Teams have just one month to conclude discussions on some potentially significant changes to the sport for 2015 – but what are the problems and are there solutions that can help F1 build a stronger future?
After the relatively successful introduction of an all-new technical era this season, F1 is facing up to the fact that it must now reshape the sport itself to maintain relevance and ensure there is a stable platform for survival and growth.
The big discussion points on the table – spiralling costs, unbalanced revenues and a lack of entertainment - are not new but there is a feeling now that teams are starting to understand the seriousness of the situation, not just for the small ones but the big ones too.
The F1 ‘Strategy Group’ – made up of representatives from only the top teams - was supposed to deliver a grand plan for cost reduction after a meeting on May 1, but they failed to come to a conclusion.
The rules for next year, however, can still be changed by a majority vote until the end of June - after which unanimous agreement is needed to make a change, making the chances slim to nil.
The collapse of the Resource Restriction Agreement has led to levels of exponential spending growth that even top teams see as unsustainable, yet some of them still think a proposed cost cap is unworkable.
There are claims that it is too complicated to police because the likes of Ferrari and McLaren have multiple group business operations bundled together, yet given the complexity of financial auditing and accounting systems these days it seems ludicrous to think that a cost cap is not achievable.
It’s more likely that there are wider issues in play.
The disparity between front and rear of the grid is such that smaller teams are really just making up the numbers, and there is an argument that the sport would be better off with more cars from top teams.
The argument for customer cars has been running as long as the argument for cost caps – and it looks quite possible that the ultimate solution for F1’s future will end up as one or the other.
Following the May 1 meeting, FIA president Jean Todt is believed to be looking into the feasibility of a cost cap in more detail again – so that option is not yet dead – and he has also asked the smaller teams to come up with suggestions to, effectively, save themselves.
Ideas such as luxury ‘taxes’ for non-essential operations and football style financial fair play rules are being investigated but it could all be a case of too little too late.
To help improve the show, teams have suggested investigating how to bring back more visual drama and speed through sparks and glowing brake discs – but that backwards vision is only part of the solution.
Bernie Ecclestone grew F1 by building up its personalities and then expanding the audience through the creation of a successful broadcast rights structure that took the sport to mainstream television.
Yes, the racing needs to be exciting, and anything that can make it more dramatic for the masses will help, but now is the time to re-evaluate the audience.
The new generation of fans, who are now using new generation tools to seek their entertainment, need to be engaged in a different way – and while this may be achievable after the June deadline, it is something that could be affected by decisions made now.
Ultimately, the growth of broadcast revenue is what helped to build F1 and it is also this that could play a major part in its future.
The distribution of F1 funds is confidential but it is understood that there is significant disparity between the top and bottom teams.
Compared to the structure used in football’s English Premier League, where the bottom club still secures around two thirds of the top team’s revenue, the small F1 teams are reportedly earning up to 15 times less than the amount handed out to those at the top.
Balancing out this distribution, in truth, would have the biggest influence on the sport, helping it to level the playing field and, in turn, increasing the excitement through the additional level of unpredictability.
But the haves, of course, do not want to relinquish their revenues to the have-nots - and unless they can be convinced to embrace the idea for the global good, even cost caps will struggle to make a difference.
So despite the pressure to find a solution before June, you get the feeling there is a lot more consideration needed yet...
- Sports & Recreation