryn It seemed pretty clear he was referring only to the team gear being sent to Bahrain.

  6. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
    4th November 2020, 14:36

    Salary caps are something that affect all drivers. By reducing the top salary, you reduce all salaries across the paddock as the team will remind their drivers that they can’t be paying the cap when they are P4 in the championship and that’s what the winning team pays. There’s no way that Alonso or Ricciardo would command 20 million and they’d probably have their salaries slashed in half post Covid.

    The fact that a driver is making enough money to compete with other prestigious elevates F1 as a sport. You can’t have the top driver and greatest of all time in F1 just making $25 million. That’s almost zero dollars in sports money and indicates that F1 can’t pay for a jersey, much less be the pinnacle of motorsport. To give you an indication of how little that is, it’s less than Andres Iniesta makes in terms of salary and less than Kei Nishikori and Naomi Osaka make from endorsements – Kei was injured most of the season. It’s a lower salary than Oscar makes. Who’s Oscar, you say? Exactly!

    It also creates situations that are extremely unfair for another driver. If Mercedes is capped at 30 million and Lewis gets $29.5-29.9 million that leaves 100-500k for Verstappen or Leclerc to join Mercedes. Is it fair for any driver to make so little for 5 years driving for Mercedes simply to satisfy a cap?

    Even engineers or paddock execs might make more than some drivers at top teams trying to keep drivers…

    But if they like caps and it seems they do, then the GPDA should also come up with some of their own caps – here are a few to consider:

    15 races per year
    50 laps per race
    1 free practice, 100k per extra practice
    Unlimited testing – a cost cutting measure that benefited teams at the expense of many drivers
    Safety redesigns on tracks (that will end cap discussions due to the headache of making that happen)

    That should keep F1 and the teams busy enough that the mere mention of salary caps sends them into a frenzy.

    1. @freelittlebirds While I’m with you on the salary cap thing and I too don’t see it working, it’s too bad that you then had to again take it to your usual area of ridiculous rhetoric. And, I don’t think anybody ‘likes’ caps, but they have become an economic necessity in F1 as has been discussed over the last two decades and as has been agreed by all parties after much debate and negotiations.

      1. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
        4th November 2020, 17:17


        [salary caps] have become an economic necessity in F1 as has been discussed over the last two decades and as has been agreed by all parties after much debate and negotiations.

        You’ve robbied me again of my time ;-)

      2. @robbie

        in F1 as has been discussed over the last two decades and as has been agreed by all parties after much debate and negotiations.

        Um except the drivers.

    2. @freelittlebirds 20 or 25 million is still a lot of money, though. Not that I’d care an awful lot as these things don’t concern me to any extent, but I don’t see a point in turning down a chance for a drive, especially one that allows for winning because of not getting, for example, 50 or 40 m as the annual income when something like 20, or even 10 m is also a lot, so should suffice.
      As for the things GPDA could suggest:
      15 races, indifferent.
      50 laps as the maximum for each race, no way as otherwise, races on short tracks would be very short.
      The practice thing, also slightly indifferent.
      Unlimited testing – this would increase costs rather than cut them.
      The last one, I don’t see a problem with the safety of the tracks.

      1. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
        4th November 2020, 16:57

        @jerejj those are just suggestions of things the GPDA can ask for to mute any discussion of salary caps. The other parties can simply respond by extending their apologies for suggesting a salary cap and that they can just continue the way they were.

    3. @freelittlebirds I don’t begrudge the drivers whatever salaries they can negotiate with the teams, but I have no sympathy for anyone who has to take a 50% pay cut and ends up with “only” $10M. And I doubt that any of the drivers would complain too much as long as it applies to the whole field.

      I don’t think that anyone becomes a racing driver for the money, although it’s nice if you can have that too.

      1. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
        4th November 2020, 17:23

        @jimg the easier way to look at any cap is to apply it to yourself – would you be okay if you had to take a 50% pay cut? Let’s say you make $500,000 (let’s be generous since all this is fictional). Now, let’s apply a 50% pay cut and suddenly your income is $250,000 because the corporation you work for prefers to keep the $250,000 as profit or redirect towards charitable causes.

        Obviously, they’d be capping all employees so at least others would suffer with you.

        Would that be an acceptable permanent pay cut?

        1. @freelittlebirds that’s a completely different situation, as you should be able to see for yourself. We were (or at least I was) discussing the salaries of star F1 drivers with strong negotiating positions, not interchangeable corporate drones like me.

          To play along with your scenario, if my house cost $25,000 and beer was $0.10 a bottle then I’d probably be happy to cut my salary from $500,000 to $250,000, along with the CEO and the rest of the C-suite, if it meant that the company wouldn’t go bankrupt. I might have to give up my third home but I could probably live with that. Not exactly “suffering”.

          My point is that the kind of money we’re talking about for top F1 drivers is wealth beyond the dreams of most of us, way beyond what anyone needs to survive. Everyone probably has their own idea of how much they’d be comfortable with, but I think that most of us could struggle by on $10M.

          As for comparing F1 salaries with other sports, that seems like a total waste of time. So the greatest F1 driver can’t make as much money as a journeyman basketball player? So what? Are you saying that he should switch to basketball?

          1. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
            5th November 2020, 1:27

            @jimg Well, we know that a house doesn’t cost $25,000 and even Bud doesn’t sell for $0.10 a bottle:-)

            Just because this type of wealth is beyond our dreams, it doesn’t mean it should be beyond theirs. I watched a video of Hakkinen’s home and he has a very nice collection of Ferraris. I believe Schumacher made do with a McLaren F1. Obviously being a F1 driver means you’ll want to have the best cars and any semi-decent collection will probably set you back $10 million.

            Homes are obviously more expensive and these folks usually need more than one unless you decide to retire into obscurity.

            As for other sports, why would we not compare F1 to other commercial sports? Lewis ranks #13 on the list of best paid athletes. Ahead of him are 1 tennis player, 3 soccer players, 4 basketball players, 1 boxer, 2 football players, and 1 golfer.

            Doesn’t seem overpaid.

          2. @freelittlebirds I think we’re agreeing more than disagreeing. I never said F1 stars were overpaid – my opening line was “I don’t begrudge the drivers whatever salaries they can negotiate with the teams”. But if there isn’t enough money to keep F1 afloat, and we keep hearing about how the smaller teams are just scraping by, is it such a hardship to have to live on $10M instead of $20M?

            I know that homes don’t cost $25,000, I was trying to put your example into perspective. We’re not talking about cutting salaries from “wealthy” to “poor”, we’re talking about cutting them from “mega wealthy” to “very wealthy”.

            You said:

            Obviously being a F1 driver means you’ll want to have the best cars and any semi-decent collection will probably set you back $10 million.

            Can you hear the entitlement in that statement? Are you really saying that every F1 driver deserves a $10M car collection as a reward for making it to F1?

            Part of my point is that I don’t think elite sports people in any discipline start with the aim of making lots of money, and most professional athletes are not rich. Some of them are, and that’s great for them, but for the vast majority their skill and dedication is not a gateway to wealth and fame.

            As for comparing commercial sports, what’s the point of comparing the salaries of individuals? What you’re really comparing is the popularity of the sports. More people watch tennis => more TV revenue => more money for players (for completeness: more people watch tennis => more TV exposure => more sponsorship money for famous players). Is Roger Federer better at tennis than Lewis Hamilton is at driving? Is that question even meaningful?

          3. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
            5th November 2020, 13:26

            @jimg how can you apply a salary cap without comparing F1 to other sports? what’s the cap based on then? It can’t be an arbitrary number. It’s also hard to gauge a sport by popularity.

            Can you hear the entitlement in that statement? Are you really saying that every F1 driver deserves a $10M car collection as a reward for making it to F1?

            No, but caps don’t apply to every F1 driver. The cap won’t directly apply to Giovinazzi who makes ~$2 million. The cap applies to the highest paid drivers. It’ll apply to Hamilton, Alonso, Vettel, Verstappen (some day) at the height of their career with the best team – essentially their golden years. Essentially when Verstappen or Leclerc start winning championships, they’ll have to subsidize the 2nd driver on the team sharing $5-10 million per year with them.

            The thing most people don’t understand is the indirect effect on all drivers. Let’s use Giovinazzi’s case here. If there is a cap he could see his salary drop to $1 million as the team explains to him that they can’t pay him $2 million when driver A makes $15, B makes $10, C makes $5, D makes $2.5 and E makes $2 and he’s the driver they wanted but couldn’t afford – Giovinazzi would be lucky to make $1 million.

          4. @freelittlebirds The F1 salary cap and other F1 budget caps are about making F1 affordable for the F1 teams, based on how much money is available to them in F1. What has any other sport got to do with that? F1 has F1’s budget, it doesn’t have the NBA’s budget or the NFL’s budget or any other budget. The F1 world needs to work out how much money there is to go around in F1, how to share it out in F1, and get on with it.

            Did I mention that this is about F1? :-)

            I get that a salary cap would affect all drivers, but my opinion is that even $1M isn’t a bad salary for doing something which (presumably) you enjoy doing. If you want to drive the fastest cars in the world, stay in F1. If you want to make more money, do something else.

    4. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
      4th November 2020, 17:38

      Here’s an article listing the 60 top paid athletes – I can’t vouch about its accuracy.

      It seems that in 2019 there were 2 drivers in the top 60 from F1 and in 2020 there were 3 drivers.

      Next year that number will probably drop down to 2 as Vettel will not be on that list. It’ll also drop when Hamilton leaves F1 or if he chooses to drive for a team that’s not a top team. The good news is that F1 has more members on that list than baseball and cricket…

      I would actually not be surprised if F1’s total driver salary wages were less than Barcelona’s or Real Madrid’s and they don’t have 20 active drivers. If you took the active starters from Real Madrid and Barcelona, the bill would be nearly double.

      If anything, this sport needs teams to pay for drivers’ service not the other way around. I would suggest that they apply a minimum salary and drivers aren’t allowed to bring money to teams.

      If Diego Godin can make 6.5 million pounds playing as a defender for Inter Milan at the age of 34, then Williams can certainly afford to pay the same to each of their drivers. Otherwise, there is a problem with the sport, not with the drivers’ salaries.

      What does Denis Suarez make at Celta Vigo? Does he make more than Leclerc?

      1. 1. Football teams don’t have to build a new F1 car every year and don’t need to pay ~100k for a new wing every time one of its players has a shunt
        2. Football has a much bigger audience than F1 in general and most teams, even relatively small ones, have by and large many more fanatic fans than F1 teams
        3. Different sports have different income structures and whatever for one sport doesn’t necessarily works for others
        4. Every major US sport league (NFL, NHL, NBA and MLS) has a salary cap so that kind of thing is not unheard of and is proven to work as part of set of money distribution rules
        5. Yes, cutting out the middle man (Liberty Media) and turning F1 into a league would almost double the size of pie available to be distributed to the teams

    5. It might lead to lower-end drivers pushing for higher salaries because ‘teams can max out their budget caps’.

      If everyone wants to be paid the average salary, salaries rise.

    6. If they are going to have caps I suggest they start with the “commercial rights holder” and limit their share of revenue to no more than the average team payment, because, let’s face it, all they have to produce is contracts.

      1. Yep, seems very reasonable on the face of it @hohum

  7. The wind tunnel ban is good, but agree the cut-down pre-season testing is not.

    Even without a larger rules change when a longer test is definitely needed as pointed out, a short 3 day test will likely just lead to field spread when some teams with tech or organizational issues lose most of their running, while the usual suspects will do a complete program. It’s the same as stable regs for year will narrow the field through teams having time to get to know their car and sorting out issues etc.

  8. One wonders how shareholders feel about paying $50m when teams could escape with a third of that.

    The ability to train replacement drivers is fundamental to lowering driver wages. Why should a team pay a driver $30M when there’s 4 drivers with similar abilities prepared to accept $5M and another 10 with slightly lesser abilities prepared to do the job for $1M? Conversely, if a team has a choice between an experienced but not brilliant F1 driver and several F2 podium placeholders, obviously the experienced but not brilliant F1 driver is the better choice, so they are in a position to demand being paid a premium wage and the team has little choice but to pay.
    F1 has painted itself into a corner because it restricts the supply of drivers to the teams, so one can’t be surprised there are drivers who demand high wages. The situation with Nico Hulkenberg being asked to “drop everything” and drive for Racing Point highlights the shortage of capable F1 drivers. Racing Point could have asked one of their current test drivers, Stoffel Vandoorne or Esteban Gutiérrez, to have driven for them, but instead chose Nico instead. I’m guessing he was the more expensive option.
    If F1 is serious about wanting to lower the wages paid to drivers then they need to increase the supply of F1 capable drivers, otherwise teams will still be forced to pay the premium amount to drivers despite the budget cap restrictions. For example they could require all teams to have two reserve drivers who have to do at least one Friday Final Practice session each. That would mean instead of a pool of just over 20 experienced drivers there’d be a pool of 40.

  9. You can’t even say that reducing testing/practice is turning it into Indycar+ as even Indycar still gives fans the opportunity to go & watch the regular testing they still do & will continue with 3 day weekends on road/street circuits giving fans plenty of Indycar track action to be able to go & watch.

    F1 banning testing the past decade & talking of 2 day weekends with hardly any F1 track action over a race weekend is just giving fans far less opportunity to go and watch the cars in action which makes the whole sport far less value from a fans perspective. Will just result in fans feeling more disconnected from the sport than ever.

    Wrong direction in the name of ‘the liberty show’ as usual!

  10. Quick and easy way for teams to get around driver salary caps: pay them up to the cap, then have the team sponsor(s) pay anything else direct to the driver for “promotional work”.

  11. Great article, one of your best.

    “Exhaust pipe emissions comprise just 0.07% of the sport’s total carbon footprint” – this sentence should be all caps, bolded, put in a block quote and shouted from the rooftops for good measure.

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