Zak Brown, McLaren, Bahrain International Circuit, 2021

F1 must tackle rise of ‘unhealthy team affiliations’ – Brown

2021 F1 season

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McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown has called on Formula 1 to reinforce competition between rival outfits and prevent larger teams exerting political control over those they supply components to.

Brown claimed smaller teams have voted for changes to the sport which put them at a disadvantage because they were pressured by their suppliers into doing so.

Formula 1 has four engine manufacturers, two of which – Ferrari and McLaren’s supplier Mercedes – provide components to customer teams. Red Bull runs two teams, both of which receive engines from Honda, while only Alpine use Renault engines.

Writing in an open letter on McLaren’s website, Brown urged F1 to do more to protect its independent teams from pressure exerted by manufacturers.

“The rise of team affiliations has become unhealthy for our sport,” said Brown. “It is not in the best interests of competition if two rivals, or even three, share assets and align strategically. One of the fundamental principles of Formula 1, as opposed to other one-make racing series, is an open competition between constructors.

“I do not wish to see the number of teams in F1 reduce, but team affiliations remain an issue because they do not promote a level playing field. This is where further changes need to be made to the governance of Formula 1.

“There have always been conflicts of interest in Formula 1 and it’s unlikely to change anytime soon, so it’s even more important that F1 and the FIA, who have no other agenda than the whole sport’s success, call the shots in the best interests [of] F1 and not be blocked and slowed at every turn.”

Brown said the sport must introduce secret balloting to the F1 Commission, the rule-making body in which each of the 10 teams is represented, to ensure customer outfits are not forced to vote a certain way by their suppliers.

“Currently, decisions about the future of the sport can be halted by a minority, rather than majority, and they are further skewed by some teams’ voting power being in favour of their affiliated team partner. There have even been instances when an affiliated team, to satisfy its bigger partner, has voted in favour of a clear disadvantage to itself.

“This isn’t sport. This isn’t putting the fans first. It is a situation that must be addressed and so we call for secret ballot voting to be implemented in all F1 Commission meetings with immediate effect.

“In other sports the regulatory body has the power of governance because they always focus on what is in the best interests of the sport overall, which should be the key consideration in Formula 1. With a change in the voting procedures, it could lead to more agile decision-making that would ultimately benefit the interests of the fans and in doing so the sport at large, including the participants.”

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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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24 comments on “F1 must tackle rise of ‘unhealthy team affiliations’ – Brown”

  1. Considering that Russell called Bottas a teammate, I’m inclined to agree with him.

    1. Indeed. Sad. It is already bad enough that F1 has so few teams (compared to some years ago). Seems like teams like Williams, AM, Alpha Tauri, Alfa Romeo, are not allowed to speak their voice let alone win (under normal circumstances).

    2. Not like Russell had any choice.

      1. Yeah. If there’s a bad guy here it isn’t Russell. It’s the people with their fingers in every pie and I’ll be honest I’m getting a bit sick of the power some people wield in F1. Imagine someone having enough power they can wield control over another teams drivers……

    3. But wasn’t that the outcome of Russell accusing Bottas of trying to kill him? If Russell had climbed out and apologized for the accident instead of smacking Bottas on the helmet, this whole thing would’ve never happened.
      While I understand Zak Brown’s opinion, it isn’t a secret that Williams is sort of acting like a junior team to train future Mercedes drivers. Just like how Haas and AR train future Ferrari drivers, and AR for Red Bull. Maybe with the new budget cap, all will eventually compete for first place, but right now they are training teams.

  2. Indeed that was good timing from Brown. Or bad timing from Russell, whoever came up first.

  3. A great suggestion. While we’re at it, can we also ban contractual obligations of PU customers that prevent any appeal or contest regarding the legality of their PU as it relates to operating at the same level as the works team??

  4. There needs to be a 3rd party engine manufacturer for this to happen. Doubly sad that Honda is gone

    1. @pastaman I was just thinking of this. If F1 can provide a 3rd party engine that is free to use for all teams (obviously not free to use, but (for example) paid for in full by way of a reduction in prize money paid out to teams). If teams want to spend more money to develop a better engine – go for it.

      Only issue would be with the spending cap – in order for the above to work, engine development would need to be brought in to the cost cap rules (i.e to say that if teams want to produce their own engine, they must sacrifice some other area of car development) however no team will be able to do that with the amounts involved – it would need to be (for example) every £5 spent on engine means a cost cap reduction of £1. But that’ll take a lot of brain power!

  5. Perhaps this is McLaren’s way of loudly saying they do not consider Hamilton & Bottas – or Russell, Latifi, Vettel or Stroll as ‘team-mates of sorts’ and will not offer them any kindness despite runing the same PU.

    This kind of ‘collusion’ in many ways is the exact fear many had over Red Bull & Toro Rosso/AlphaTauri, but they seem to race each other as normal should they encounter each other on track. The idea that these ‘team affiliations’ could impact racing strategically shouldn’t be allowed at all.

    1. @rocketpanda But we’ve all seen cars from affiliated teams be let through the field on race day, much easier than non-affiliated. Sure it’s just seconds, but that can make a difference. Imagine what would have happened with reverse grids..

      1. I think, in a mild form this is happening a long while. So if it is strategically not optimal to defend the position (different strats, different tyre conditions, different goals), then the supplied team’s driver likely lets through the engine supplier’s team driver in an eyeblink, while maybe holds up the entrant from the another “faction” (affiliation :)), especially if it fits into their actual strategy.
        It is going on for a while, so I consider it an unspoken but present practice, and in a way it not bothers me, but in an other it bothers me. For example imo it was at about the same when at about 20 years before Ferrari used Sauber as a testbed and as an ally, and likely similar happened at another supplier-supplied pairings too.
        Nowadays supplied teams voted like their engine supplier at almost every occasion. Why would they play differently on-track (except where it would be distgustingly unsportsmanlike). The dedicated second drivers’ race is often ruined by strategy also, via asking them to hold some opponent up, to make that opponent to “destroy” his tyres in dirty air is it is possible.

        So that was the approach which I got used to see or percieve sometimes, the less bothersome part.
        And here comes the bothersome part:
        If there would be even less engine supplier, and even more B and C teams (current trends are pointing towards this), we would see and percive this even more often, and basically B anc C teams are not there to win a world championship neither with their drivers, nor as a constructor.

        The supplied teams are voting like this, because they are happy with being in F1, they getting their fair share of money, (if all goes well). There is no problem for them with the something like 200M$ anti-dilution fee for a new team, they are around the money pot right now. The 200M$ is reasonable, but it would be dropped in the case a serious name, like Porsche, while an upcoming B team, or indie-like entry will just buy another bankrupt team.
        I have serious doubt about how seamlessly and nicely would FIA help or assist in the administrative processes of launching a concourrent championship, with more raw cars, with similar pace, with more sane costs. I think even if theoretically they should, money would bound them also, and Indycar would be a direct competitor to that theoretically more raw series.

        And they are voting like this, because the costs around the engine development and manufacturing are very very high even when compared all of the other parts of the car.
        The presumption of innocence is a nice thing, so most often we have to accept the public statements, but the world is not working this way. The perception at a context which we are used to is most often telling the truth.
        So F1 with less teams, and with only 2 engine manufacturers could be quite bad. Although could be quite good as well, as Indy often had only a few engine suppliers, and that worked somehow, and basically the battle of those was another layer of amazements. Thre is no problem with having few suppliers, but there is a problem with them having too much words on the rules, and on the decision making.

        I like the idea of @minnis, about having a 3rd party engine supplier which should supply any team that wants to buy. Although at the current complexita and price, it would be very hard to produce a competitive engine, especially if it is tried to be done by a newcomer manufacturer, instead of an actually present manufacturer, which reverts itself to being solely an engine supplier.
        I tlike this 3rd party idea, because if there would be such niceties, like :
        it could be used for example to provide an one car team to the champion of F2 if he not manages to get an F1 contract, at this level of costs F1 could easily afford that one car team :) It would be nice even if that 3rd party engine would be the worst of the field. Sadly I think, until the costs around F1 power units is comparable to the current level, a newcomer which intends to be solely an engine manufacturer would have a very very time to beat the other engines, becase return of investment-wise that would be l’art pour l’art.

        1. Plus:
          Imo at last season the Alpha Tauri drivers “raced Albon so hard”, because they were tasked to do so, to put more stress on him, to see how he handles it. They raced fairly, but it is another example when an insider felt disturbance in the Force, and came up with expressing his opinion about that his faction mates are not adhering to the untold thing. I am pretty sure had the overtaker been Verstappen going for the title with a realistic chance, the whole thing have happened differently.

  6. Zac is throwing this straight at Toto.

    1. Let’s have further speculations.
      Why is he doing this at the first season when they managed to get the Mercedes engine which was very good and reliable and functional for every team which was financially in a better state than the utter backmarkers? Considering that Wolf is one of the most powerful and influential figures of today’s F1 it is very brave even from a great and achieved person like Zak Brown.

      (1) He is this honest, and considers long term sustainability of the sport.
      (2) Mercedes is not the best engine anymore, therefore:
      2/a: sourness or anger because of a relatively unlucky choice
      2/b: he can afford it, because (2) means the quick declination of Wolff’s influence
      (3): Even if (2) still not became confirmed amongst the insiders, or never comes true in the close future, he might has the balls to raise his words for some good case, instead of having the balls to insult the second driver as Helmut Marko.

      I would not factor out any of these, because as factory teams rebadged/rebranded their 1st teams, maybe because up to this time almost everyone realised, that the sport became too expensive, and predictable so either they must defend their position and the former success: by moveing some steps back, and only using the performance division’s name.

      This a team can defend the fame and rememberance of sussess built up formerly. This way they can distinct the name of the factory from the incoming lower reliability, and more random results. This way, if the changes around the cost cap will have only a milder effect, the factories still can pour a lot of money into engine development, because they can more effectively categorize and reference it as development done by 3rd parties, as the performance division participates in F1, while the factory funds doing so. In the world of void words, lawyers and managers, this can be a very effective idea.

      F1 is living of it’s fame which was built up formerly by the enthusiasts, the small teams who put their lives and all of their wealth to achieve success, which was built up by the braves like the drivers of the totally unsafe cigar cars or the drivers of the crazy turbo era before the nineties. Without this fame, they would have a much harder time. They can afford doing so, but just like in the case of many sequels of games and films, some continuations would not even have a shot on the market without the precedessor.

      <3 Zak, there should be more persons like him, or the utterly entertaining Paul Stoddart, huh I loved the interview series with Stoddart.

    2. Isn’t this really more of a challenge to the existence of Haas?

      The changes that Zak wants would pretty much destroy the entire basis on which that team operates, given they rely so heavily on their partnership with Ferrari. If you remove that, is Haas even a viable team at that point?

      Let’s not forget that Zak’s comments are also a major threat to Red Bull and Alpha Tauri – again, the latter depends heavily on shared components and a shared technical office (Red Bull Technologies).

      Zak’s comments cover that arrangement – they’re arguably directed even more pointedly at Red Bull, as that is an even deeper technical partnership. Would Alpha Tauri be a viable option if they had to fully separate from Red Bull?

      Equally, Sauber has their long term partnership with Ferrari, including joint technical development – again, Zak’s comments apply quite strongly to them too. Really, this is more of a complaint that targets half the grid.

  7. Zak Brown has a lot of integrity, probably one with the most in the current F1 paddock. What stands out about him significantly above the likes of Wolff, is his truth and clarity of the status of play, not just with his own team, but the business. Anything Wolff says for example should be taken with a huge pinch of salt, because he is driven by share value = Ignore what they say. Business, money is vitally important in F1, but there’s a tipping point when fans and the sport in itself survives on simply individual competition. This is what Zak’s talking about. The hidden synagy of Mercedes/Aston Martin and Redbull/AlphaTauri are the bane and disease preventing F1 being the ultimate competition. The only way to prevent it is a stranglehold of rules to prevent the selfish greed of the Wolff’s, Strolls and Dietrich Mateschitz destroying it for their own gain. If you think that’s exaggerated or hard, you haven’t lived and have not experienced multi million dollar business!

  8. This needs to happen, otherwise only half the grid opposes the Mercedes.

    What kind of sport is this, where half. Thr grid has contractual ties hokding them back?

  9. you don’t say. lies, blasphemy, arrest this man right now, the fia does not condone this behaviour.
    -“shorten Portimão’s drs.”
    Consider it done.

  10. Bravo, Brown!

  11. Brown seems like a naïve Pollyanna. This is a business, and as such “someday, and that day may never come, I will call upon you to do a service for me. But until that day, accept my assistance with your car.”

  12. Interestingly I not really know what is a works team. Because when I have read about what can be the difference of a factory team and a works team, I have found quite varying answers, as if it would be a quite fluid term. Maybe it’s meaning changed a bit over time?

    So for example I considered Ferrari a “factory team”, because they seemingly can spend as many as they want, and seemingly they almost always have done so.

    While before the return of Mercedes as a team, and McLaren switched to other engine suppliers, I considered McLaren-Mercedes as a typical example of the works team. For example I have read that at works teams the engine suppliers name most often were included into the name of the team -or the constructor? because these two are often not matching nowadayas- (and they were the A team of the supplier also, but likely have done some work by themselves, like building the chassis).

    And there is the 3rd category, if we go downwards on the ladder, the supplied teams, which are not so strong, so they are indie-teams, supplied teams, or former garage entrants which can not even include the engine’s name into the team’s name.

    By these measurements, to me Ferrari, Mercedes and Renault of the last decade were more like a factory team, than a works team. But now they are rebranded, so maybe factories are preparing to take a step back for some reason. How big that step will be, only time will tell. I would not mind, if it would be not so small, because they have too much power, so either we accept it, or they do it like at Indy, where there are not too many engine suppliers, but their supplied teams can battle more with each other, without the comments of some big bosses). And I can not consider Aston Martin as works team of Mercedes because they intend to revive another car manufacturers name at F1.

  13. I think McLaren needs to drop Mercedes and just build their own engine. That way Zak won’t feel any pressure from Mercedes.

    He has been whining for a year now to get Formula 1 to continually change rules to benefit McLaren. Don’t rely on Formula 1 to keep chopping the bigger better teams down forever. He needs to shut up and work harder to elevate his team to another level.

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