The most important result confirmed at the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix had nothing to do with who won the driver’s championship — indeed the driver’s championship table has nothing to do with it at all.
It’s the constructor’s championship standings after 21 rounds that holds the most intrigue, but to see why you’ll have to a look a fair way lower than Mercedes’s crushing first-place classification.
Yes, we’re talking about Force India, all the way down in fourth place. Outscored by the category leader by more than 440 per cent, you’d be forgiven for thinking there’s little noteworthy about the Silverstone-based team — but there’s an awful lot more to it than the raw points.
Force India has its roots all the way back in 1991, when it was known as Jordan, eponymous team of Ireland’s Eddie Jordan, who even then was sowing the seeds for the squad’s confused international identity.
Midland came next, and then Spyker, each for only a year in 2006 and 2007, before Indian mogul Vijay Mallya plumped for the team in 2008, entitling it with its present moniker.
In short, the team known today as Force India has history. It’s been a serious player in Formula One for decades, clinging fast to the F1 dream from its third-place championship high in 1999 through to its lean periods at the back end of the 2000s.
With Mallya’s investment the team has been able to rebuild using sensible business acumen and engineering nous to grow from 10th place in the standings in 2008 to P4 less than a decade later.
The celebration with which the final classification has been received underlines just how serious an achievement this is. To beat Williams, one of the sport’s heritage teams, on the way to finishing behind only big hitters Mercedes, Red Bull Racing, and Ferrari is not to be understated.
But accepting the magnitude of this result is to simultaneously accept that it represents everything wrong with Formula One – praising Force India for being perhaps the most effective team on the grid but finishing only fourth demonstrates the enormous problem with inequality in our sport.
Make no mistake. Force India is amongst the most efficient outfits in modern day F1. At a time when echoes of Toyota’s excruciatingly costly and ultimately fruitless billion-dollar foray into Formula One still reverberate through the sport, Force India is making do with next to nothing by constructor standards.
Considering prize money alone — which itself is a reasonable approximation of the ratios of team budgets overall — Force India’s performance proves far greater than its 2016 points haul, worth just 22 per cent of Mercedes’s total, suggests.
Using Autosport’s estimates of the grid’s earnings in 2016 as a guide and dividing points won by US million earnt, Force India not only does a substantially better job than Ferrari and 2016 rival Williams, it starts to look concerningly close to Red Bull Racing.
Points / Prize money
Points per million earned
765pts / $171m
Red Bull Racing
468pts / $144m
173pts / $67m
398 pts / $192m
138 pts / $87m
63pts / $57m
76pts / $82m
8pts / $64m
2pts / $54m
1pts / $47m
According to the points per million ranking Force India is performing at 60 per cent of Mercedes’s efficiency and is scoring almost 80 per cent as heavily as Red Bull Racing.
Despite this, we find ourselves celebrating a hard-fought lock-down of only a distant fourth in the constructor’s standings, 35 points ahead of Williams in fifth but a staggering 225 points behind a desperately inefficient Ferrari.
Though Formula One has always provided a happier hunting ground for those teams with superior cash flow, at the sport’s core has always been the idea that a team of clever designers could outperform a group of wealthier rivals by thinking outside the box — by being inventive and innovative and pushing the boundaries.
Force India is that same team the sport should supposedly intrinsically reward for outwitting its peers, but its fourth-place ceiling — for it cannot realistically hope to topple the big guns as it is — proves this aspirational concept is patently false.
Worse still is that the sport’s power structure has little will to make a change to the obviously unfair and unequal prize money distribution framework that favours the big teams at the expense of the midfield and small teams in perpetuity. In what other sport would a team other than the championship winner earn the most prize money?
So it is that Force India, in celebrating a hard and richly earned result, is demonstrative of everything wrong with Formula One — but it is on the sport, not the team, that its efforts have gone unjustly unrewarded.
Michael is one-third of F1 podcast Box of Neutrals, as heard weekly on ABC Grandstand Digital nationwide. Though he's been part of the F1's travelling press room since 2012, people seem to be more interested in the time he was sick in a kart - but don't ask about that.
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