What price good racing?


A week or so after the sad, but perhaps predictable, demise of the Super Aguri team, Tony Purnell (the former Jaguar team principal, and now, as an FIA consultant, something of a guru to Max Mosley) has written to all the F1 teams, putting forward some cost-cutting figures as a starting point for discussion of the subject. These are 175m Euros for 2009, 140m for 2010 and 110m for 2011, and the figures exclude expenditure on engines, on the hugely expensive (but favoured by Mosley) KERS, on marketing, and on driver and team principal salaries.

It’s fair to say that, while everyone appears to be agreed on the need for cost cutting and capping in F1, not everyone is ecstatic about the suggested figures. Honda’s Nick Fry expressed concern that they were too low, which might be attractive to ‘marginal operations’, as he called them, but would at the same time ‘alienate those at the top’, by which he presumably meant the top of the spending tree, as well as the World Championship standings. Flavio Briatore, on the other hand, said that the proposed figures were already 40% more than his Renault operation was spending!

Briatore, self-admittedly a businessman before a racing man, has always thought the costs of F1 utterly ridiculous, and told me as much: “People don’t understand why we spend so much money to make sure the race is boring! And I agree with them – I don’t understand, either.

“Why did we need the FIA to impose rules about engine homologation? Why – if we’re business people – didn’t we achieve an agreement on our own? Together, we were spending $1.4 billion a year on engines – and we put on this lousy show!

“Our job is racing – entertaining people – and we look completely the opposite of that. If what you spend is proportional to the show, then I’m happy – but the more we spend, the worse the show, because the more technology you put into the car, the less show you have.

“Why are the races interesting when it’s raining? Simple – because there’s no grip. I don’t understand why some people can’t see that. If people are watching a good show, they’re going to carry on watching it, and they’re going to tell other people how good it is.

“Bernie Ecclestone built up this business – and we’re doing everything we can to destroy it. Everyone always talks all the time about technology – never about the show. Never about the product. In F1 we educate our people to work for the maximum expenditure – an F1 guy, looking for a birthday present for somebody, goes straight to Bulgari or Cartier, and it’s the same in the paddock.

“So much money is wasted in this business. Everyone has to have the biggest factory, the biggest motorhome, and for what? Does a factory work better because it’s bigger? No! Probably it’s the opposite. Everyone has to make everything so much more complicated, so much more difficult than it needs to be. If it doesn’t cost a fantastic amount of money, it can’t be good – that’s the thinking in this bloody paddock.

“Renault’s budget is very small compared with some teams – really it’s true. I pay my drivers well – but other teams spend much more, to the point that it’s ridiculous. You’d think they were employing two World Champions – and some of these teams have never won a race…”

So that’s Briatore’s opinion, and if it sounds extreme, nevertheless there’s a lot of commonsense in what he says. Whether or not some of his colleagues can be persuaded towards a similar point of view – or whether or not cost-capping can be successfully imposed – remains to be seen.


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