Hickey: F1 Has a Team Problem
Five years ago, I wrote about how IndyCar has a desperate problem when it comes to the teams within the series and how unstable everything would be if just one team pulled out.
I feel like a broken record at this point.
The good news for IndyCar is since I wrote that, we've seen new full-time teams come forward, like McLaren, Harding-Steinbrenner, Carlin, and Meyer-Shank, with part-time efforts from Juncos, DragonSpeed, Citrone/Buhl, Clauson-Marshall, Team Goh, Team Stange, Scuderia Corsa, and a couple of others.
That's quite the turnaround since I decided to chirp about it. I am really impressed with the growth IndyCar has seen in regards to adding teams, and Jay Frye & Co. deserve a lot of credit.
I can't help but feel that Formula 1 is in the same unstable situation in regards to the amount of teams.
The sport currently fields ten teams each with two entries (mandated rules by the governing body). Of the ten teams, only three are 'works' teams, meaning that their team is also owned by the engine supplier (Mercedes, Ferrari, Renault). The other seven teams are privateer teams of sorts, as in they are owned by sponsors or business people. In my opinion, F1 could really use a Porsche, Audi, Ford, etc. type of car manufacturer to join the sport and inject some new life into it.
Some good news on the horizon is that Lawrence Stroll, who's a part of the investment group that took control of Racing Point, bought 20% of Aston Martin and intends to rebrand the team as Aston Martin Racing in 2021. Stroll has indicated that he wants the team to become a works team, meaning they will also produce their own engines. Confirmation of that has not been made official at this time.
I wonder if the pink will stay when Aston Martin Racing becomes official (Photo: MotorSportsWeek)
On the opposite end of the spectrum, sponsoring F1 is an expensive operation, and given the recent history of F1 teams going into administration (an attempt to find a buyer before officially going out of business), it concerns me the amount of teams that could suddenly fold if sponsors leave is very concerning. The non-works teams face a constant battle behind the scenes.
Red Bull have not given any indications that they would pull out of F1, but threats have been made in the past, and if they did leave, they would take four entries with them (Red Bull and AlphaTauri).
Haas F1 is under threat, as owner Gene Haas has stated that if the team doesn't start well in 2020 that they may just leave the sport before the regulations change in 2021.
Other teams are constantly facing sponsorship battles, like Williams and McLaren.
And just recently, the FIA came to a controversial settlement with Ferrari over some of their 2019 engines not meeting standards. The settlement was confidential, thus not allowing the other teams not using Ferrari engines to learn of a punishment (if there was one).
Now, I'm no expert, but it doesn't seem like a good idea to cozy favor to one engine supplier when 70% of the grid does not use those engines.
What does history tell us? A lot of teams either being taken over, re-branded, or leaving altogether. Here's a recap of all the teams or any team changes that we've seen since 2000 -
HSBC Stewart Ford becomes Jaguar Racing F1 Team
Bennetton sells their team to Renault but maintains naming rights until 2002
Prost Grand Prix liquidates
Panasonic Toyota Racing joins the grid
Arrows withdraws from the sport after round 12 due to finances. An application to rejoin in 2003 is rejected
Jaguar Racing is taken over by Red Bull Racing
BMW takes a majority stake in Sauber Petronas
Minardi is taken over by Red Bull junior team Toro Rosso
Team Jordan becomes Midland F1 Racing
Honda buys out BAR to become the sole owners of Honda Racing F1 team
Super Aguri joins the grid as a new team
Midland F1 Racing was taken over by Spyker F1 Team
Spyker F1 Team was taken over by Force India
Super Aguri withdraws from the sport after four rounds due to finances
Honda F1 Team was taken over by Brawn GP
Brawn GP barely made the grid in time for the first race and ended up being champions. Who could've predicted that? (Photo: Motor1)
BMW withdraws from the sport, and Peter Sauber takes back control of Sauber
Toyota withdraws from the sport
Brawn GP is taken over by Mercedes-Benz
Lotus Racing joins the grid
HRT joins the grid
Virgin Racing joins the grid
Virgin Racing is taken over (wholly) by Marussia
HRT withdraws from the sport due to finances
Caterham (formerly Lotus Racing that joined in 2010) withdraws from the sport due to finances
Marussia is taken over by Manor
Haas F1 joins the grid
Manor withdraws from the sport due to finances
Sauber transitions to Alfa Romeo Sauber
Force India is taken over by Racing Point
Toro Rosso rebrands as AlphaTauri
Racing Point rebrands as Aston Martin Racing
Since 2011, only one new team has joined the sport from scratch (Haas F1). One team. It is a giagantic ask to get a new team to join F1 by starting with nothing, but changes have to be made to allow more teams into F1.
Haas F1 may be in their final year of existence (Photo: MotorSportsWeek)
Fortunately, such changes appear to be on the horizon for 2021. If you take away the sheer amount of money required to start a team, an owner then has to worry about the sheer amount of money it takes to keep a team going. One step to help owners is by limiting the spending budgets of teams going forward. F1 is a rich team's game, and thus we regularly see Mercedes and Ferrari dominating given the pocket books they have. With few exceptions, teams will be limited to spending $175 million in developing their cars. I know that sounds like a lot, but a team like Mercedes regularly spends $400 million on their development, leaving other teams like Haas F1 behind the 8 ball.
As mentioned earlier in the article, Aston Martin joining as a works team (at least, that is what's planned) is a big win for the sport.
Hopefully this budget cap will incentivize new owners or manufactures out there to start a team and join the grid. I think F1 is in a perilous situation in which one or two key decisions could have a disastrous impact on the sport.
My personal opinion is while the costs of F1 are astronomical, now is a really bad time to leave the sport. The regulations can make 2021 the most competitive season we may have seen in the history of the sport.
Opinions in this article reflect solely on the author.
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