Should Formula 1 Teams Be Paid Equally in Light of Caterham, Marussia Collapse?

Oliver Harden@@OllieHardenFeatured ColumnistOctober 29, 2014

Marussia driver Jules Bianchi of France leads Caterham driver Kamui Kobayashi of Japan during the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at the Suzuka Circuit in Suzuka, central Japan, Sunday, Oct. 5, 2014. Bianchi has been taken to hospital and is unconscious following a crash during the race. (AP Photo/Toru Takahashi)
Toru Takahashi/Associated Press

The teams remain on life support, but the postmortems have already started.

The final two rows on the Formula One grid have been wiped clean over the last week, with the news that first Caterham and then Marussia had entered administration.

Bernie Ecclestone, F1's ringmaster, told Reuters' Alan Baldwin that, as a consequence, neither team would be present at this weekend's United States Grand Prix nor next week's Brazilian Grand Prix, shrinking the number of cars to just 18 for the first time since the Monaco Grand Prix of 2005, an event which saw the BAR-Honda outfit serve the last of their two-race ban for a technical infringement.

HOCKENHEIM, GERMANY - JULY 18:  Kamui Kobayashi of Japan and Caterham jumps from his car as smoke rises from the vehicle during practice ahead of the German Grand Prix at Hockenheimring on July 18, 2014 in Hockenheim, Germany.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Get
Mark Thompson/Getty Images

The loss of two teams in quick succession—the first to miss rounds of an existing season since Super Aguri completed just the first four races of the 2008 campaign—has led to widespread calls for Formula One to take a long, hard look in the mirror.

The demise of both Marussia and Caterham—punchy and popular teams at their best, embarrassments to the sport at their worst—has been predictable within months after they arrived on the grid as Virgin and Lotus in 2010, less than a year after they gained entry to the sport under the assumption that a budget cap would be introduced.

The teams—who according to BBC Sport operate on a third of the budgets of the likes of Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes, who "spend more than £200m a year on their F1 programmes"—have shown few signs of progressing up the field. They failed to finish higher than 10th in the all-important constructors' standings in their first four seasons of existence (although Marussia currently sit ninth, with two points, in the 2014 championship).

Their financial concerns have become increasingly apparent, with Marussia employing three different drivers—Timo Glock, Luiz Razia and Jules Bianchi—in less than six weeks at the beginning of 2013 to partner Max Chilton as they scrambled to make money. Meanwhile, Kamui Kobayashi, the Caterham driver, effectively admitted to Sky Sports' William Esler in September that he was living on a race-by-race basis with his seat under threat from well-funded drivers.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 10:  Max Mosley, the former head of Formula One leaves Millbank television studios after conducting interviews with the media on May 10, 2011 in London, England. Today's judgement in the European Court of Human Rights ruled against M
Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images

And Max Mosley, the former FIA president who was behind the ultimately failed plans for a £40 million cost cap in 2009, has offered the sport and Ecclestone, the CEO of Formula One Management, advice to prevent more teams sliding away, telling BBC Radio 5 Live:

I think the real problem for the small teams is that the big teams have so much more money than people like Marussia and Caterham that it's not really a fair competition anymore. That means they can't get sponsors and in the end they're bound to drop off and they may not be the last.

From a sporting point of view, what you should do is split the money that you control equally and then let the teams get as much sponsorship as they can. Obviously, a team like Ferrari will get more sponsorship than a team like Marussia.

But if they all have the same basic money from Bernie then they start on a level playing field, particularly if you enforce a cost cap so that you limit the amount they're allowed to spend to something very close to, if not equal to, the amount they get from Bernie.

According to ESPN F1, The Big Five—Red Bull, Ferrari, Mercedes, McLaren and Williams—claimed "63 per cent of the sport's underlying revenues in 2013" which left as little as 37 per cent to share between Lotus, Force India, Sauber, Scuderia Toro Rosso, Marussia and Caterham, the remaining six teams.

Such an extreme imbalance is widely considered to be at the heart of Formula One's failings, killing the competition as the rich get richer and the less fashionable outfits—let's resist from referring to them as poor, shall we?—are left dizzy from banging their heads on the glass ceiling, die trying to join the elite or simply race with no hope.

Tony Fernandes, who in his time in charge of Caterham balanced his commitments with the backmarkers with the role of chairman at Queens Park Rangers, the yo-yo football club, explained the damaging, uninspiring and unromantic effect this has on F1 in a speech to his staff at the beginning of the year.

Tony Fernandes @tonyfernandes

Its fantastic sport . Bernie has done amazing job but it needs to retook at itself

The Malaysian was quoted by BBC Sport as stating: "The racing stays the same, with the same three or four teams there winning. There is no underdog who comes in. In football, what's great is a Yeovil going into a cup game and beating a Manchester United. That can happen in football."

Although motor racing, of course, lacks the giant-killing narratives that are commonplace in sports such as football—Cardiff City, who finished bottom of the Premier League last season, earned more television money than Manchester United, the previous year's champions, did in 2013, as per BBC Sport—it is unrealistic to expect each Formula One team to receive equal amounts of money from Ecclestone.

Should, for instance, Sauber, who have failed to score a single point all year, be given the same sum as Mercedes, who have won all but three grands prix?

Should Toro Rosso, a B-team with the solitary goal of handing young drivers experience in F1, receive as much money as their parent outfit, Red Bull, who won the constructors' championship for four consecutive seasons between 2010 and 2013?

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA - MARCH 30:  Fernando Alonso of Spain and Ferrari and Nico Hulkenberg of Germany and Force India race during the Malaysia Formula One Grand Prix at the Sepang Circuit on March 30, 2014 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  (Photo by Mark Thom
Mark Thompson/Getty Images

And should Ferrari, the most successful team in the sport's history, claim as much cash as Force India, who in their current guise have failed to finish any higher than sixth in the standings?

While there are calls to provide a helping hand to the Formula One's underdogs, there is a need, a duty, an obligation to protect and preserve the institutions that are woven into the very fabric of the sport.

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - JULY 27:  Daniel Ricciardo of Australia and Infiniti Red Bull Racing celebrates victory on the podium next Fernando Alonso of Spain and Ferrari and Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP after the Hungarian Formula One Grand P
Drew Gibson/Getty Images

F1, as an elitist sport, will always side with the bigger teams rather than stretch to accommodate smaller squads, some of whom—even with a substantial cash injection—may not grow into leading outfits.  

More teams will disappear, more jobs will be lost, but Formula One is unlikely to move a muscle until one of its major establishments encounters trouble.

And that is how it should be. 


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.