Why the Haas-Force India fight matters
Sky F1's Mark Hughes untangles the legal fight between Force India and and Haas to explain what really is at stake - and why it matters...
Last Updated: 29/11/18 3:14pm
The protest against Racing Point Force India by the Haas team during the Abu Dhabi weekend is just the latest in a series of wrangles between these two teams - and their argument strikes at the very core of what constitutes an F1 team and therefore could be decisive in determining the future structure of the sport.
Haas entered F1 at the beginning of 2016 with a unique interpretation of the listed parts regulations that define what an F1 constructor is. Only F1 constructors can race in the championship - and this was put in place to prevent any old team being formed, buying off-the-shelf fast cars from the big teams and using them to beat and threaten the future of independent constructors such as Williams or Force India. If that had been permitted, it was easy to foresee two or three factory teams and the rest of the grid populated by customers of their cars.
But the Haas interpretation stretched the listed parts regulation to its limits, by not designing or constructing its own car but having it built by an external contractor (Dallara) and not even conducting its own wind tunnel programme in the car's conception, but using the tunnel of another team (Ferrari) and its seconded staff contracted to the project.
While the Haas model meets the letter of the regulations, it is still seen as an existential threat by the more traditional independent constructors who design and build their own cars and use their own staff to conceive them. Force India numbers around 400 people. Haas operates on half that. Furthermore, the Haas car has benefitted from the facilities of a much better-resourced team (Ferrari) than those of the other independents.
So Force India has been very active in questioning whether the regulations need to be reassessed regarding what constitutes a constructor. Haas, having invested on the basis of meeting the prescribed rules, has naturally perceived this questioning as hostile - and an existential threat of its own. This ongoing debate has been made all the more heated by Haas' competitiveness in the 2018 championship. It has frequently had the fastest car outside the 'big three' and vied with the works Renault team for fourth place in the constructors' championship.
The situation has also been complicated this year by the financial plight of Force India, through the difficulties of its former owner Vijay Mallya in his other businesses. This led, mid-season, to the team being put into administration, then bought from the administrators by a Lawrence Stroll-led consortium and being re-named Racing Point Force India. Because the original team had technically ceased to exist and only its assets were bought, for the purposes of the 2018 season prize money-paying points, the 59 points earned by Force India up to the time of the administration were annulled - and only those scored by Racing Point Force India would count.
The Haas protest in Abu Dhabi was on the grounds that Racing Point Force India was not a bona fide constructor. Haas maintained because the original Force India team had ceased to exist then the new team was running a car built by another team (which is not permitted). In its response, the FIA pointed out the other team was defunct and, as such, is not a current constructor. Therefore, Racing Point Force India qualified as a bona fide constructor.
However, Haas almost certainly made this protest, not in the expectation of the FIA finding that Force India had indeed competed with another team's car, but in order for the FIA to officially recognise in its judgement that Racing Point Force India is a new team, and not simply a continuation of the old Force India team.
The crucial point, of course, is that a new team is not eligible for the full payments from F1 until it has scored points in two of its first three seasons. Haas has just satisfied this somewhat demanding requirement and is now entitled to an extra £25m or so with which to defer its costs.
The payments are not an FIA issue, but a Liberty one. But Haas now has an official ruling from the FIA that Racing Point Force India is a new team, officially unconnected to the original Force India (even though of course it operates from the same base, with the same car and same staff). The wording of Decision 4 of the Stewards was: "In relation to the submission by the Racing Point Force India F1 Team that it is not a new team, the Stewards decide that the Racing Point Force India F1 Team is indeed a new team. It is a separate and different legal entity to the Sahara Force India F1 Team and it holds a different ASN Competition License issued by the MSA of Great Britain and a different FIA Super License. Therefore, it cannot be considered as the "same team" as the former Force India."
The payments have two components: Column 1 is an equal share between all the teams apart from those who have not yet scored in two of their first three seasons. Column 2 is graded according to position in the constructors' championship and all teams are eligible, including new ones. It depends on how much money is in F1's pot, but a column 1 payment is typically worth around £25m. A column 2 payment typically ranges from around £47m for the winning constructor, down to around £10m for 10th place.
So Force India in 2017, in finishing fourth in the constructors' championship, would have been entitled to around £52m. Haas in that season got no Column 1 money and only around £12.5m of Column 2 money for ninth in the constructors. But the picture changes radically in 2018, especially if Racing Point Force India does not get Column 1 entitlement. It would mean a total of around £17m (from 52) whereas Haas gets around £50m (from 12.5). A difference in budget of £33m would definitely have a very significant bearing on the competitiveness of each teams' car in the future. Hence it is an extraordinarily vexed question.
Haas, having gone through the pain of no Column 1 money in its start-up years, feels Racing Point Force India should have to meet that same new team requirement. If not, why not? And if not, should Haas be retrospectively entitled to the same generosity? From (Racing Point) Force India's perspective, Haas has subverted the intent of the listed parts regulations, gained an advantage by doing so - and is now trying to further hobble the competition.
Over to you, Liberty…
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