Formula One’s future returns to the spotlight on Tuesday as its stakeholders finalise regulations to take effect in the 2021 season.
The meeting in London between the F1 Commission, the leading six teams which form the Strategy Group and the sport’s governing body, the FIA, will attempt to advance negotiations that satisfy all parties. This will be immediately tested by a vote following the discussions.
F1 hasn’t been renowned for its altruism in recent history, but with the clock rapidly winding down on a framework which can be implemented with sufficient lead time, the urgency for selflessness is becoming more apparent for the guarantee of its long-term future.
Financial sustainability has been a central tenet of the next agreement, shaping as the defining factor in existing manufacturers’ and independent outfits’ ongoing commitment to the sport. Prospective entrants have been reluctant to express a genuine interest in lieu of any concrete plans to date.
The grid has stood at just ten constructors since 2017, and there’s a real concern this figure will shrink rather than expand as desired if the terms reached beyond next season aren’t acceptable.
There’s a direct correlation between the financial model settled upon and the competitive viability of new entrants, which is where the incumbent manufacturers have displayed their greatest reluctance to make accommodations.
Remaining largely unopposed to the status quo continuing into 2021, they have their own interests in mind and don’t want changes to arrive at the expense of their current standing.
Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff believes “the value of the teams is more important” than the presence of new identities for the sake of boosting the field, opening that the exclusivity of the grid should be prioritised “to keep those franchises limited to attract the best brands to enter or participate in existing teams.”
Meanwhile, Red Bull team principal Christian Horner is a proponent for “quality over quantity”, arguing “we’ve got ten teams that are in pretty decent health”, and citing “none of those teams that came in a few years ago are still here today.”
Haas bucked that trend having been competitive since its debut in 2016, admittedly with considerable support from Ferrari, though it must be highlighted that the teams Horner refers to entered the sport in 2010 on the premise of one budget, only to compete under another.
Conversely, long-time participant McLaren refuses to guarantee its own future, in line with the diminishing financial resources in the decade since its last title, which took another hit after parting with Honda in 2017.
CEO Zak Brown told the Observer that “it has to tick two boxes, to be financially viable and to be able to fight fairly and competitively”, claiming that if these aren’t addressed “we would have to seriously consider our position in F1.”
Brown also wants historical incentives, namely the ‘Long Standing Team’ bonus – which Ferrari contentiously benefits from – to be reined in, remarking that future “revenue distribution should be more balanced, should be performance oriented.”
An unlikely ally in Renault’s team principal, Cyril Abiteboul, could provide the voice of reason to such independents alongside Williams, with the Frenchman in favour of a budget.
“We think something needs to be seriously done to contain the costs to be competitive… we are massively in support of the budget cap”, he told motorsport.com, with the rhetorical rider “Is it the perfect answer? Maybe not. Is it the best answer? Probably.”
Whether Abiteboul, champion of the battlers, is heard and not merely seen at Tuesday’s meeting will determine if there is hope for those who don’t enjoy the endless resources at manufacturers’ disposal.
These discussions bear striking parallels to the farcical Brexit – which I touched on recently – with a similar end of June deadlines looming for both. F1 faces direct implications if and when the latter finally comes to pass, so the uncertainty doesn’t help the majority of teams that are based in the United Kingdom at the negotiation table.
Self-interest has been the prevailing factor for Formula One in the 21st century, yet time is fast running out to strike a common ground which is attractive to present to potential future stakeholders while crucially ensuring it remains a spectacle.