Formula One’s authorities are coming under fierce attack for failing to curtail spiralling costs amid a financial crisis in the sport which has left two teams on the brink of collapse.
The FIA, motorsport’s governing body, had pledged to introduce a cost cap and has angered the sport’s smallest outfits with its failure to push it through. It faced opposition from Bernie Ecclestone, the sport’s supremo, as well as the biggest teams, including Red Bull and Ferrari, who spend around £140 million a year.
Jean Todt, the FIA president, told The Daily Telegraph before this season began that “a lot of teams will die” if nothing meaningful is done to curb F1’s massive budgets. The Frenchman’s prediction, also made by several of the smaller squads who operate on a shoestring budget, appears to be coming true with the critical situation at Caterham and Marussia.
Both will miss the next two races in Austin and Sao Paulo, with their future beyond that looking bleak. For the third day in succession, the Banbury-based marque maintained their silence and did not respond to requests for comment from The Daily Telegraph.
Todt’s cost cap proposal came unstuck earlier this season and the sport’s governing body will attempt to bring cost control back on the agenda at the next meeting of the all-powerful Strategy Group. While F1’s four smallest independent teams — Caterham, Force India, Marussia and Sauber — were frustrated with the big spenders’ opposition to a cost cap, it has been the FIA which has suffered the severest criticism.
“The FIA and Jean Todt have sold themselves to Bernie Ecclestone and have given up running Formula One,” an insider said last night. There is also a feeling that Todt, unlike his predecessor, Max Mosley, has been impotent against serious opposition. But the FIA argues that it was up against insurmountable barriers.
A source said: “It’s food for thought when something you have been warning about comes to pass. Sometimes only an emergency makes people realise how big the danger is.”
Attention will now turn to Sauber, Force India and possibly Lotus as the next teams under threat. Bob Fearnley, Force India’s deputy team principal, said that he was “saddened” to lose two teams and that more could follow.
Marussia will be desperate to cling on until the start of the next season, with a huge windfall possible. At present, they receive just £6 million a year in appearance fees, but finishing ninth in the constructors’ championship will bring a £40 million bonus. But with their billionaire owner — the Russian Andrey Cheglakov — losing interest, even then the team would face a difficult future. They are still reeling from Jules Bianchi’s life-threatening accident at the Japanese Grand Prix earlier this month.
F1 is left with an 18-car grid for the first time in nearly a decade. The FIA could even have to change the qualifying format for the US Grand Prix, and longer term the biggest teams may be required to enter three cars.
It is thought that if the grid falls below 16 cars, a series of commercial contracts between F1 and race-promoters will be breached.