Formula 1 needs a radical rethink about how best to control costs, say leading figures, amid growing unease about the sport’s long-term future.
The recent financial issues surrounding Lotus and its pay dispute with Kimi Raikkonen have highlighted how even front-running teams are struggling. And, amid a rise in costs next year because of new turbo engines and the return of in-season testing, there are genuine concerns that some squads could be forced out of business.
Renault ambassador Alain Prost, whose own team folded at the end of 2001, reckons current plans to control costs have failed, and it is time for a totally new approach.
“I think it is already late, but never too late, for sure,” he said. “I think budgets are too high considering the revenue, considering the sponsors.
“There are a lot of things that should have been done a long time ago. But it is also a competition and that makes it very difficult to stop somebody who wants to spend more money. So if you cannot stop that, which I think is very difficult to do, you need to find other ideas.
“Teams spend a lot of money on the aerodynamics and, in my opinion, I always said I cannot understand why we have so much importance in aerodynamics. I understand that big teams have wind tunnels and things like this, but you can only by rules reduce the importance of aerodynamics.
“You could have a flat bottom, and go back a little bit to the wider tires, to get more mechanical grip than aero performance. You can keep the wind tunnel but maybe the importance will be less.”
NOT JUST LOTUS
Lotus boss Eric Boullier, whose team had to convince Raikkonen to see out the season because he had not been paid, reckons a lot teams are struggling right now.
“We have the highlight on us, but it is not only about us,” he said. “I think most of the teams on the grid, if they don’t have the shareholders committing financially to the team, the team is dead a long time.
“Everybody knows and everybody agrees that the cost is too high in F1. But unfortunately to be competitive you need to spend at least a minimum — even if the minimum today is at least 50 percent less than the top teams.
“It is still a lot of money and it is still not sustainable. So you need to bring the costs down or bring the revenue up – but we need to do something.”
Not everyone is convinced that the sport needs to change, however. Mercedes motorsport boss Toto Wolff thinks that teams themselves must take responsibility for not overspending their budgets if it means risking not paying drivers or staff.
“Of course it is not a good sign drivers not being paid, or employees, or suppliers not being paid,” he said. “It is not what we want to see, and it is a question of how you manage this business.
“For me it seems strange. I have never had any similar situation or seen a similar situation and I wonder why the hell people are not paying their staff. If it is true, it is just incomprehensible.”