Will Gray

Gray Matter: Should the FIA make a stand against costs?

Will Gray

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F1 chiefs have been meeting with the FIA in Monaco this week to discuss a new raft of cost cutting — but with smaller teams showing you can perform well on a budget does anything really have to change?

The days of the manufacturer might ruling Formula One are long gone and this year is more open than ever with five different teams — McLaren, Ferrari, Red Bull, Mercedes and Williams — taking wins in the first six races and eight of the 12 teams well into double figure points already.

In such a competitive season, it would be easy to believe the midfield runners are in the ascendency, benefitting from the change in tyre regulations and the ban on expensive blown diffuser developments to make a break towards the front-runners.

But off the track, it has been alleged that the business strength of some teams is not as stable as the sport would like it to be — and the words 'cost cutting' have re-appeared.

It is now more than 10 years since teams were regularly dropping off the grid or changing hands as incessant testing and high engine costs made running costs astronomical.

The Prost F1 team went bankrupt at the end of 2001; the Arrows team, which still ranks 10th on the list of most race starts, dropped out midway through the 2002 season; Jordan changed hands four times before settling down as Force India; and after a much publicised and sometimes publically desperate struggle to keep his team alive, Minardi owner Paul Stoddart secured a last-gasp deal with Red Bull to turn it into Toro Rosso, a plan engineered by the sport's bosses to stem criticism that off-track politics was taking focus off the racing.

In recent years, the business end of Formula One seems to have become a lot more, well, business-like.

Sure, there has been some fallings out and disagreements when future revenue streams are discussed, and FOTA has lost a number of members, but there does seem to be a genuine understanding that the kind of scenes witnessed back in the Minardi days should not be a part of the latest era in the sport.

There are now, however, some big issues starting to bubble.

The arrival of the three new teams back in 2010 put the field back up to 24 cars and the hope was that by now those teams would have stepped in to create a tight midfield group. Instead, almost two-and-a-half seasons on, none have broken through and two have already changed owners once.

Force India boss Vijay Mallya faced some testing questions in Monaco about the future of his team. Despite recent rumours of unpaid salaries, he insisted: "there has been a significant capital infusion at the end of 2011, another significant capital infusion from the Sahara Group is due in 2012 and going beyond to 2013." His words, however, appeared more defensive than positive.

Toro Rosso has now been openly for sale to any realistic bidder for quite some time; Williams, despite Venezuela's PDVSA money, is still in keen search for more sponsors; and even Lotus, who are appearing as regular front-runners this year, have been forced to deny financial concerns after rumours about the sale of Lotus Cars.

Which is why it is crucial the FIA steps in to take control.

In football, clubs have been able to spend their way to success, with Manchester City winning the Premier League thanks to huge Abu Dhabi investment budget and Chelsea's Russian money helping to win the Champions League. Other teams — some once great names - have plunged into obscurity because they don't have the financial benefactor to keep up with the unrealistic values to which the game is played.

UEFA has introduced 'Financial Fair Play' regulations to try to stop the practice, having become concerned that it not only creates unfair competition but also threatens the future of the top clubs as they get further and further into debt.

It has not been easy to implement — despite backing from the majority of football club owners — and a similar approach will not be easy to introduce into Formula One.

But with pressure to bring back in-season testing and the threat that the development cost of new regulation engines for 2014 will be passed down the line to the teams, surely it is time to at least try to make a new model succeed.

Max Mosley's original budget cap idea was blown out the water, but the dampened down Resource Restriction Agreement has also struggled because it was a gentleman's agreement that is impossible to police.

"There's been some good progress in the last few months," Mercedes boss Ross Brawn said last week. "The FIA are now becoming more and more involved in cost-cutting initiatives for the future and I think ultimately that's who we have to rely on to police the measures."

Red Bull and Ferrari are understood to be opposed to a budget cap while McLaren and Mercedes will certainly not voluntarily push their spending to a lower level if others do not.

But the teams can still get proposed changes — including more influence from the FIA - voted through for 2013 by a majority as long as it is done by June 30th. And for some, that could be critical.

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