Is this the end of Formula One?

Listening to the cacophony emanating from the media trailing the F1 circus across the globe, you would be forgiven for thinking the sport is on its last legs.  Between the breathless coverage tyre supplier problems, small teams on the brink of financial collapse, the big-team monopoly in the new FIA strategy group, and 160-pound men who are too fat to fit in next year’s cars, you might not even realize that there are, in fact, races going on right now.

marussiaPhoto credit: nhayashida via Flickr

One of the latest media predictions is that the large, manufacturer-backed teams are trying to run the smaller, often independent, teams out of the sport.  This would allow the likes of Ferrari and Red Bull to establish themselves as vendors selling their chassis to customer teams who would no longer design their own cars.  The underlying fear is that this will make F1 more like IndyCar, which uses a standard chassis for all teams, and which is considered an inferior racing series.

Aside from the fact that F1 has had customer teams before (although it is illegal in the current regulations – each team must design and build their own car), why would the Ferraris and Red Bulls of the F1 world want their cars – even customer models – to start finishing last in races?  They need the Caterhams and the Marussias so they can assert their dominance over them. Selling cars to other teams and then beating them (or worse, having the customers beat the factory team) would only diminish their brand.

True, there are untold millions to be made from selling cars and associated technology to smaller teams. However, for the teams backed by a company that also sells road cars, F1 is a huge advertisement.  Do they really want potential customers to see their cars filling up the back of the grid (even if other versions of the same car are also winning the race)?

Despite doomsday predictions about the death of the independent team and the sport’s current tyre and financial problems, F1 is not going anywhere. It is simply too lucrative a brand.  Some of the smaller teams may disappear, but only one team, Ferrari, has entered every F1 World Championship season anyway.

ferrariPhoto credit: IJsselstein via Flickr

There will always be a line of new entrants clamouring for a place in the glitzy, glamourous (and increasingly sterile) F1 world tour.  Remember the last time there was a call for new entries, before the 2010 season? Fifteen teams applied for the three available spots on the grid.

It is always disappointing to lose established teams, but F1 fans are used to it. Minardi and March, Ligier and the original Lotus, Alfa Romeo and Arrows, Jordan and dozens of others have come and gone, but F1 is still here. It is bigger than any one team – except, maybe, Ferrari.  And the tifosi have no need to worry about their team, as they receive special payments from Formula One Management just for showing up to the races.

Also, although team budgets will need to spend more for next season to accommodate the new engines and the chassis redesign they necessitate, these changes will level the playing field – to a certain extent.

Ferrari and Red Bull will still have the largest budgets, but there will be an opportunity for smaller teams to perhaps exploit a loophole in the regulations or incorporate a new design element that their rivals have not yet thought of and (temporarily, at least) gain an advantage on the track.

So no matter what you hear or read about how Bernie Ecclestone and the FIA are about to pull a Thelma and Louise and drive the sport off a metaphorical cliff, remember that most of the issues facing F1 today are nothing new and, one way or another, the sport will still be around in 2023 (and beyond), when Sebastian Vettel will be gunning for his 14th straight championship.


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