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O RLY? – would be the instinctive reaction of the younger generation to what most will probably chalk up as scare-mongering. But a look into history and applying the experiences of recent years, this doom and gloom scenario is not as far-fetched as we might at first think.
While many, including TJ13, were writing messages of hope about the possibility of a Manor/Marussia return, it went almost un-noted that three other teams were closer to falling apart than Manor was to survival.
It was not quite so inconspicuous in the case of Force India and their attempted heist job on Manor, for which they have been universally lambasted. But in the end it is just a sign of how desperate teams have become to just survive. It’s like carting a single pizza into a weight-watchers convention and then sitting back and watching the fireworks.
Let me make it absolutely clear though – what Force India have done is hardly forgivable. Instead of looking for a solution that befits all of them, they tried to soldier on, by stabbing a fellow struggler in the back for some cheap meat. How it should be done has been proven when the little teams put the proverbial gun to Ecclestone’s head by telling him ‘cash, or else…’.
All of the small teams had to take leave of their dignity at some point or another just to struggle on for yet another month. Lotus have wrecked their credibility with a development driver, who’s only qualification appears to be that she is female and have some cash (and rather pleasing on the eye too). I decline to comment on what ‘hard work and determination‘ she was referring to that allegedly brought her to F1.
Sauber boss Monisha Kaltenborn turned into a ruthless business woman, breaking the contracts of all three Sauber drivers and informed them about the fact by SMS. All this just so she could go for yet another bunch of pay drivers with even bigger coffers than the ones she had just deleted off her speed-dial list.
Caterham went begging on the interwebs and the exploits of Force India are well documented by now. So while the teams might have struggled on so far they all have taken massive hits to their reputation in the process. It is therefore no surprise that they are confident enough and appear not to care about their street-cred to dare go ask Bernie for a loan with an AK-47 as their best argument.
The problem is quite simple. While during the season cash comes in from Bernie money, sponsors and other sources, the teams are bleeding money from November till February. But at the same time they have to spend big on building the new car. We’ve come to the point that the smaller teams no longer have the reserves to get through that time.
The fact that suppliers now demand immediate payment doesn’t help the least bit.
And lo and behold, we’ve reached the point where Force India and Sauber do not yet know if they can even pay to travel to Melbourne. The scenario that F1 could end up with only 12 cars on the grid, is highlighted by the fact that Ecclestone’s plans B and C have already been developed in detail.
Option one is building a fleet of second-league cars, more precisely 2013 RB9’s with Mecachrome V8 engines. Option two is to have the big teams build third cars. But the big fish demand 60 days of advance notice. The smaller teams cleverly waited until Bernard doesn’t have that time anymore. As a result it comes as no surprise that Ecclestone caved in and agreed to pay the last tranche of 2013 Bernie money in February instead of March and the first instalment of 2014 payments will come in March instead of April.
The problem is, it is still like trying to put a forest fire out with a bucket of water. It doesn’t solve the problems, it merely delays the collapse of the smaller teams by six or ten races. The McKinsey cost saving reports was chucked in the bin immediately by the big teams, as were any suggestions for better and more equitable distribution of F1’s ginormous income.
And that’s where we come to the point at which F1 will implode. Currently the big fish are presenting a united front as that’s the best way to keep the plebs away from the best spots on the food table, but when the plebs has kicked the bucket, they will turn on each other.
Mercedes is so far ahead they don’t even need to try and therefore one could argue want to retain status quo. But the day isn’t far when even they will learn that too much winning causes negative backlash.
Mercedes could be seen as the bully who steals candy from babies, just ask Red Bull. The third car idea would mean Ferrari, Red Bull and McLaren wouldn’t even be fighting for podiums anymore. That’s too little for organizations that spent millions over millions on their cars.
The Austrian team (Red Bull) meanwhile have their own crisis at hand. Their relationship with Renault has deteriorated so badly that the French are looking to get rid of them and go it alone. And yet, despite building what many regard as the most sophisticated chassis, RB have no chance to compete with Mercedes.
There is only so much time that can pass before RB will put up a much fiercer fight.
Ferrari is no better off. The big gains over last year and the arrival of Vettel, who is the polar opposite of the unloved departed Fernando Alonso, will only temporarily gloss over the fact that they are still way too far behind and only compete for crumbs once again. The tifosi are not exactly known for their patience.
The less said about McHonda, the better at this time. They can only use the infancy of their project as an excuse for a limited time. Red Bull had sorted Renault’s engine out by Melbourne last year, at least to the point that at least one car could finish the race occasionally. A man like Ron Dennis will not suffer lack of success for long – the fireworks are in the making.
The result will be calls for new rules and new cars. And in the long term Mercedes won’t be able to deflect those calls.
And so, TV figures continue to plummet and seats at the tracks remain empty. Is it that change will only come when Bernard’s beancounters tell him they have earned less than last month for the first time?
I believe it is at this point that new rules will come. Some fans will be unhappy and some teams will threaten to withdraw; some will probably even do so.
And that will be the moment when the whole house of cards collapses. Especially as people will have noticed by then that the product presented by WEC and Indycar is superior and features just as many cheerable drivers.
Bernard will have to do much better than just throwing a bone once in a while. And more importantly, the Wolffs, Laudas, Horners, Arrivabenes and Denises of the paddock need to pull their thumbs out and think about the whole product instead of only their own interest.
If not I fear they will be forced to consider WEC as a marketing platform and that’s where Audi, Porsche, Nissan and Toyota are already waiting to whip their behinds. They won’t be able to stomp them into oblivion as easily as they did with Sauber, Lotus, Force India and Manor now would they?
The ball gentlemen is in your court…