Bernie Ecclestone and Jean Todt Should Consider These Recommendations to Fix F1

Matthew Walthert@@MatthewWalthertFeatured ColumnistDecember 4, 2015

Bernie Ecclestone and Jean Todt have been tasked with solving F1's problems.
Bernie Ecclestone and Jean Todt have been tasked with solving F1's problems.Clive Rose/Getty Images

Formula One has some issues at the moment. From back-to-back runaway championships for Mercedes to teams on the edge of bankruptcy to declining television viewership figures, most observers can agree that changes need to be made—in some cases, drastic, in others, just minor tweaks.

And, as everyone knows, when an organisation has a problem, the best people to fix it are the ones who got it into the problem in the first place, right? At least, that's what the FIA World Motor Sport Council seems to think, as it appointed F1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone and FIA president Jean Todt to come up with potential solutions.

If you dig the hole deep enough, eventually you will pop out the other side. I think that's how it works.

Anyway, the dynamic duo of Ecclestone and Todt (if you are reading this out loud, please use a sarcastic tone of voice for that phrase) are supposed to provide their recommendations by the end of January 2016. With the Christmas holidays approaching, that doesn't leave them with much time.

Luckily, we have a few suggestions to get them started.

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The first problem that needs to be dealt with is the Strategy Group. The group is now effectively the rule-making body for F1 and includes representatives from the FIA (ostensibly the sport's governing body), the commercial rights holder (Ecclestone) and six teams.

It is ridiculous that some teams—mostly just the big, rich ones—get to provide input and vote on the sport's regulations, while the smaller teams are marginalised. In the Friday press conference in Abu Dhabi, Red Bull team principal Christian Horner and Williams deputy team principal Claire Williams mistakenly referred to the Strategy Group as "democratic."

Apparently Williams has a degree in politics, according to this interview with the Independent's Charlie Cooper, but she must have missed the lecture where they covered oligarchies.

Horner, though, made a good point, saying, "I think that of course there has to be consultation with the teams but at the end of the day, somebody has to run the business, and somebody has to say this is the route that we’re going and a democratic approach to that will not work in our opinion."

Claire Williams (front row, centre) and Christian Horner (back row, right) at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Claire Williams (front row, centre) and Christian Horner (back row, right) at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.MARWAN NAAMANI/Getty Images

Whether the members of the Strategy Group would voluntarily give up their power remains to be seen, but Ecclestone and Todt should at least recommend that the power to make decisions on the sport's regulations should be taken away from the teams.

Once the teams are no longer regulating the sport based on their own self-interest, the FIA might finally be able to push through some form of cost control, which should be the next proposal from Ecclestone and Todt.

Plenty of people have talked about an F1 budget cap, but no one has been able to implement one. Todt's predecessor, Max Mosley, promised one when the new Virgin, Lotus and Hispania Racing teams joined the sport back in 2010, per Autosport's Edd Straw, but it never happened.

In April 2014, Todt said he was in favour of a cost cap, but that the other members of the Strategy Group rejected it, according to the BBC's Andrew Benson. He tried again in November 2014, saying he would put a cost cap back on the Strategy Group's agenda, per Autosport's Jonathan Noble.

The fact that we are still discussing it tells you everything you need to know about how that proposal went over. The big teams will not voluntarily spend less—that would be like a boxer offering to fight with one hand tied behind his back. The cost cap needs to be mandated by the FIA.

In tandem with cost-cutting (although potentially slightly more palatable), Ecclestone and Todt should propose more equitable revenue-sharing in F1.

Currently, thanks to various bonus payments, some teams receive more than three times as much money as others. For an illustration of how it all works, see Dieter Rencken and Lawrence Barretto's breakdown of the 2014 payouts for Autosport.

Ferrari received $164 million for 2014, while Sauber received just $44 million.
Ferrari received $164 million for 2014, while Sauber received just $44 million.Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

Add in the extra sponsorship revenue the teams at the top of the food chain can bring in and you get the situation we have, where some teams don't have a hope of getting out of the first round of qualifying, let alone scoring points. The smaller teams cannot be competitive with such minuscule budgets compared to the larger teams.

Next, the Ecclestone/Todt commission (as we may as well call it) should recommend that F1 stick with the current hybrid V6 engines but deregulate their development.

The restrictions on engine development and the unnecessarily complicated token system were supposed to help contain costs, but the V6 engines are much more expensive than the previous V8s, putting a lot of financial pressure on small teams with limited budgets.

Thanks to a loophole in the regulations, limited engine development was allowed during the 2015 season (within the token system), and that will continue for 2016. But the limited development will also help Mercedes maintain their advantage for another season, as the other manufacturers can only improve their engines so much before running out of tokens.

This all may be moot by 2017, when significant regulation changes are expected, but unrestricted development should be allowed on the engines. That budget cap we talked about a minute ago will rein in spending—and it will do it more effectively than the use of engine tokens has.

These recommendations will not solve all of F1's problems. One big remaining issue is the viability of several grands prix under the current system, where the promoters are required to pay exorbitant fees to host a race. Any system where the German and U.S. grands prix are under threat is not a positive one for the sport.

However, these suggestions would provide a solid basis for an F1 renaissance. More equitable revenue for the teams, a budget cap and more open engine development will lead to more competitive racing. More competitive racing will mean more spectators, at the track and on television. More spectators produce more revenue.

Oh, and if Ecclestone and Todt could find a TV director who has watched a race before, or is at least tangentially familiar with the sport, that would be really nice.

Of course, when you send in the men who (in many ways) created the problems to fix them, you might just end up with more of the same.

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