I was fortunate enough to be on a table with the incredible Michael Tee (son of former Motor Sport proprietor Wesley J Tee, and father of current F1 photographer Stephen Tee), who was at the first British Grand Prix at Silverstone in 1948 and numerous races since. Other than his son, he has very little direct connection to F1 as it is now, and yet as a photographer, Michael helped tell the story of F1 in the past, making him a clear part of the sport’s history.
And hearing some of his amazing stories got me thinking about where F1 is headed and why some of the recent statements coming out of teams is a little bit worrying in my view, relating to one specific aspect at least.
Because when you think of F1 and its history, it is littered with opportunities for people. Not for everyone – as I mentioned, it’s a ridiculously expensive sport – but the whole point of F1 was there was a set of rules and if you could create a car quick enough to compete under that set of rules then you’d usually get a chance to try.
Now, it’s a very different time, whilst it’s completely unrealistic for anyone to suggest F1 should still be as open as it was back in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s in having pre-qualifying and one-off entries, I also don’t think those who are currently involved get to choose when the music stops.
The word ‘franchise’ has become commonplace in the paddock, with almost all of the teams now describing themselves as franchises when discussing their place on the grid and the growing value of their companies.
But they’re not franchises in the sense that they were offered one by F1, under the pretence that there was a limited number and they had to prove themselves worthy. Many of the teams currently on the grid wanted to be part of the sport because of the marketing and commercial opportunities it offers on top of the sporting aspect, and while some – such as Red Bull or Aston Martin – purchased existing teams when they were up for sale or struggling, others – such as Haas or Alfa Romeo Sauber – created new entities that could come in and compete.
And yet, now there is so much money involved in the sport and it is proving so lucrative, they don’t want anyone else to be able to come and threaten them.
I get that the COVID pandemic was extremely hard, and teams had to respond. But the sweeping changes that saw the budget cap introduced have helped them all enjoy more profitable outlooks. With only ten teams, all ten are guaranteed a good chunk of prize money from the commercial rights holder, so when the likes of Andretti come knocking on the door they aren’t open to accepting anyone new.