Excessive power of teams has made F1 “like a pantomime audition” – Brown

2022 F1 season

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McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown has called for stronger leadership of Formula 1 following a series of episodes which he says have made it feel “like a pantomime audition rather than the pinnacle of a global sport.”

Following the election of Mohammed Ben Sulayem as president of the FIA last month, Brown called on the sport’s governing body to take a tougher line against teams’ efforts to obtain benefits by influencing rules changes.

Some teams are “effectively holding the sport hostage from what’s best for the fans and therefore the sport at large”, claimed Brown in an article published on McLaren’s website. “These teams seem unable to accept that a budget cap is in the best interests of the sport and cannot kick their habit of spending their way to the front.”

He accused unnamed rivals of pushing for an increase in the budget cap, which falls from $145 million to $140m this year, due to the planned rise in the number of sprint qualifying events planned for the 2022 F1 season.

“Some teams still look for excuses to raise the cost cap and win world championships with chequebooks,” said Brown. “The ongoing lobbying by certain teams to increase the cost cap for sprint race damage is a continuing example.

“The Saturday sprint race initiative by Formula 1 has added new viewers and raised the profile of the sport to expand its global fanbase. However, these teams continue to demand a raise to the cost cap by an inordinate amount of money, despite the clear evidence that little damage was incurred during these races last year, in a thinly veiled attempt to protect from their competitive advantage being eroded.”

He also urged F1 to take a tougher line against ‘B teams’ – customer off-shoots of manufacturer entrants – which he believes are given an unfair advantage under the current F1 structure.

“The regulations, as they stand today, are heavily biased towards B teams/customer teams which is not in line with F1’s principle of a group of genuine constructors competing with one another on even terms,” said Brown. “It is diminishing what being an F1 ‘team’ means and the fabric of the sport.”

The sport is already grappling with the consequences of the deeply controversial conclusion to last season, in which FIA F1 race director Michael Masi was accused of changing the application of the rules to create a last-lap shoot-out for the world championship between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen. However Brown said the events of Abu Dhabi were just one example of the structural problems the sport faces.

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“It is obvious to focus on the events of Abu Dhabi at the end of last season, which are the subject of an FIA investigation,” said Brown, “but this was a symptom rather than cause in my view.

“There have been systemic issues around alignment and clarity on who makes the rules – the FIA or the teams – that have manifested themselves in the past couple of years, at times in a high-profile way.”

He referred to the planned 2020 F1 round in Melbourne, which was cancelled at short notice following the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, and last year’s race at Spa-Francorchamps, where competitors were awarded half-points on the basis of a single lap being run behind the Safety Car in extremely wet conditions.

“The signs of organisational difficulties could be seen at the 2020 Australian Grand Prix and at last year’s Belgian Grand Prix, both hallmarked by a seeming lack of preparation for the events unfolding and temporary inertia on the solutions,” said Brown.

He believes that, following a period of consultation with teams which yielded the new technical regulations for this season and financial rules introduced last year, F1 should revert to a more direct form of leadership.

“It is clear that some of the rules and their governance are not acceptable as things stand,” said Brown. “No one is happy with the inconsistency in the policing of the regulations, but which has been habitually exploited by teams for competitive advantage.

“I have said before that the teams have too much power and it needs to be reduced. We have a significant role in the drafting of the regulations and governance of Formula 1 and that influence is not always driven by what is best overall for the sport.

“Yes, teams should be consulted, and their informed perspectives considered, particularly on long-term strategic issues. But at times it has seemed the sport is governed by certain teams.

“Let us not forget that we, the teams, have contributed to the inconsistencies in the policing of the regulations as much as anyone. It is the teams who applied the pressure to avoid finishing races under a Safety Car at all costs. It is the teams who voted for many of the regulations they have complained about. It is the teams who have been using the broadcasting of radio messages to the race director to try to influence penalties and race outcomes, to the point where an over-excited team principal plays to the gallery and pressurises race officials.

“This has not been edifying for F1. At times it’s felt like a pantomime audition rather than the pinnacle of a global sport.”

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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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32 comments on “Excessive power of teams has made F1 “like a pantomime audition” – Brown”

  1. An interesting part of the statement not included in the article.

    Previous administrations pursued a mainly autocratic style of governance, so to point the sport in the right direction it was necessary to take a more consultative approach with teams and stakeholders. But now the sport has been successfully reset, moving forward there is a need to shift back to stronger, more directive leadership and governance at the top of the sport.

    To paraphrase, we had a dictator and now we have reset we need another dictator.

    Separately, it is positive to see Zac take responsibility for what ultimately led to the events in Abu Dhabi. Perhaps the other team principles should show the same awareness and not be calling (as reported) for the head of the Race Director.

    The timing of the statement is interesting as this might be Zac’s input/view to the recently commenced enquiry.

    1. Indeed that bit was a very interesting part in how he reasons it was good to get teams involved before, but perhaps now the sport has evolved past that and the disadvantages are showing clearly in how many inconsistency and lack of clarity there has been around many aspects of racing this(/these) last season(s) johnandtonic.

    2. It’s not really a “another dictator” though Johnandtonic, since he clearly mentions the process should include taking teams views into the rule making thing longer term, but then their execution/policing should then not be directly and constantly influenced by individual teams anymore, like we see happening all the time now.

  2. Movie with 🍿 to follow.

  3. Constantijn Blondel
    17th January 2022, 15:08

    Shoot me, but Zak’s a very ok dude, in my book.

    1. Zak is one of the few key figures in F1 that always makes sense and speaks the truth. McLaren is lucky to have him.

      1. Have to agree here. He sees things right and calls it like it is. So happy that he does since he will be listened to, as opposed to us, the fans who say similar things.

  4. He couldn’t be more rught.

  5. Well said I think by Zak. You cannot argue with much of this. They should stop the teams being able to communicate with the Race Director as a regular event, unless in very specific circumstances.

  6. I think the exclusion of damage from budget cap in general should be a thing to be honest. Otherwise you will get teams pootling around at the back of the grid at the end of the season if their championship position is secure. And yes damage will be an excuse for more spending but so will 101 other things. Allocation of development to spurious areas of a business for example. I can’t see how F1 can properly govern these. Aston for example could allocate massive spend to a ‘prototype concept F1 derivative road car’ job done. It’s an accountants wet dream

    1. The 2 problems with excluding damage, which I see, are:
      1) How do you calculate the cost of repairing damage? The teams themselves will always try to inflate the figure, include costs in there which don’t really count. They may, for instance, claim that an engine was too badly damaged to continue and they must replace it, where in reality the engine is usable and the team just want a performance advantage from a new one.
      2) There have always been teams on the grid who are operating on significantly lower budgets than others. AFAIK there are still teams whose total budgets are below the budget caps. These teams need to leave space in their budgets to cover unexpected circumstances, like a crash, and can’t just “exclude” it from their spending. Why can’t the big boys put on their big boy pants and do the same?

  7. Oh no it hasn’t

    (apologies for the poor panto joke)

  8. Well said Zak.

  9. This is a good point by Zac. This year teams stepped over the line, I think due to the fact that Charlie isn’t there anymore and Masi hasn’t had the chance to build-up the reputation and experience Charlie had, teams took liberties they wouldn’t in the past.
    At one point we had Toto in the radio telling Masi not to send out a safety car. Personally I find this completely unacceptable. The safety car exists to protect fans, drivers and marshals. If race control deems it next necessary for safety, then the race director should have the right to make that decision without teams trying to influence it for their own gain.

    1. @pmccarthy_is_a_legend

      Masi doesn’t seem to have respect from the Team Principals in the same way Charlie appeared to. I don’t know whether Masi originally had that respect and then lost it, or whether he never had it in the first place, but I think the teams trying to persuade him to do this or do that is absolutely not on (obviously with FIA-to-team radio broadcast on being a thing from 2021 onwards, this is difficult to tell).

      Charlie seemed to command respect from the teams and drivers (go and watch some of the driver briefing highlights they released for a short period in 2017 for example) most of the time. Even Horner admitted that the sport missed him (though I don’t believe in Horner’s reasoning in this example). Masi doesn’t seem to get that kind of treatment from teams.

      1. Charlie was a nice chap form the old days.
        He would never have survived in the toxic environment F1 is now. And a lot more races and stress during the races.
        His last years were already difficult and he often was very muddy in explanations about situations.
        His death seems to turn him in a kind of saint he never was and probably never wanted to become.

        1. Have to agree erikje, having followed F1 now for nearly three decades, it has never been the case that Charlie was flawless, and indeed over his last few years, for example, he never managed to fix track limits either . On your last sentence, yeah that happens, doesn’t it? Understandable, but not useful when evaluating how things went on after.

          1. Ah, forget one part: but it does seem that Masi hasn’t really been able to replace the one of the old-guard trust with a solid authority of his own, which might have influenced both how we see him, and how he decided, because it makes him (seem?) more prone to changing his mind based on pressure from outside/teams.

          2. There are some rose tinted spectacles in people’s memories about Charlie. That time Vettel told him to ‘F Off’ is a good example, while Vettel’s conduct was terrible we got a farce end to that Mexican Grand Prix because it took Charlie way too long to make an obvious decision for a clear penalty. Vettel was right to be angry.

          3. @bosyber

            It is useful to judge Whiting’s work without rose tinted glasses, because otherwise the conclusion can be that the rules are fine and we just need a better race director.

            The rules are not fine and no race director can work with absurd rules like ‘no lasting advantage.’

          4. @aapje I’m completely in agreement with you on “lasting advantage”. This is such a massively subjective thing that it is guaranteed to produce inconsistencies.

            F1 is the only sport I know where grey areas are encouraged in the regulations and black-and-white, easily enforceable rules are discouraged outside of the technical regulations. We always hear arguments about how it is too complicated, how they have to leave flexibility. If we had the same philosophy for football, a throw in would only be awarded if the player avoided a tackle by going into touch, and a free kick only awarded if the team whose player broke the rules “gained a lasting advantage”.

  10. Wow a very strongly worded message from Brown. And I agree with most of it. The teams do seem to have too much power now. For some occasions, such as these new technical regs, it should be a matter to consult the teams on, but for others, particularly a lot of sporting matters, that shouldn’t be down to the teams imo. Let them vote on it, but not influence which rules get proposed to a vote.

  11. Zak is one of the reasons McLaren have become one of my favorite teams. I wish we could go just one season without having to listen to the egotistical nonsense of Wolff and Horner. If the netflix show has done anything for me it has been to inflate my dislike of these two. That’s part of the reason I cannot be bothered by the end of the season controversy.

  12. McLaren’s amazon doc showed Zak was the only sensible key-ish person at mclaren. As soon as they gave Zak direct control McLaren started making sense and ultimately Zak’s work has made me like McLaren, never thought I’d be sympathetic towards mclaren.
    Zak you don’t say! I actually got a “typical peartree nonsense” rebuke when I said exactly what Zak is saying about 2 weeks ago. Probably because I said f1 has been particularly weak in this department in the last 10-12 years.
    It is not up for debate, the cold hard truth, many fans understand it and we still watch it.

  13. My only question is: if McLaren was contending for the either title would Zak’s positions be the
    same? Having said that I do agree with what he says

  14. I’ve been saying it for a long time too – F1 doesn’t work as some kind of democracy.
    Funny how the response from people here changes when the exact same argument comes out of a different person.
    As though people who work high up in F1 are the only ones whose opinions are valid…

    1. quite true !
      Claims like “dictator” work as keywords for many followers to take a hit on you.

  15. If we read hustory correctly then we should conclude that having a dictatorship leadership is what has caused the issues F1 now has. Instead of buidling a proper system to follow F1 used personalities. But people die, leave, etc. A good system should work irrelevant of who is in a position. F1 failed. Charlie whiting failed, bernie Eccleston failed. To achieve this.

    1. also true.
      Well, being the “dictator” does not mean that you must be un-fireable / irreplaceable.
      In this context here it shall say that the sport needs 1 person at its head who has a clear understanding of everything essential; from technology over marketing to sporting regulations and decisions.
      In my opinion.
      I am not sure whether there ever can be a mutually appealing / appeasing consistency in arbitration.
      Although football is not an utterly complex matter, there are discussions in every match.
      I would guess that in racing, against physics / opponents / (fading) tracklimits, at the aid of complex technology & huge organisations (teams), things are much more complex.

      There must be added the option to add some laps in the end of a race. That would have helped BIG TIME.
      Race Direction was in a highly compromising situation. I understood there are few guys who might be as eligible as Mr Masi. At the same time, once you caused THAT much controversy on SUCH an occasion — your seat is hot.

  16. Brown called on the sport’s governing body to take a tougher line against teams’ efforts to obtain benefits by influencing rules changes

    Finally. Been saying that for a very long time. Obey or move out. Where on earth did they start to believe any of this would be a democracy? Money is spoiling everything these days. That’s also the underlying reason why I would rather not see car manufacturer teams. Let them solely supply engines.

    1. VERRY GOOD, Mayrton, imho.
      As long as you have to rely on a few essential major players (3 engine suppliers), they have too much a say.

      I imagine it was both that triggered the fate of the sport into this contemporary (rather dull) standardised silhouette series: an askew prize-pot scheme and then the increasing power of engine suppliers, all public noted corporations, who MUST strive for the principle of minimisation (of any risk / unpredictability).
      Whereby Sport / R&D / Show-Biz do follow the other one, the principle of MAXIMISATION ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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