FIA hatches five-year plan to save Formula One
After decades of building the most expensive cars in motor sport, Formula One is to suffer a culture shock as the FIA plans radical cost-cutting measures and the imposition of standardized parts over the next five years in an attempt to save the sport from pricing itself out of existence.
Documents obtained by The Times reveal that a crisis summit called by Max Mosley, the president of the FIA, with the ten team principals in Geneva next week will involve discussions on a range of radical new technical regulations designed to cut team budgets drastically and end the culture of “money no object” engine and chassis design. The FIA's initiative follows suggestions made by Mosley and by Bernie Ecclestone, the Formula One commercial rights holder, last week and reported exclusively by The Times that they want to cut costs “dramatically” in the sport.
Among the measures now proposed is the introduction of standard engines from the beginning of the 2010 season, built by teams themselves at a fraction of present costs or produced by a single supplier or contractor. A second new engine regime will start in 2013 with power trains (engine and gearbox) incorporating heat and exhaust recovery systems and achieved at a development cost far lower then present budgets. Cars will also be required to have a chassis with many more “common parts” and will include standard suspension systems, wheels and underbodies.
The new 2013 engines will be compact, but also highly advanced in fuel efficiency and energy efficiency. “We are completely open to new ideas,” the FIA tells the team principals in the documents. “The only preconditions are (i) that the costs of development, maintenance and unit production for the power train must be an order of magnitude lower than is currently the case and (ii) power trains must be available to independent teams at minimal cost.”
The FIA wants to look at any areas where money can be saved and, as it puts it in the documents, the “standardization of other parts which are the subject of major expenditure but add nothing to the spectacle or the public interest in Formula One”. It wants the team principals to look at ways in which the rules for going racing can be changed to make the sport cheaper, especially in technical areas “invisible” to ordinary viewers. One possibility is that all work on cars during a race weekend will be banned except for necessary maintenance.
The agenda for the meeting in Geneva amounts to a charter for a far cheaper sport but one that Mosley believes can be just as exciting as it is now. In “explanatory notes”, which all the team principals have received as they prepare for the summit, Mosley sets out his vision for a slimmed-down version of motor sport's elite championship fit for a tougher world economic climate. He proposes that in future teams will be able to run on budgets equal to the television rights money distributed to them by Formula One Management (FOM), the company run by Ecclestone. If divided equally, this would allocate £40-50million to each team compared with present technical budgets more than three times that amount for the biggest teams, such as Toyota, Honda and McLaren Mercedes.
“The FIA believes that Formula One costs are unsustainable,” Mosley writes in the notes. “Even before current global financial problems, teams were spending far more than their incomes, in so far as these consist of sponsorship plus FOM money. As a result, the independent teams are now dependent on the goodwill of rich individuals, while the manufacturers' teams depend on massive handouts from their parent companies.”
Mosley's main fear is that, with the Formula One grid four cars short at 20, more of the smaller teams will drop out, leaving the sport unviable. “There is now a real danger that, in some cases, these subsidies will cease,” Mosley writes. “This could result in a reduction in the number of competitors, adding to the two team vacancies we already have and reducing the grid to an unacceptable level. The FIA's view is that Formula One can only be healthy if a team can race competitively for a budget at or very close to what it gets from FOM.”
Although the FIA confirmed last night that an agenda and position paper had been distributed to the Formula One Teams Association, a spokesman refused to comment on any of the details in advance of the Geneva meeting. The London Times