Toyota Exit Shows Shift of Power in F1

Negative CamberCorrespondent INovember 4, 2009

Max Mosley was right. Formula One cannot count on the manufacturers to stay in and support the sport.

That’s one of the points in a blog post this morning at the BBC by Andrew Benson. Another: That new president Jean Todt will be strengthened by the Toyota departure.

Benson makes an interesting argument, and I agree with him up to a point.

But I think the power shift is a bit different than what he sees. [He also says that Renault looks to be set to continue in F1, which is a nagging issue today. He also says that we might hear tomorrow that Renault is adding Timo Glock, which would make for a strong pairing with Robert Kubica. He also provides an interesting breakdown of Toyota's failure in the sport.]

First off, Benson’s key points :

When Mosley was trying to force through his plan for a £40m budget cap in F1, Toyota were one of the members of the F1 Teams’ Association (Fota) most vociferously opposed.

At the time, Mosley’s contention that three manufacturers were on the verge of pulling out looked like a ploy and there was the fear that it would turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

It might still have been that. Yes, there are global financial reasons for Toyota’s withdrawal – as there were with Honda and BMW – but how are we to know whether what the manufacturers viewed as Mosley’s arbitrary and authoritarian governing of the sport did not also affect their decision?

Mosley lost the war with Fota – he was forced out, and failed to push through the budget cap. But he has been proved right up to a point.

F1 did need new teams to protect itself against the withdrawal of the manufacturers, and his attempts to drive down costs have definitely had an effect on getting them in.

As it stands, four new teams are already entered for 2010 and Toyota’s withdrawal paves the way for a fifth. The Sauber team, which BMW bought and used as its F1 vehicle, was last month named as first reserve should any other teams pull out.

How many of these new teams actually make it on to the grid next year remains an open question – there are doubts about at least two of them.

But however many make it, there has definitely been a shift in the balance of power in F1.

When Fota forced Mosley to back down in the summer, it appeared to have emerged as one of the most influential forces in F1, with the FIA marginalised.

Mosley has gone now, to be replaced by his chosen successor, former Ferrari team boss Jean Todt.

But now there are only three manufacturers, and more than double that number of private entries, that surely means the power of the new FIA president has been strengthened.

Fota has stayed united in the face of all the FIA’s attempts to divide them so far, but the new teams weaken that unity.

Todt has not yet revealed what his plans are – although he has mentioned cost-cutting. But whatever they are the latest development will probably make it easier to get them through, even if the big beasts of F1 do not like them.

Solid points, all. But here’s my thinking: There has been a shift in power in recent weeks — to the engine manufacturers. And, most notably, to Mercedes.

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Mercedes, by nearly all accounts, provided the strongest engine this year. They powered the winning cars, they powered the fastest cars (Force India) and they powered the cars that developed the most during the season.

If they could supply more teams, it seems certain they would be—does anyone think Red Bull didn’t try to figure out a way to switch from Renault to Mercedes?

Plus, Mercedes has ownership in McLaren and might add backing to Brawn. We hear that Nico Rosberg might have a deal with Mercedes that gets him a competitive seat.

We also have Ferrari as both a supplier and constructor. No one argues Maranello’s pull in the sport.

The wild card in this theory is the other big supplier, the returning Cosworth. If it manages to produce a strong and competitive lump, it could fault one or more of the new teams past some of the existing ones next year. Campos finishing ahead of Renault? Lotus competing with Toro Rosso?

At the least, with Toyota’s leaving, there is a power vacuum in F1, judging by Benson’s take. And there is no way that someone or someones won’t seek to fill it, and fast.

Do you think there might be another likely candidate? Perhaps it is Todt’s rumored “F1 chief?” And...does that bring us back to Mosley?

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