F1 more like a pantomime audition than the pinnacle of sport, says McLaren's Zak Brown

F1

The controversial end to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was the result of F1 teams having too much power and systemic issues with the rules, says McLaren boss Zak Brown: it's time for reform

Zak Brown wearing headset

Time for F1 reform, says Brown

Antonin Vincent / DPPI

Formula 1 must reform the way it operates after years of “organisational difficulties” that led to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix fiasco, McLaren Racing’s CEO, Zak Brown, has said.

He has called for stronger leadership by the sport’s governing body, the FIA, warning that “at times it has seemed that the sport is governed by certain teams”, which pressurise race officials and don’t always act in the interests of the sport. He added that some of the rules and their governance are “not acceptable”.

In an article published on McLaren’s website, looking forward to the year ahead, Brown spoke of “systemic issues” and a lack of planning that resulted in fans queuing at the gates for the 2020 Australian Grand Prix who had not been told that it was cancelled and the two-lap procession behind the safety car which was classified as last year’s Belgian Grand Prix.

He also pointed out that teams had been “exploiting” the rules for their own advantage and that they must bear some of the responsibility for the way in which last year’s championship was decided.

“We, the teams, have contributed to the inconsistencies in the policing of the regulations as much as anyone,” he wrote, “It is the teams who applied the pressure to avoid finishing races under a safety car at all costs. It is the teams who voted for many of the regulations they have complained about. It is the teams who have been using the broadcasting of radio messages to the race director to try to influence penalties and race outcomes, to the point where an over-excited team principal plays to the gallery and pressurises race officials.

“This has not been edifying for F1. At times it’s felt like a pantomime audition rather than the pinnacle of a global sport.”

Safety car leads Lewis Hamilton at the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

Teams aren’t without blame for Abu Dhabi safety car decision, says Brown

Giuseppe Cacace/AFP via Getty Images

F1 race director Michael Masi said that teams had agreed that races should not finish under the safety car where such a situation could be avoided, and that he had this in mind when he speeded up the safety car procedure to allow one final lap of racing at last year’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. This gave Max Verstappen the advantage, enabling him to overtake Lewis Hamilton and win his first world championship.

The threat of a lengthy challenge by Mercedes and widespread condemnation by fans has led to an FIA investigation which will examine the safety car rules and the organisation of the “FIA F1 structure” and is due to report just before the first race of the 2022 season.

Related article

However, Brown said that the focus should be much wider than the events at the end of last season, saying that there are “systemic issues” that have been visible for at least two years.

“It is obvious to focus on the events of Abu Dhabi at the end of last season, which are the subject of an FIA investigation, but this was a symptom rather than cause in my view,” he wrote. “There have been systemic issues around alignment and clarity on who makes the rules – the FIA or the teams – that have manifested themselves in the past couple of years, at times in a high-profile way.

“The signs of organisational difficulties could be seen at the 2020 Australian Grand Prix and at last year’s Belgian Grand Prix, both hallmarked by a seeming lack of preparation for the events unfolding and temporary inertia on the solutions.

“The election of Mohammed Ben Sulayem last December as the new president of the FIA provides the opportunity for collective reform of the way Formula 1 operates.

“Previous administrations pursued a mainly autocratic style of governance, so to point the sport in the right direction it was necessary to take a more consultative approach with teams and stakeholders. But now the sport has been successfully reset, moving forward there is a need to shift back to stronger, more directive leadership and governance at the top of the sport.

“It is clear that some of the rules and their governance are not acceptable as things stand. No one is happy with the inconsistency in the policing of the regulations, but which has been habitually exploited by teams for competitive advantage. I have said before that the teams have too much power and it needs to be reduced. We have a significant role in the drafting of the regulations and governance of Formula 1 and that influence is not always driven by what is best overall for the sport.

“I am confident that we will see increased leadership from the FIA and F1, and that collectively as custodians of the sport we will focus on evolving the sport and not shirk responsibility when it comes to tough decision-making.”

Mohammed-ben-Sulayem

Election of Ben Sulayem brings the chance for reform, says Brown

The McLaren boss also spoke of his excitement at the dawn of the 2022 season, pointing out the rules reset and regulatory changes that should offer closer racing and unpredictable results.

He called for officials to continue leading the sport in its current direction, by ensuring costs do not spiral again, and by restricting the benefits of running a B team, as Red Bull does with AlphaTauri.

“We must continue to drive economic sustainability across the sport,” write Brown. “Some teams still look for excuses to raise the cost cap and win world championships with chequebooks. The ongoing lobbying by certain teams to increase the cost cap for sprint race damage is a continuing example.

“These teams continue to demand a raise to the cost cap by an inordinate amount of money, despite the clear evidence that little damage was incurred during these races last year, in a thinly veiled attempt to protect from their competitive advantage being eroded.

From the archive

“The current governance structure of the sport enables a situation where some teams, to protect their own competitive advantage, are effectively holding the sport hostage from what’s best for the fans and therefore the sport at large. These teams seem unable to accept that a budget cap is in the best interests of the sport and cannot kick their habit of spending their way to the front.

“In addition, the threat of A and B teams has not gone away, and it is vital that the governance of the sport is strengthened to prevent this. The regulations, as they stand today, are heavily biased towards B teams/customer teams which is not in line with F1’s principle of a group of genuine constructors competing with one another on even terms. It is diminishing what being an F1 ‘team’ means and the fabric of the sport.

“F1 needs to be 10 true constructors, where each team – apart from sharing the power unit and potentially the gearbox internals – must design and produce all parts which are performance relevant. Right now, there is too much diversity in the business models between teams. Trying to apply the same set of complex regulations to each, and then policing them effectively, is needlessly complicated and compromised as a result. This cost-capped environment should allow teams to become more recognisable entities in their own right within a realistic budget, without the concern of significant performance differences based on how much each team can spend.

“In a nutshell, the current situation allows B teams to be overcompetitive compared to constructors, and A teams to be overcompetitive by having the benefit of a B team. Without a correction, the way things stand mean that any team with championship aspirations needs to have a B team in place and that simply is not Formula 1.

“On top of this, the voting pressure placed by the A teams on their B teams is not consistent with the promotion of an equitable sport based on individual team merit. As I have said before – and these teams won’t admit to it – there are times when some smaller teams vote against their own interests to satisfy the agenda of their A team.”