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F1 in Crisis: Dear Bernie, What Have You Done?

The glamorous world of Formula One is never without scandalous news outbreaks, and as the motorsport juggernaut sets its sights firmly on Austin for the next round of the championship, all is not well. News has hit the shelves that Marussia and Caterham are set to miss the American round of the 2014 F1 championship due to ongoing financial woes; Marussia have since announced that they have gone into administration. It is uncertain whether either team will return to the series; their company futures hang in the balance.

Caterham and Marussia have been fighting it out throughout 2014 at the back of the grid. Image Credit:

Caterham and Marussia have been fighting it out throughout 2014 at the back of the grid. Image Credit:

Hang on a minute…

So that is two teams that will not be at the event. Some quick adding up brings me to a total of 4 cars that will not compete. In a field of 22 cars, to only have 18 competing means that around 1/5th of the grid is absent. Considering in the first qualifying session there are meant to be 6 cars eliminated, that would now make it well, two. So perhaps it is time for a little rethink on this whole qualifying malarkey for the time being maybe?

Just when you thought it was all over, other independent teams including Force India, Sauber and Lotus are rumoured to be holding secret talks with a threatened intention of boycotting the race this weekend in a show of support.  If the sport continues down this dark path of mind boggling budgets, it will end up pricing the non-manufacturer backed teams out of its maniacal grips.

In a year that has seen revolutionary new technical changes, record low attendance figures and now the threat of a GP with minimal competitors, there is but one question hovering on the lips of the masses: Is there a future for F1?

It is the view of this humble motorsport writer that the cause of these problems lies with two distinct yet ever so interlinked factors: the megalomaniacal Ecclestone leadership and of course, money.

Anyone remember this? After a tyre dispute only 6 cars took part in the 2005 Indianapolis GP. Image Credit:

Anyone remember this? After a tyre dispute only 6 cars took part in the 2005 Indianapolis GP. Image Credit:

But first let us delve into the history books to understand just how crucial this weekend may just become for Formula One. The sport has always had somewhat of a difficult time in many areas of America, thanks in no small part to the seemingly divine influence of NASCAR. It was in 2005 however that many would argue that F1 lost America. Following a tyre fiasco where Michelin tyres were not able to cope with track conditions without failure and a compromise could not be reached where a chicane was to be installed, all the Michelin clad teams pulled out living only those who used Bridgestone. This meant that only 6 cars eventually took part in the race; Ferrari, Jordan and Minardi made for a mind-numbing race that received a brutal backlash from both fans and teams. Following 2007, F1 departed American shores unsure of ever making a return.

As 2012 rolled around, hope was rekindled as it was announced that Formula One would once more hold a US GP. The kick in the guts came however when the great geniuses decided that all the great American race ways like Indianapolis, Laguna Seca or Road America (which has been described as the greatest test of road racing in North America, by the way) were just not good enough for the glamorous needs of Formula One. Instead, a new circuit was designed and built in Austin by none other than the great professor of tedium Hermann Tilke. In my view, the circuit shows no imagination and merely copycats all the great corners from other circuits across the world, while also following the utterly generic Tilke formula of lots of technical followed by a pointlessly long straight surrounded by a sea of tarmac run off areas. But that is another story.

Now, if one was already struggling to regain success in the states, surely the logical thing to avoid doing would be to make it worse. The worst thing I could think of is to essentially tell the Americans that neither their sum total nor their individual parts are good enough for you and then follow this up by ‘showing them how its done’ and creating a circuit that fits your high brow money wasting objectives. Oh and while I think of it, if you really wanted to rub salt in the infected wound, you would name the circuit something pretentious and downright ridiculous like oh, I don’t know, ‘Circuit Of The Americas’. All that would do surely would further isolate the audiences you so yearn to get back with your wonderful blend of condescension and elitism. No one would be stupid enough to do tha… Oh.

And herein lies the issue.

Sometimes I wonder if Bernie Ecclestone does this on purpose...

Sometimes I wonder if Bernie Ecclestone does this on purpose… Image Credit:

So where does the fault lie in all of this? Many people including he who writes these words that you find yourself reading would believe that it is the almighty leader of Formula One, Bernie Ecclestone who spearheads this spectacular tumble off a cliff. For many years, I have often found myself considering the thought that Bernie is very much like the Emperor from Star Wars. I am not just talking about his propensity for murdering innocent Jedi, but his ability to fabricate his own scandals in a way that works out positively for him. It would appear that by creating these headlines, he receives free media coverage by the press which stirs up conversation about F1 which often ends with a refreshed look at the sport and of course, new audiences. In many ways me writing this article about him is just playing into his intricately clever plans. Well done sir.

One of the problems I have highlighted with his leadership with his apparent desire for world domination. And when I say world domination, I mean intrusion into countries that will give him ALL OF THE MONEY. It would very much come to explain why in the modern generation of F1 there has been somewhat of an Eastern expansion to rich Arab nations. Try and call it a coincidence, I dare you. On a related note, it is important to note that 2014 has seen worryingly low attendance figures across the board. This has been most noticeable on the ‘traditional’ European tracks that have been on the championship calendar the longest. Once again, the point finger of blame goes directly to Mr Ecclestone; he charges a whole range of flat rates to different circuits to host a GP every year (between £10 and £18 million) which then have a brain melting set of extra clauses and charges which results in escalating charges per year. The subsequent ticket prices are then astronomically high. There is a reason I have not attended the British GP for many years now; I have been looking up 2015 admission prices and general race day admission is £155. No stand seat, no benefit, just entry to the circuit. If you were crazy enough to want a stand seat you are looking at some prices upwards of £360 for one. But at the end of the day when the Ecclestone money grabber is charging so much for the circuits to host the events, they do not really have much of a choice if they wish to make a decent return.

What doesn’t really help in addition is the new engine regulations that has resulted in a sport deafened by the sound of silence. One of the driving passions of all motorsport fans is the activation of all the senses while at an event. Hearing the thunderous scream of the F1 engine has always been key in the enjoyment of the sport; but now that has all but disappeared while being replaced by a quieter rumble, if you wish to call it that. The spectacle of the sport has somewhat lessened, which may indeed also go to explaining the reduced audience numbers. Why spend all that money when you can watch the races from the comfort of your own home and just, turn the television up?

The smaller independent teams simply do not have the budget to compete with the all conquering factory teams like Mercedes. Image Credit:

The smaller independent teams simply do not have the budget to compete with the all conquering factory teams like Mercedes. Image Credit:

Last and most significantly not least I would like to present you with the financial black hole that has no boundaries; it bleeds resources dry and attacks from the inside. What demon is it that I speak of? I am indeed referring to the cost of running a team within the championship itself, which circles right back to the start of this article and the absence of Marussia and Caterham from the American GP for 2014. There had been talks to impose a cost cap of £40 million budget for teams but this notion has disappeared into the vast ocean of the past now it would seem. The lowest budget in the grid was the £60 – 70 million of Marussia which may seem a lot to your every day human, but compare this to the rumoured £400+ million of Red Bull Racing, which definitely puts things in perspective. Unless buyers can be found the teams will be lost for good. Sadly, ever the man full of sympathy, Bernie Ecclestone was unmoved by the loss of these teams, stating that if they are to go then that is what will happen; we need small teams if they are going to be there performing properly and not moving around with begging buckets.

It is simple fact that the independent teams are going to struggle, especially if they lose one of their backers or a major sponsor, where the manufacturer backed teams have both factory support and major sponsors to fall back on. In the minds of the F1 elites, the high cost is vital to producing the best championship and clearly to prove how glamorously sophisticated it all is. To Bernie, if you do not have the money, then you do not matter. Let me refer you to the British Touring Car Championship, which in the last few years has released new NGTC regulations which actually put a spending cap on each team for the year. The championship now has a bulging 31 entries and better quality racing than it has seen in years. In fact, most people would be against the return of big name manufacturers, while preferring the smaller independent-backed teams. With the price cap, more teams have been able to join, while Alan Gow and TOCA have been able to sculpt an in-depth set of regulations that allow both freedom yet retain a balance of performance. Throwing lots of money at a problem and assuming it will automatically solve itself is not particularly clever. The trick is creating a high quality set of regulations that allow for your end objective without needing budgets that baffle the foundations of finances. Quality not quantity I believe is the phrase.

And so, Formula One has unwittingly backed itself into a crisis corner. Under its current leadership, costs are spiralling out of control and teams will fast begin to drop out the championship faster than Mr Ecclestone can throw money in their way to cover it up. For now it is Marussia and Caterham, next it may be Force India or even Sauber. who really knows. Unless you have factory support, you are never really safe. The saddest part is, we are living in a world that has been crippled by economic issues and there is simply just not the same extravagant levels of funds available as there used to be. It is such a massive shame however that Bernie Ecclestone will never be able to accept this and adapt his championship to suit these conditions. He is a man hell bent on power and refuses to change his ways. If he continues to refuse to accept the inevitable then he will face the ultimate downfall of his beloved championship. New leadership is needed, perhaps from someone who understands the current climate and can work with that. The question remains…

Dear Bernie, What Have You Done?

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