Customer car decision brings shame on F1’s governance


Brought to you by TJ13 Editor in Chief Andrew Huntley-Jacobs.

Genii should reconsider its decision regarding the sale of their F1 team – and quickly. The latest move by the F1 strategy group to pursue the customer car route in Formula One is a disaster for everyone other than the big teams.

The large F1 teams, Ferrari, Mercedes, Red Bull and McLaren have carved up the lion’s share of the sport’s revenues via backroom deals they did with Ecclestone. And the customer car proposal will consolidate their power even further, as incremental finance will ultimately flow through the doors of Maranello, Woking, Brackley and Milton Keynes.

The process to ‘assess costs and feasibility’ of a customer car programme will be evaluated by what is called the ‘Constructor Championship Bonus Teams’, Mercedes, Ferrari, Red Bull and McLaren.

Williams, long time opponents of this idea, are out in the cold.

Adam Cooper reports that, “Lotus, Sauber, Force India and Manor will be given ‘first refusal’ on whether or not they want to switch to using customer cars~, which is misleading. It is not a veto of the concept, these teams will be offered – but ‘first refusal’ on customer car allocations the big teams will be offering. Adam makes no mention either of Williams.

The big teams will end up with even more of the share of the sport’s revenues, because they will be charging their ‘customer car teams’ for at least the chassis in this plan. It is not yet clear whether suspension gear box and aero parts will be on offer too, if this is the case – the proposed idea becomes even more of a poisoned chalice.

What value for example will Enstone have as a business anymore? They apparently currently believe this to be North of $300m.

However, if a fully good to go pair of F1 cars can be bought for around $50-60m, why buy an existing F1 team?

A start-up outfit could survive by merely having a minor fabrications operation, data analysis unit, PR staff, race weekend equipment and race personnel. Genii could be set to lose a fortune on their perceived capital value and their car design and manufacturing skills.

Further, the big teams will not be selling their customer cars – whatever the package finally includes – at a loss or merely break even.

What will all this mean for the fans?

Cherish those memories of Kimi’s wins in a Lotus, of a Force India on pole position, of Pastor Maldonado holding off Fernando Alonso for what seemed like an age before winning the Spanish GP – because the likelihood of such upsets will be eliminated forever.

One other aspect of customer cars is that they will almost certainly be sold with an associated engine deal. Buy a McLaren customer car – you get a Honda engine; buy Mercedes or Ferrari and you get their power trains too.

Buy a Red Bull customer car……. Oh wait a minute….. how does that work?

There are a number of scenarios Red Bull may choose to follow in the immediate future, though we can’t know for certain how this will pan out until either they or Renault make a move to cement their fractured relationship long term – of get on with their divorce.

Will customer cars improve F1 racing?

Probably not. At each stage of F1’s five year development cycle – one of the big four teams will be ahead of the rest, whilst the others shuffle and order their deckchairs.

What is certain, is two tier racing will emerge – whether visible of not in the sporting regulations. A Formula One race will consist of two different battles; first is the proper prototype racing machines and then comes the competition for cars bought from off the shelf.

Customer cars must surely then reduce costs?

Monisha Kaltenborn whose Sauber team are Ferrari engine customers was perplexed the last time this subject arose. “It’s not at all a good idea. I cannot even follow the argument that it’s going to reduce costs. 

“Formula One is about constructors. F1 needs in its DNA this challenge. It’s never been any different. People like to see a Williams and Force India come really close to beating a really big team.”

Yet customer cars looks set to be the path the powers that be in F1 eventually pursue. Ecclestone has always been in favour of the idea and 4 of the 6 team’s on the strategy group stand to benefit significantly from this proposal.

Whether the FIA support this idea or not – is irrelevant.

And given the Ecclestone propaganda war in the days prior to the strategy group convening, the impression is now that a smoke screen was skilfully thrown up. There was no mention of reviving the topic of ‘customer cars’ – not even when the senior team members discussed the future of Formula One at the Spanish GP Friday Press Conference.

However this turns out, the corrupt nature of the current form of F1 governance and the process by which this proposal will be shaped – is a disgrace.

It’s time to hear the response of the fans – who after pay for the F1 circus – one way or another.

49 responses to “Customer car decision brings shame on F1’s governance

    • Why not make the customer teams also use the supplier teams’ old tyres from the previous race, to lock-in the disadvantage.

    • @dobzizzle Absolutely, but that would have required a significant redistribution from the big teams down to the others to make a third car.

      Also, since this topic came up last year – we’ve had the reality of Mateschitz spitting his dummy out and repeatedly threatening to quit the sport. 8×3 then sees you lose 6 cars all at once.

      • …as opposed to losing 6 (independent) teams, and gaining 8 customer teams that no-one gives a flying f**k about.

        • 8 customer teams that can each bring in 2 drivers each in addition to sponsorship. This could be a reasonable resolution to the pay driver situation if the customer cars only cost $60M. These customer teams would essentially be operations entities, and without the overhead could give true driver talent the chance it has long since needed.

      • I believe 8×3 and customer teams largely share the same design flaws. In an era of bullet proof reliability, the cars from top 3 teams will hog all points-scoring positions. So we will now see 3 Merc-alikes, 3 Ferrari-alikes and 3 Williams-alikes in top 10. This will leave the likes of Red Bull and McLaren scraping for 1 single point, never mind the Sauber’s or the Force India’s. Teams will go belly up sooner rather than later…

        “8×3 then sees you lose 6 cars all at once.”

        Very true. For an 18-car grid and counting…

    • I am not sure there still exist 8 teams who could afford to race with three cars and still build a competent chassis…

  1. It is even a disaster for some of the big teams, if they are unable to produce a competitive car. Because if they spend all that money with no results, in the end they will pull out, like Toyota did some years ago. It will eventually lead to a one or two-make series, with a lot of customer cars (or not). It happened to CART and IRL.

    And what changes are there for a customer team to beat the supplier? Hardly any as this is not in the interest of the suppliers. So they will only beat the less successful suppliers

    • Dieter Rencken has written pretty convincingly about this doomsday scenario. Hard not to be left feeling now like it will ultimately come to pass.

    • Will Buxton made this same point today in his article as well, that such rules will lead eventually to a one or two make series.

      It was interesting that Buxton stepped through everyone voting their immediate interest (versus longer term self interest, or overall interest), and then noted that one party that could’ve prevented this own goal, Jean Todt, was silent, and seeming powerless, (it’s a great article, btw). Jean Todt is very perplexing!

      • Bogeyman argument. Ferrari will always be in F1, so there goes the one make. McLaren should be there too, so two make. But it’s hard to believe that there won’t exist at least on or two more organizations willing to take on McLaren and Ferrari.

  2. I think rather than allowing teams to run customer cars at a budget of around 70 million, surely it would be better if the cost of running a team should be brought down to a sensible amount. The fact that a GP2 car that costs 2 million a year, would of qualified on the f1 grid at the last race, shows you dont need a £400 budged to go fast.

    I think all F1 fans love to watch a giant slaying act by the smaller teams. The only thing i would find interesting, would be if the customer teams were forced to run a different engine to the parent team, however, would Merc want a Ferrari customer team with its engine and vice versa.

    • You are both right and wrong. A GP2 car is a customer car, but it is very fast. When you build a GP2 car to the rules governing F1, it either becomes very slow or very exensive.

  3. Personally I am interested in the human cost. All of a sudden the engineers of half the grid will have become redundant. And how many layoffs will this entail? On this background, the Caterham scam will seem like peas…

    • Not to mention the collapse of the supply chain itself and the loss of all of those skilled positions (and the loss of future opportunities for entrance to motorsports work by any new grads).

      This is crazy to see the sport being destroyed from above and within.

  4. Sooo, customer cars are a reality? When will that happen, next year, in 2017? What about existing powertrain deals? Are they all short-term contracts or will long running ones be merged so they cover more than the engine and its related components?

    I don’t think Williams will be very happy with that and some other teams may not be either. The big problem I see with the whole customer cars aspect, is the capriciousness of manufacturers. The way Honda, Toyota and BMW have left the sport so suddenly, it would spell disaster for Formula 1 if that were to happen with customer car deals in place.

    • if williams build a good car why can’t they then become a 3rd car supplier as well? it would certainly help their revenues no end. this is not all bad. it is kind of ridiculous to expect these tail end teams to be able to compete anyway as they have to do all the construction similar to the big teams. this way they can spend their money on being competitive rather than funding the full F1 enchilada. all this talk of it being the death knell is ridiculous.

      • Customer cars can only work if the car and engine are a package deal, at least that’s my take on the situation. While Williams might design a good enough car, what team is going to want the hassle of two separate contracts for car and powertrain? I can see all kinds of problems here, not the least of which is the problem of getting an engine deal with the right engine supplier to fit the design of your customer car.

      • I’m sure Williams COULD do that. Indeed, they started as a ‘customer’ team… But those were different times, and pretty quickly they became a proper ‘works’ team. Maybe if there were a separate company (not actually competing as a works team) that did the customer cars, that might work… but who’s gonna do that? If the big teams supply all the chassis’s (?), then F1 as we know it will be truly dead. It MIGHT be an excellent spectacle, but the fundamental nature of F1 will be lost. Anyone who has followed F1 for a while knows that it is, essentially, an engineering competition, and that is a HUGE part of its ‘reason to be’. For all its flaws, that’s the one thing that you don’t get in other motorsports in the same way. F1 has always been about extreme prototype technology. If we have the big teams supplying all the others, we will have (at best) GP1. At worst, CART…. You might get closer racing, but then, why not just watch GP2 instead? It’s just as quick, apparently…Oh, it’s behind a paywall? At least with F1 you… oh, hang on. Just realised that F1 is actually the ‘Foot Shooting World Championship’. Bloody exciting, but you kind of know what’s going to happen.

    • I don’t get why Williams should really be upset. Second season in a row they build an outstanding “best of the rest” kind of chassis. Williams was whinny about the customer car idea back in the day when they were finishing 8th or 9th in WDC in 2011 and 2013.

      • They’d be upset because it won’t be F1 anymore. Sir Frank is a racer of the old school, and while it’s clear that he is a shrewd businessman who will do whatever he can to maximise his revenue, you can also be sure that he isn’t doing it for the money. He’s doing it to go RACING. With customer cars, anybody with a can of fizzy pop to sell could just stroll in and clean up, then disappear when they’re bored of it… When the last of Frank’s kind are gone, the sport will be properly fucked. Wait and see.

  5. At the end of the day it’s pretty much just a ruse. Have everyone talking about what a bad idea this is whilst the true issues are brushed under the carpet.

    Repeat after repeat 🙁

  6. Poor Enzo, he missed the end of the Garagistas and worse still, it was Bernie wot did it.

  7. Instead of adding my voice to all those other concerned, I’m trying to see some positive to the idea…

  8. Isn’t the title of this story somewhat misleading? Adam Cooper says “provision for third cars from top teams being introduced to make up the numbers should a current team fail – with customer car teams as the potential next step” and “The works teams now have to get together a proposal and a format for how customer cars could work”. So it has not been decided, but merely put forward as a potential option to be examined in further detail.

    I found this ” ” about refuelling, free tyre choice and noisier cars more interesting

  9. this “take all you can now, worry about it later” attitude is one of the main problems in society today as a whole.

  10. Well that all came from nowhere, Bernie’s smoke screen worked so well, even Dick Dastardly would be proud of it.
    Depending on the extent of the package the regulations will allow to be sold be the bigger teams, it could easily spell the end as we know it, for even the most well established of the mid-field teams (Sauber, Force India, Lotus and possibly even Williams). It would become GP1 not Formula 1, I think that we would lose too many ‘main constructors’ from the grid.
    What happens when Mercedes pull out and RedBull take their toys home, that would leave McLaren and Ferrari to supply pretty much the rest of the field because noone in their right mind would build and F1 car from scratch, if they can just buy one good to go. Even of it cost the same as actually building one, you only need minimal fabrication staff, almost zero design staff and much smaller premises to name a few of the bigger cost reductions, therefore still save a fortune on the overall cost of running your team.
    Maybe, just MAYBE, Gene Haas had already been informed that these changes were as good as made, before he signed up to enter the party. Where ever Bernie Ecclestone is involved, nothing surprises me any more.

    This is a sad day for ALL of the F1 circus. Something needs doing about the strategy group pretty sharpish before there is no F1 left to make stupid changes to.

    Wish I knew a way to raise the funds to buy the controlling percentage of the shares to stop all this madness in the only sport I really appreciate.

    • All comments go into moderation these days, the queue is checked every hour or so…. a short wait is for the betterment of the comments section I’m afraid.

      That said, we could do with a moderator for between 12 midnight and about 8am UK time – West coast America dwellers – this could be you.

      • I work uk night shifts so Am Available to check those times if it helps. Not every night of course but will be able to tell you when. Idont comment much but Always read the site. I am also off work for a week but Happy to help after

      • @thejudge13 If moderation is required for the sake of ‘The Show’ and to improve the ‘experience’ then I’m in.
        Glad TJ13 doesn’t have a strategy group or you’d all still just be talking about moderation.

      • Pity,can’t do the midnight shift Judge but if you need some help during the day uk time just call…wanted by the government, for a crime he didn’t commit he escaped a maximum security stockade to the black country underground,if you have a problem and no one else can help…and if you can find him,then maybe you can hire..the oddball…’play drums and cool music then hum’…da da da daaaa da da daaaar

  11. Customer cars are a simple and ingenious idea that could, possibly, allow smaller teams to make gains and aquire significant data/knowledge very quickly. Just imagine it if Force India had a F1 W05 in hands, how quickly would it take them to understand what made it so much quicker than them?

    So no, customer cars, the concept, is no reason for shame. The shame comes form the schizophrenic governance which does not work to solve problems, but to create others which renders the old less important or less distinguished.

    For example, lack of overtaking is a problem. What do they do? Implement DRS. Which in turn adds a new safety component from possible failure and also creates the problem of regulating sensors and activation points and etc. F1, its governance, didn’t solve overtaking, they simply created a problem called DRS which superseeded the original problem.

    Customer cars are, IMO, a fantastic idea. But caution and experience tell me to never be optimistic about F1.

    I wonder if heroin would leave me in a similar state of mind.

    • By the way, the problem now are costs and revenue distribution, they did nothing to solve it directly but created problems in many fronts.

      Refueling – gasp – who resurrected it?

  12. I for one don’t see a problem with customer cars. The time has come for all the fans to realize that the era of “garage” teams was long over. Remember the part of the “Rush” where Niki Lauda himself gives technical instructions to the two mechanics of his side of BRM garage about how to make the car faster by two seconds a lap? Well this sort of 1970s no longer can happen. F1 is simply too high tech. Without customer cars, F1 gird will never have more than 10-11 teams, half of which are sort of like “zombies”, switching for a pay driver to the next each season, just to afford to build a chassis.

    The talk about “two tier competition” is non-sense. Since when Formula 1 did not have a two tier competition? The top 2-3-4 teams of the season fight for podiums and top 5 place. The rest pick up the scraps. It’s been like that for decades. It’s preposterous to deny that times like Lotus, Force India, or Saube are already not in the second, or third tier. Yes, the customer car probably will not always as good, as the factory car, but we can hope that the gap will be smaller. Force India racing with the Mercedes car could potentially have a jab at winning a race or maybe even standing on a podium every once in a while. Suddenly, guys like Hulkenberg could have a competitive machinery again.

    • ” F1 is simply too high tech. Without customer cars, F1 gird will never have more than 10-11 teams, half of which are sort of like “zombies””

      I disagree. Make the revenue distribution system progressive instead of regressive (i.e. nil bonus for Ferrari and RB, and 100m bonus for Caterham, etc.), it shall be super fun to see small teams come up with ingenious solutions that’ll make big teams scratch their teeth…

      I exaggerate, of course, but the point should stand: give small teams sufficient resources to participate in the sport without going cap in hand to all and sundry just to survive, and even give them slightly more resources than the big teams get, and we’re in for the Bob’s “the builders of fast cars” to create some curious upsets here and there…

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