Blink and you will miss it. Four races into the season already, Vettel is leading the pack once again but F1 is back in the news and column inches are being filled with stories about McLaren's fall from grace, Mercedes' rise to power, Raikkonen being a genuine force to be reckoned with and Bernie Ecclestone's senile comments.
I realised I hadn't written a blog for over a month, truth is my actual job has consumed my life recently. I wanted to write about Lewis Hamilton's rather impressive start to the year - people had written him off over his decision to leave McLaren...how smug must he be feeling? But I don't think I could have written 900 words on him without a comment along the lines of, "woah, cut down on the bromance there." So I was waiting for something to truly incense me...and that happened last week. Bernie Ecclestone's comment on his desire to have just ten teams on the grid.
The current grid fields eleven teams, each fielding two cars. Twenty-two years ago, F1 had 18 teams, and even used to have a pre-qualifying session for teams and drivers to qualify just to get into the main event for the weekend. Over time, costs have increased exponentially and a lot of the teams that have gone have failed due to financial constraints. However, regardless of these losses from the grid, the lower-funded teams have been known as the lifeblood of the sport. People who have genuine passion for racing motor cars and are not being judged by a management board in the ilk of Mercedes, Ferrari and Lotus. They have also fielded drivers who have gone on to win races and world championships. On the current grid this year Mark Webber and Fernando Alonso started their careers driving for back-of-the-grid Minardi; former World Champion Damon Hill started at Brabham; double World Champion Mika Hakkinen started at Lotus (in 1991, they were hardly representative of the famed Lotus name past and present) and even seven-times World Champion Michael Schumacher started at Jordan who in 1991 had to be part of the pre-qualifying session.
I appreciate that times have changed, but sadly the ringleaders at the top don't see it - or probably don't want to see it. Whilst I was never a fan of Max Mosley when he was FIA president, he did try to bring in the notion of a budget cap - and with it three new teams signed up under that resource restriction agreement. In 2010 Virgin Racing (now Marussia), Team Lotus (now Caterham) and Hispania Racing Team (now defunct) joined the grid pushing the number of teams to 12 (current F1 regulations allow for 13 teams). Mosley headed off and the budget cap was dismissed by the F1 powerhouses - predominantly Ferrari and Red Bull Racing. The fact that two of those teams have had to find new financial sources through rebranding and one has gone bankrupt says everything.
People ask me what I would change about F1 if I had the power to do so - I would introduce a budget cap (excluding driver/team salaries and factory overheads). F1 is RIDICULOUSLY expensive. The proposed cap in 2009 to attract new teams was set at £40m. That was in reality too much of an extreme - a report in 2010 stated Red Bull Racing's budget was £185.2m and McLaren's at £158.9m. But that's not to say it couldn't happen - a winding down of spending, a stepped introduction to budget control over a period of years...oh and maybe a wider share of Bernie's pockets - I mean television revenue.
But back to Bernie. He wants 10 teams, when we have 11 on the grid. Why doesn't he just say instead that he wants to make hundreds of people unemployed and see a company go bankrupt during the most fiercest worldwide recession ever? Does he just want to make it easier on his ageing brain than to do multiples of 11? The ten-times table is easier I guess. We should be encouraging new blood into Formula One and stop making it sound too elitist. Manufacturer funded teams (Mercedes, Lotus, Ferrari) come and go as they please - in the last decade we have had Toyota and Honda fail at making a presence in the sport. Independent teams (McLaren, Williams, Red Bull Racing, Toro Rosso, Sauber, Force India, Marussia, Caterham) either have to make a success on track - or they won't be on track. It'd be nice if they had a bit more financial freedom.
My final comment on this will be around driver ability. There have been plenty of comments made this year about pay-drivers. If I had £30m spare I'd probably buy myself a season in F1... but I won't be remembered. F1 should have the best drivers in the world on the grid. If there were tighter restrictions on how teams spent money to put two cars on the track each year maybe, just maybe, teams could pick who to employ to race for them as opposed to opening their doors to the highest bidder. Credibility in driver, team and most importantly the sport will ensue.
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