F1 crisis: money worries and red tape harm US Grand Prix
With two teams in administration and America confused by the technical rules, F1 has a problem
Formula 1 heads to the US this week in something close to dissarray, with two teams in administration and others reportedly close to the wall, audiences and sponsorship under pressure and a warning from Mario Andretti that the sport needs to "loosen up" on its obsession with technical specifications.
The Marussia and Caterham teams both went into adminsitration this week and this Sunday's American Grand Prix in Austin, Texas, will take place "against a background of spiralling costs, unequal payments to teams, falling crowds and TV audiences, as well as declining sponsorship and no agreement about capping costs", laments Paul Weaver in The Guardian. "The sport has reached the point of no return."
How bad are the money problems?
They are by no means the first F1 teams to go to the wall, and former FIA president, Max Mosely believes Marussia and Caterham "may not be the last" teams to struggle financially.
Mosely tried to introduce spending caps to F1 in 2009, but the idea has never been implemented. Marussia, Caterham and the now defunct HRT team all joined the sport when the idea of a spending cap was still on the table, but when the idea was dropped they could not compete with the likes of Ferrari.
"It's not a fair competition any more," Mosely told BBC Radio 5 live. "The big problem is that the big teams have so much more money than teams like Caterham and Marussia."
What does it mean for F1?
Losing two teams to administration in the space of a week "is a sign of something intrinsically wrong with the system", says Jonathan Noble of Eurosport. "The danger is that if there is no way back for Caterham and Marussia, then it could snowball into problems further up the grid: and if F1 loses one or two more teams it is then in real trouble."
That may not be too far off says the Guardian. "The next two most desperate teams are Sauber and Lotus, who in 2012 and 2013 posted respective losses of more than £22m and £64.9m. Williams, one of the most famous names in F1, who are running third in the constructors' championship, have already reported a six-month loss of £20m for 2014," it reports. Elsewhere, Force India owner, Vijay Mallya, has been declared a "wilful defaulter" by United Bank of India, putting his team under a cloud.
What do the Americans think?
Aside from its money worries, F1 is still trying to win over the US audience, and the technical aspects of the sport do not help. Andretti, the last American driver who won the world title, back in 1978, hinted at dissatisfaction with some of the "stranger rules" in F1 and suggested the sight of teams "backing off for fuel reasons" during the Russian Grand Prix was not helpful.
Bobby Epstein, one of the founders of the circuit in Austin that will host this weekend's race told the Guardian that F1 could "learn a lot from Nascar, from Hollywood". He said the sport should be more about the drivers than the cars. "People connect with people. They don't connect with metal."
So how bad is the red tape?
There could be a perfect illustration of their concerns this weekend, as current world champion and last year's US Grand Prix winner Sebastian Vettel likely to miss qualifying and start the race from the pitlane. Why? Because he will be using his sixth engine of the season, one more than the F1 rulebook allows.
That would mean just 17 cars in qualifying. "Americans who already believe that F1 is strangled by red tape will wonder how they turn up to see the best in the world yet will witness a hurried revamp to accommodate all of the missing cars," says Kevin Eason of The Times.
"Vettel's non-appearance will only add to the red faces of the F1 establishment, whose greatest motor racing show on earth is looking decidedly like a threadbare circus in one of the world’s most critical markets."
Indeed, the sport "risks another bout of criticism and condemnation in America, nearly a decade on from its darkest hour in the US when just six cars lined up in Indianapolis", warns Daniel Johnson of the Daily Telegraph.