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F1 cost cutting: Not putting money where the mouth is

Maurice Hamilton March 27, 2015
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The body language in the FIA team press conference in Malaysia spoke just as loudly as some of the words. The positioning of Christian Horner (arms folded) alongside Cyril Abiteboul (arms folded) told of the frisson between their respective companies and the anticipated discomfort under the spotlight. But judging by Horner's squirming in his seat later on, one thing the Red Bull boss did not expect was a shower of criticism coming over his right shoulder from the direction of Bob Fernley.

The subject of costs - and how to reduce them - had come up. It's a subject Fernley, in his role with Force India, is acquainted with in painful detail. And has done through the years when four successive championships had cash rolling into the Red Bull coffers and Horner had less pressing matters to worry about.

Force India and others as less well off as themselves have been pushing for some means of restraining expenditure which, even to an untrained eye, is barking mad. There was a point when FOTA, the teams collective, actually looked like doing something useful but, as Fernley was about to make very clear, he had no doubt about one of the principal reasons for FOTA's collapse and when the financial problems really took hold.

"We have to go back to a few years when FOTA was operating in a very good way," said Fernley. "It was a consolidated approach; it was well stewarded by Martin Whitmarsh; we were in joint negotiations with CVC [Capital Partners] to renegotiate those contracts and everything else. Unfortunately - and I say that because Christian is here - Red Bull felt the need to take the 40 pieces of silver and that was the downside for F1 and I don't think we have recovered from that particular action."

While someone else spoke, Horner, staring at the desk, looked thoughtful as he worked out how to deal with such a direct hit while attempting to patch up the existing Renault inspired holes beneath the water line.

"In think it's a little harsh of Bob to suggest that the plight of the small teams is all Red Bull's fault," said Horner. "You have to remember that at the time FOTA was pretty dysfunctional, focussing on the wrong aspects; Ferrari went and cut their own deal; Red Bull weren't the first team to sign a deal with Bernie [Ecclestone]. At the same time, McLaren were also in discussions and cut their own deal.

"That's the way of the world. It's not down to Red Bull or Ferrari or McLaren to decide what the revenue distribution should be. That's down to Bernie and the board members at CVC."

Earlier, Horner had made the most sensible suggestion of the day - - one that Fernley completely agreed with.

"If you're really serious about reducing the costs in F1 then you have to look at turning it upside down in many respects," said Horner. "A Holy Grail the teams are reluctant to go near is the wind tunnel. Red Bull has a strong aerodynamic department and a good wind tunnel that we have invested a lot of money in over the years. But if you look at the consumption of cash it takes to feed that tunnel, if the sport is serious about reducing costs then we have to say: 'Ok, let's get rid of wind tunnels; let's commercially rent them out and put in a standard teraflop for a standard amount of capacity for CFD and loosen the regulations in certain areas so that you come up with more ingenuity'."

Fernley was in total accord. "One of the biggest barriers for new teams is the cost of wind tunnels; we would definitely be for a ban. One of the arguments for not getting rid of wind tunnels is that F1 is the pinnacle of motorsport and should use all of the tools available. But if it is the pinnacle, it should be pushing the boundaries and the boundaries for us, technically, are in CFD in the same way we are pushing the boundaries in hybrid.

"Using what is a bit of a dinosaur technology [wind tunnels] is not one of the options. Environmentally it's sending the wrong message. These things have huge consumptions of electricity."

The rest of the panel agreed. When you hear these people speak individually, they talk a huge amount of sense. But then you ask yourself: what's the point? They'll never agree. Max Mosley summed it up in The Times yesterday when discussing the current state of F1 and Mercedes dominance.

"All the teams signed up to the current regulations and they have to live with it. The whole thing about teams complaining about domination is very much pots and kettles. They never complain about dominating when they're dominating. It's the nature of the sport, going right back to the mid-1950s, when Mercedes dominated then. The signs are that one team will dominate the sport for two or three years and there is nothing anyone can do about it unless they all agree. Which, as we all know, is never likely to happen."

So, body language it is, plus a bit of verbal swordplay and some very interesting thoughts. But not much else.

Maurice Hamilton writes for ESPN F1.

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Maurice Hamilton writes for ESPN F1. A veteran journalist in the paddock, Maurice Hamilton has been part of the Formula One scene since 1977 and was the Observer's motor racing correspondent for 20 years. He has written several books as well as commentating on Formula One for BBC Radio 5 Live