Formula 1’s smaller teams suggesting an agenda to drive them out of business
"There is a very clear programme coming in," says Force India's Bob Fernley. "The goal is to move to customer-car teams and the three cars will be the interim."
By Mike Wise
Last Updated: 25/11/14 5:43pm
Bosses of F1’s smaller teams are suggesting an agenda by the sport’s commercial rights holders to drive them out of business, with three-car and customer outfits making up the numbers.
With reports on Sunday stating that Red Bull and Ferrari will run three-car teams next season, Force India, Sauber and Lotus are apparently convinced an attempt is being made to make F1 even more profitable in preparation for a stock market flotation.
All three were rumoured to be considering a boycott of the recent U.S. GP in protest at the lack of prize money they receive from the sport, which earns an estimated £1.6 billion per year.
Since then, it has been suggested that majority shareholder CVC Capital Partners would launch a £100 million ‘fighting fund’ to help prevent them from going the same way as Marussia and Caterham.
The former outfit closed down last week, while Caterham have resorted to a crowdfunding push so they can race in the Abu Dhabi GP.
A meeting between the teams and the commercial rights holders was held at the Brazilian GP. But with the sport's CEO Bernie Ecclestone claiming that they're "not allowed to" hand over any money, those affected are growing increasingly exasperated by the situation.
According to Force India deputy team boss Bob Fernley: “We were given a clear direction there is no money on the table. There is a very clear programme coming in. The goal is to move to customer-car teams and the three cars will be the interim. That would allow them to keep the numbers while the customer cars are brought in.”
Quoted in The Guardian, Fernley added: “Again this comes back to short-termism for profit. Simply how much money can we generate for the shareholders of CVC. End of story.
“Sell it off and the consequences they don’t care about. They walk away from it, they’ve got the money in. It’s someone else’s problem. And the fans? Irrelevant.”
Fernley’s sentiment was echoed by Sauber Team Principal Monisha Kaltenborn. “Basically it is the end of the fascination of F1,” she said. “They are totally disregarding what the fans want. You are just destroying the whole series. It’s short-sighted business thinking.”
Lotus owner Gérard Lopez went even further, adding: “Gordon Gekko said ‘greed is good’ and look what happened to him. He ended up in jail. I’ve never threatened any kind of protest but this is a £1.6bn business and teams are going to the wall for the sake of a couple of tens of millions.
“Three-car teams will be the death of the championship. People just don’t seem to care enough about the sport to do something.”
Yet according to Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff, the offer to help smaller teams still stands.
“First of all, it’s not true because I was in the meeting with the small teams – I represented the union of the big ones in there – and that wasn’t what was said,” he said.
“I think that CVC, that’s the commercial rights holder, and Bernie are looking at the situation and discussing with the small teams what can be done to make life easier for them.”
Meanwhile, Christian Horner denied any agenda was at work and stated that Red Bull presently had no plans to field a third car.
“No, not at all,” he said. “Certainly Red Bull’s position is that we want to see a full grid of two-car teams. We have an obligation, as do a couple of other teams, that if the numbers drop below a certain number then we will be required by the promoter to field a third car.
“The numbers haven’t dropped significantly low enough, and we haven’t been requested by the promoter to run a third car.
“It’s not something we’re planning; it’s not something that we’re pushing for. If we’re requested to do it then obviously we’ll have to look at it at that point.”
He added: “Personally, I’m not a big fan of three-car teams. It’s moving away from what Formula 1 should be.
“But if there’s no option, no alternative, then Red Bull have a commitment then, yes, we would have to field a third car.”