Saturday, May 2, 2009

FORMULA 1 - WITHOUT TIERS


With the FIA setting the balance of power between Budget Cap and Non-Budget Cap teams in 2010, Andrew Davies argues that the manufacturers and the sports fans are going to be left out in the cold.

It was almost a good week for the FIA. They made the right decision about suspending the sentence for McLaren's Melbourne misdemeanours. They added 15kg to the minimum weight for cars, meaning that Robert Kubica and puddings can be reunited once more. They increased the budget cap from £30m to £40m...but, calamity of calamities, they're insisting on this two-tier technical rule.

Now Max Mosley's intention is honourable here. He's got to find a way to put 26 cars on the grid in the worst financial climate we've seen for many years. With General Motors teetering on the brink in the States nobody thinks it's a bluff when he says another major manufacturer could leave the sport soon. Renault have never been as committed as Ferrari, Mercedes and BMW, and you always believed that Honda were more up for it than the French.

What Max has to do is lure new teams in, give them an incentive to compete, but not skew the rules so much that they end up with an advantage.

Mosley is a great believer in not confusing the fan and the new technical rules look set to make it the most ridiculously complex sport on the planet. At the moment you have cars on the grid with different fuel loads, with different sets of tyres and with or without KERS.

The FOTA global survey on what F1 fans want from motorsport emphasized that it is the broadcasters giving inside information into what is happening that really adds to the experience. People watching an F1 race need to know what's going on. Yet in the heat of battle, the broadcasters can't get things right when there are so many variables to remember.

Coming to the grid in Bahrain BBC commentator Jonathan Leggard told us that everyone was on the option super-soft tyre. They weren't, hence Kovalainen going backwards in the opening laps while his team-mate strutted his stuff at the front.

After thinking how badly he'd done in the race it was then a surprise to learn that Kovy had started on the harder prime tyre. Now although the FIA have taken refuelling and hence fuel strategy out of the equation for 2010, they are still hoping to add six more cars and differing wing specs for the new teams. So it will be more complex and harder for the broadcasters to tell us what's going on.

That's not a recipe for increased viewing figures.

The English Premier League is the most watched football league in the world and it is dominated by the four richest clubs in the country, Man Utd, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal. They don't have budget caps.

The teams that are struggling to get into the league don't whine that they're not joining unless they too can afford £35m for Cristiano Ronaldo, they're just happy to be there. They don't argue that because they have under £15m turnover they should get a 1-0 start in every game. That's not sport.

The difference is that the Premier League is the owner of its TV rights and anyone joining the league is happy and privileged to be part of that club. F1 is an anachronism in that the TV rights are owned by Bernie's Formula One Management who seem to be embroiled in ongoing disputes about what is owed to whom.

The teams have already been stung by the diffuser row and have a very great sense of one small technical innovation giving a very big advantage to another team. So this is perhaps the very worst moment to be pushing through a rule that may make a £40m new entrant faster than a £400m giant like McLaren or Ferrari.

Brawn aren't quick out of some arbitrary stroke of the pen. Honda spent all of 2008 with their heads buried in their hands at the grands prix while crafting the 2009 challenger that Brawn inherited. It wouldn't be sport if the FIA's calculation made Prodrive or USF1 faster than BMW or Toyota.

Mosley's dilemma is that he has to try and find a set of rules that can keep the manufacturers on board, bring in new entrants, yet still keep the FIA's biggest paymaster, Formula One Management, happy. The trouble is, in selling the world TV rights for 100 years the FIA have given up the family silver.

If FOTA decide that the FIA are incapable of organising a fair series after the rancour of the diffuser row, and there is increasing trouble over the TV payments, then the game will be up for F1. Three of the four top-spending teams are doing badly this year thanks to the rule changes.

It will be hard for Mario Theissen to go back to the board of BMW in 2010 and justify his team's involvement in the sport if they are being beaten by a technically less innovative new entrant, just because of where the FIA set the balance between budget cap and non-budget cap teams.

Interestingly Max Mosley said this week that he doesn't have one "legally binding" commitment from any of the manufacturer teams to be in the sport for the next five years. Given what's happened recently, it's hardly surprising. LINK...

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