Big teams to fail in justifying customer cars

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brought to you by TJ13’s Editor in Chief Andrew Huntley-Jacobs

The strategy group has proven to be a thorn in Bernie Ecclestone’s side. Prior to the recent strategy group meeting, described by Bob Fernley as a ‘watershed’ moment for Formula One, Ecclestone outlined his difficulty in getting things done.

“The problem is we have with this democracy in our sport, and in our case it’s even worse because you have people in competition with one another.

“Obviously you are not going to do anything to help somebody to beat you, so it’s very difficult”.

Jean Todt has clearly stated, the FIA’s approach to regulating F1 is one which seeks consensus and agreement. Hence, if this is impossible, the FIA have used their one third of the vote in the strategy group to perpetuate the status quo.

Ecclestone’s comments interestingly recently provoked a stream of headlines along these lines, ‘Ecclestone ready to vote with Todt in strategy group meeting’. Yet Bernie’s diplomatic skills presumably left Monsieur Todt cold when he stated. “If Jean was happy to fall into line, then yeah, there would be no problem at all. We don’t have to talk to anyone”.

As Christian Horner commented in Monaco, in the 18 months since its inception, the strategy group has managed to agree just one consensus regulation – and that was to restrict driver helmet design changes.

The F1 commission is set to consider another consensus decision form the strategy group, this will allow the teams to select the two Pirelli dry compounds they wish to use for each race, rather than be restricted to the two Pirelli choose.

Customer cars are have been a big polemic of Bernie’s. He is frustrated by the lack of cars on the grid and may be close to breaching certain agreements he has with race promoters, which specify a minimum number of F1 cars must be on show.

McLaren’s boss Ron Dennis is said to be very keen on the idea.

The recent change of livery for the GP2 team, ART, to the colour scheme used by McLaren caused eyebrows to be raised in the F1 paddock. The French team may be ready to enter Formula One by way of the new FIA invitation to participate, which was publicised over the weekend.

Nicholas Todt, who has an ownership share in the team, has previously stated, “Entering F1 is something that ART could consider, but only if it makes real sense to us, and therefore if all the pieces of the jigsaw are there.”

Of course, for Dennis, a co-operating ‘customer team’ as a close partner of Mclaren-Honda, is preferable – in terms of influence – to a third party manufacturer taking a Honda engine, and maybe a junior McLaren driver or one from Japan.

However, Bob Fernley believes it is for the bigger teams to properly make the case for customer cars, and does so with veiled threats.

“Vijay is very clear he has come into Formula 1 as a constructor, to compete in Formula 1, not to participate.

“It is up to the manufacturer teams to convince him there is a viable alternative, which is their job, which is why they need to go away, to look at it and do it.

Mallya and Subrata Roy have invested over $250m in Force India, and the value of their business lies within their ability to function as a constructor.

Customer cars potentially destroy the independent constructors’ value. This is because if the Force India’s of this world are forced to become merely a player who races two ready made cars at race weekends, their business then has little – if – any sale value.

Fernley adds, “All I’m saying, in stepping back from it and without my Force India hat on, is that objectively look at the consequences because my worry is the prospect of the very fabric of Formula 1 being destroyed forever and a day”.

Autosport has reported Sauber and Lotus will refuse to offer to become customer teams.

The independent F1 constructors have been the reason Formula One has survived over the past decade. These kind of teams have been part of the sport since its inception.

“When Honda pulled out it was Brawn, as an independent, that came in and saved the day, stepping in and winning the championship.” Fernley observes.

“When BMW pulled out, Peter Sauber, at huge cost to himself, stepped in and saved them to again run it as an independent team.

“When Renault pulled out, Gerard Lopez stepped in as an independent and saved the day for that team.

“When Toyota pulled out everything was lost.

“That is the risk you take with losing independent teams because they are purely there to go motor racing”.

Of course under a customer car scheme, were a big manufacturer like Mercedes to pull out of Formula One, not just two cars would be lost – but four even six.

The spectacle of an F1 race may be affected too. Will these customer teams actually be allowed to race against their constructor?

But for now, it looks a big ask for the F1 strategy group to get a coherent customer car proposal through to the F1 commission, with much more than a 10-8 voting majority.

Williams and Force India will vote the matter down. If they revert to type, the FIA will vote to retain the status quo and the message sent to the F1 commission is that this concept has marginal support within the F1 strategy group.

It is more likely there will be an agreement to modify the ‘listed parts’ regulation. This restricts the components teams can buy from another competitor.

Of course this too is the slippery slope towards customer cars, but may be the better of the two evils for the likes of Bob Fernley and Williams.

The big new Formula One for 2017, will almost inevitably disappear as over time the minutia is bartered from pillar to post.

21 responses to “Big teams to fail in justifying customer cars

  1. So why do we not leave, 10 constructors to allow to sell their cars? That should be an extra income for the Force India’s of the world instead of a threat! Or are they affraid that others can make that “force India” car faster? This will grant a great field of cars and maybe a couple of privateers like in the early years. (See the Indy model, only one chassis).

    • Who would like to buy a force India when you can have a ferrari or mercedes or McLaren? unless they sell it much cheaper.

      • Sure, but guess that a force india is cheaper than a McLaren chassis. And why not its a good income and will field more cars. In moto gp you have also more constructors?

      • If it were cobbled together on the sub continent it may well be…..:-)

      • Surely this will be the way though? Customer cars will be priced at varying amounts depending on ‘worth’ – you choose what your budget allows.

        Maybe spend more on the car or less on the car but more on hiring more expensive drivers.

        Think it’d work well.

    • Farce India got a decent chassis through their collaboration with McLaren. I’ve no idea if there is still a link between the teams, but at one time McLaren trained designers/engineers would spend time at Farce India.

    • Right, but it will give a large field of cars? Whats wrong with it? If you like Ferrari you will not support a Brown Ferrari like in 80’s when we had the brown lotus from Hector Rebaque?
      Remember, did we suffered from that or the “constructors” ?

  2. I cannot quite figure Bob Fernley out. His aligence seems fluid, and his opinions seem flippant and easily changed… Quite a character, and one who seems to argue foundational and critical items in F1 from a basis of convenience, which isn’t ideal as F’India’s agenda seems “dynamic” at best…

    I imagine he must admire the Bolton family from Game of Thrones.

    “A man who stands for nothing will fall for everything.” – Malcolm X

    Perhaps he simply isn’t that bright and/or is easily manipulated, despite his apparent persona… I’ll keep watching this one; he interests me.

  3. In the 18 months since it was formed the Strategy Group has achieved something concrete. It has put a stop to the Dwarf’s madcap schemes. In the past he’d come up with some nonsense, call over to the next desk, where the old perv was seated and between them they’d make the necessary rule changes. That game has gone out of the window. For the first time in years, F1 has some stability. Obviously some fans and Bernie don’t like it and neither do Farce India and the Red Bullies, but they’ve put a stop to double points, water sprays, winners stars, restarts after the safety car and the other sh**e we might have suffered this season.

  4. The real problem for the little constructors is if they are getting pushed down the standings by the customer teams. Why would anyone wish to struggle sinking the required money to be a independent running at the bottom of the order when for a fraction of the cost (not only operational cost, but capital investment) they can have a car ready to fight for points?
    That is what drove the independents out of CART/Indy.

    • The chassis constructor will always know how to setup its chassis best. The constructor could also update its own chassis through season.

  5. For all the polemical arguments being made across the various forums (or should that be ‘fora’ ?), no-one has convinced me that customer cars are a bad idea. It certainly has worked reasonably well in the past (anyone else old enough to remember Ken Tyrell running Matra chassis for Jackie Stewart, Rob Walker and his Lotuses, to say nothing of the numerous Marches) and it was the promise of such a return to these arrangements that led Dave Richards Pro-Drive application a few years back.

    The other thing that seems to be overlooked is the fact that no-one is forcing the independents to buy cars from the big boys, they can still build their own if they have the £££ to do so.

    All is IMHO, of course. Other opinions *are* available 🙂

    • Drat – where’s the edit button ?

      I meant “led to Dave Richards….”

    • “no-one has convinced me that customer cars are a bad idea. It certainly has worked reasonably well in the past”

      Reliability.

      In the past reliability was horrendous, so customers had chance at getting ahead of manufacturers, because cars were always popping up. Nowadays reliability is like a Swiss watch, ticking and ticking and ticking, with cars finishing exactly as predicted by simulation tools. So if you field 4 Ferraris and 4 Mercs today, Williams and McLaren go out of business and Red Bull bow out… ahem… fall off the stage in less time than it takes to say “customer cars”.

      • I understand the point you are making but, with respect, I don’t see this as being the only influencing factor.

        Presumably, teams purchasing a chassis would be free to develop it as they see fit ? That, in itself would bring differences in performance through the season.

        Would customers be limited to using the same engine as the supplying manufacturer ? Hopefully not, in which case a Red Bull chassis running a Merc engine might prove useful.

        If neither the above were permissible – either by regulation or restrictions imposed by the suppliers – then the ‘art of the possible’ would be less varied and, I agree, would take the edge off the solution. If teams were allowed free range, it would be down to the skills of the engineers to achieve what they can.

        And, as I wrote previously, no-one is being *forced* to buy a car from anyone.

      • They don’t necessarily need to go out of business. There would be nothing stopping McLaren taking a Merc or Ferrari chassis.

        And maybe with their experience beating the main works team.

  6. F1 ethos is about building your own damn car. Not buying one from Ferrari and slapping your livery on it. I am ok with non-critical parts being bought/sold between teams, like pedal boxes, hydraulics, steering wheels, connectors, etc. Chassis tub? No. Wings and suspension members? No.

    Geez at this point I’m going to end up following FSAE/F-student closer than F1 by 2017.

  7. What is the big deal? Customer cars will put no one out of business. That is just absurd. Why not invite other firms like Dallara, or Swift Engineering to supply customer cars instead of McLaren or Ferrari? Customer teams would not earn constructor’s points so they would not be entitled to the end of season Bernie money. That could be the carrot for them to work toward becoming an eventual Constructor team.

    • “Customer teams would not earn constructor’s points so they would not be entitled to the end of season Bernie money”

      But certainly there would be some allocation of prize money for the customer category. Otherwise why would they compete? How would they continue to operate without it? Manor is a good example of this.

      • Surely the incentive would be that they are paid by the teams that use their chassis and this is set at what ever price they choose (but obviously would need to be competitive for teams to chose them.)

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