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F1 Strategy Group meet at 'critical point' for sport's future

Leading teams, Bernie Ecclestone and the FIA met on Thursday to discuss F1's future; Customer cars concept reportedly back on table

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Speaking on the F1 Midweek Report, Manor-Marussia President Graeme Lowdon says F1 is reaching a critical stage

Proposals aimed at improving F1's spectacle and sustainability were discussed at a meeting of the sport's leading powerbrokers on Thursday.

The F1 Strategy Group, which comprises the top six teams along with the FIA, the sport's governing body, and commercial rights holders FOM, met Biggin Hill in south east London to try to reach agreement on how to make the sport more appealing from 2017 and bring costs down.

Ideas mooted ahead of the meeting included designing cars which are more aggressive-looking and harder to drive, introducing wider rear tyres, and making changes to F1's current V6 turbo engine format.

Although no official announcement was made on Thursday evening, initial reports suggest that the meeting failed to reach agreement on any substantial cost cuts within F1's current rules framework. 

However, according to The Times, the prospect of smaller teams being able to source 'customer cars' from the bigger teams could be revived with 'an investigation to start that could lead to smaller teams losing their status as constructors in the world championship because they will have to buy customer cars, or older versions of cars manufactured by the four big teams - McLaren, Ferrari, Red Bull and Mercedes'.

A statement from the FIA was subsequently issued on Friday revealing proposals to spice up the show over the next two seasons.

Ahead of the meeting and Force India deputy team principal Bob Fernley, whose outfit replaced Lotus in the Strategy Group for this season after finishing sixth in the 2014 Constructors’ Championship, stressed that costs should prove the central pillar to the meeting.

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"The key thing is to look at cost controls," Fernley told Sky Sports News HQ. "We’re not capable at the moment of agreeing to bring in something like Max Mosley’s suggestion, for instance, of having a cost-cap and more [technical] freedoms - one that I would dearly love to consider.

"And if we can't do that, let's focus on key areas that we can all agree on to bring costs down for all teams. It’s very important in my view that we keep six independent teams operational in Formula 1.

"We could end up in a situation if we’re not careful where we have four manufacturer teams that are racing, two of whom [Red Bull-Renault and McLaren-Honda] who have got serious engine issues at the moment, and six independent teams participating in Formula 1 and not competing in it. That’s my concern."

Reacting to Fernley's comments on the latest edition of F1 Midweek Report, Manor Marussia president Graeme Lowdon - whose team does not have a seat on the Strategy Group - said there was a stigma incorrectly attached to the term 'cost cap' and that the focus should be on trying to grow the sport.

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"Bob has some very good points. One of the problems as soon as spending caps are mentioned is it gets in some ways characterised as trying to cheapen the sport," Lowdon said.

"That's not what this is all about. It’s about trying to create an environment where the sport can grow. We’ve seen other sports that globally have grown significantly and Formula 1 has got the greatest asset of any sport which is this enormous global following.

"It’s really important we focus on growth and not one side of the equation, so we need to look at costs but also the income. It’s not necessarily about slicing pies in different ways, it’s making sure that there’s growth in the sport and with that you get sustainability. Teams will be here to stay and there won’t be threats of pulling out. It’s vital that the right decisions are made now because it’s at a critical point I think."

A more immediate potential rule change voted on at Thursday's meeting was set to be over an increase to 2015’s engine allocation. Under the rules as they stand, each driver has access to only four penalty-free engines for the 19-race season, but Red Bull in particular have been pushing for it to be increased to five.

But although Christian Horner said last month that he expected the change to get the green light, it has since emerged that other teams are unlikely to vote for the increase on cost grounds.

Bernie Ecclestone, meanwhile, had expressed fears that the latest Strategy Group meeting would produce another impasse over the sport's most pressing issues.

"We might change the date of the next meeting. Possibly. I’m not sure," Ecclestone told Reuters. "It’s not easy to get decisions made."

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