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Exclusive - Mosley on cost caps, customer cars, and the new McLaren

22 Jan 2008
Exclusive - Mosley on cost caps, customer cars, and the new McLaren
Forget about cost cutting - cost capping is the new buzz word in senior Formula One circles and it was one of the key topics of conversation at a recent meeting between team bosses and the FIA, the same meeting that saw the ten-year engine freeze cut to five.

Relaxed in the snowy mountains of Kitzbuehel, Austria, a few days later, FIA President Max Mosley spoke to Formula1.com about what’s behind that buzzword - and how the coming months will be spent finding a viable way to enforce it…

Q: You are a vehement advocate of cost-cutting measures. Are you surprised that some of the teams aren’t more enthusiastic in their support? After all, even those backed by major car manufacturers don’t have limitless finance…
MM: Absolutely. I think for a long time the feeling was with the big manufacturers that cost doesn’t really matter, that they don’t care. Now everybody understands that they do care and in fact it became of big importance to them. The teams at the last meeting were strongly in favour - or almost all of them were strongly in favour - of a cost cap rather then specific regulations, because with the cost cap the amount of money is limited, but you can spend it any way you want, whereas if we start saying this is for the use of the wind tunnel or the computer, one team has a big wind tunnel, the other has got a big computer, so you end up getting everybody unhappy. But obviously the problem with the cost cap is we have got to agree how we are going to enforce it, how are we going to check - and what the figure should be. I am very convinced that we are able to do it, but people are still sceptical, saying: ‘how will you know for sure they haven’t had something given to them?’ The answer is we’ve got some very good plans for that. It will all be discussed in the next few months.

Q: What could the budget cap figure be? At the moment we have a situation where the gap between some teams’ budgets is pretty huge…
MM: I would not really like to offer an opinion on that. We have to listen to what the teams all say. Clearly in an ideal situation you would have a figure where a mid-field team could run at a profit, because if you take an independent team they had better make a profit or they don’t stay in business. That has to be discussed and I would guess that it takes two to three years to get to the figure. You definitely could not do it suddenly.

Q: If you were it impose a budget currently typical for a mid-field team, wouldn’t that mean massive lay-offs of staff at the big teams?
MM: Not necessarily. It certainly would reduce staff, but on the other hand the big car manufacturers at the moment are desperately short of engineers to meet the targets for the road engines. So for the part of the engine builders, if an engineer stops doing Formula One and goes into the main company, that’s a big benefit for the company. And also in the medium to long term it is better for his career because it is not good to be too long in specialized Formula One when being part of a big company.

Q: Some would say a 10-year engine freeze contradicts what Formula One supposedly stands for - ultimate engineering skills engaged in the endless pursuit of more horsepower. Do you agree?
MM: Not really. Because, sure, what you notice on the grandstands is the noise, but how many cylinders the engine has you would not know. That said, what we have agreed on at the last meeting is that the existing engine will be completely frozen for five years and after these five years we will bring in a new engine. The principles of that new engine have to be agreed. A major issue is that we want it to be much less expensive than the existing engine, which even when frozen is expensive. That process will be a year’s consultation to decide the objectives of the engine, then 18 months with the engine specialists in F1 to do the detail regulations, and then we end up with the new regulations specified by the end of 2010. I think we will end up with a rational engine, and the real search for power will not be so much in the engine any more but in the intelligent use of the available energy.

Q: One of the other major outstanding issues relates to so called ‘customer cars’ - defining the term and then looking into the financial side. What is your stance on that?
Max Mosley: As far as I am concerned, I think - and this is my personal view - the best compromise would be to have for each car three lists: a list of parts that teams buy out anyway, then a list of common parts, like for example the standardized ECUs (Electronic Control Units), and then the third is the teams’ parts and I think that one would say that the teams have to design those parts themselves. Not necessarily make them, but design them. So you have in summary parts that are designed by the teams and are exclusive to that team, parts that are common to all teams, and parts which are recognized that you can buy outside. I think if we follow that principle it would probably satisfy everybody, because actually it is the situation that we have today but we’ve never recognized it.

Q: The FIA examined the new McLaren thoroughly. Are you satisfied with the result?
MM: In the end such attempts will never be 100 percent satisfying, but we are reasonably confident. I hope that the main points have been eliminated.

Q: Were they ordered to halt further developments in certain areas of the car?
MM: There has not been an ordered halt in the development in certain areas, but regarding the three elements that clearly connect it (the car) with Ferrari, let's put it like this, they have agreed not to introduce them in the new McLaren.

Q: With hindsight are you satisfied with the handling of the so called ‘spy-scandal’ and what does it tell you for the future?
MM: I would say that we did it the right way at each stage. When we had the first hearing on the 26th of July we were all very suspicious. We did not really believe that the only person involved was Mike Coughlan, but we had to find clear evidence and there was not sufficient evidence to convict them. Then when we had the second hearing there was enough evidence, and although we were greatly attacked in the English press I think that any objective person would say that there was quite enough. Then when we conducted the detailed inquiry and looked at all the emails and everything then the evidence became absolutely clear and overwhelming. But the people who didn’t want to believe it still don’t believe it.

Q: Isn’t it a given that information will change hands when top engineers move teams? Isn’t what happened last year just the tip of the iceberg?
MM: You can never stop what someone has got in his head, but we can stop the transfer of information in written or electronic form. And if you are prepared to check - and we have demonstrated that we are - then somebody using such information would be very unwise because in a modern F1 team you cannot do it without leaving traces, and we will find those traces. Next time, whoever it was, I don’t think they would stay in the championship. In the case of McLaren everybody said ‘oh, a hundred million dollars’, but the alternative would have been to exclude them - and that would have been more expensive!

Q: Will we see a scandal-free 2008 season?
MM: I hope so. But it is not in my hands.
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