Days of spend, spend, spend over for motorsport which thrived on racy glamour - Mercedes-Benz Forum

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Days of spend, spend, spend over for motorsport which thrived on racy glamour

Days of spend, spend, spend over for motorsport which thrived on racy glamour

Source: The Scotsman, Edinburgh.
Published Date: 23 February 2009
By Stuart Bathgate
FORMULA 1 is traditionally one of the wealthiest sports on the planet. Its sleek, sophisticated racing machines may have borne increasingly little resemblance to the family car, but they added glamour to a company's name, and sometimes their technology filtered down to the domestic market, so there was a certain nebulous economic justification to all the lavish expenditure.
But precisely because of its position at the glamorous end of the market, Formula One is one of the sports to have been hardest hit by the economic downturn. There are two related reasons for this, which can be called the reality and the image.

The reality is that keeping a car on the track for the duration of a world championship, prohibitively expensive to all but the richest companies at the best of times, is now something which an even smaller number of firms can manage. That's the simple economics of the matter. But these days, when conspicuous consumption is frowned on, even those companies which can afford to compete in F1 also have to think about their image. Will their involvement lead to their portrayal as despoilers of the planet who will happily burn up the last drop of petrol in search of selfish pleasure? Or could they plausibly claim that they are participants in a sport which is increasingly aware of the need for a greener automotive industry?

The men who run F1 are well aware of those questions which their potential partners are facing. They have already offered some answers, in the shape of rule changes for the coming season, and they plan to offer more in the years to come. Max Mosley, the president of the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA, the governing body of F1), had argued for some time that costs had to come down, but found himself talking to a deaf audience until the worldwide downturn persuaded team owners and sponsors to listen.

In December, agreement was reached on a number of alterations to the rules which are expected to produce budgetary savings of 30 per cent or more. Beginning with the first race of the new championship, the Australian Grand Prix at the end of March, those rules will include:

* Restrictions on testing during the season.

* A limit on the number of engines each car is allowed to use over the course of a campaign.

*The introduction of the Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS), a more economic technology.

The changes cannot come too soon for some, but, for others, they are already too late. Last week, for instance, the BMW Sauber team confirmed that the banking giant Credit Suisse, one of its major sponsors, had opted not to renew its deal.

Similarly, Martini is no longer involved with Ferrari. Baugur, the Icelandic retailer, no longer sponsors Williams. And ING, the Dutch bank, will not renew its deal with Renault when it runs out later this year. But, with the 2009 season just a few weeks away, the greatest uncertainty surrounds the Honda team. The future of the Japanese-owned outfit is up in the air at present, but yesterday Bernie Ecclestone, the rights holder for Formula 1, accused the company of spurning a buy-out offer from him.

"They should have taken what I offered," he said. "It was a very good offer for everybody concerned. It gave them complete protection, but they wanted to do things on their own."

Ecclestone, whose offer was worth a reported £100million, added that Honda now had three options: allow a management buy-out, sell to Richard Branson's Virgin Group, or disband.

It remains to be seen how serious Branson is about becoming involved. At the weekend he suggested his investment would depend on the sport becoming greener and cheaper.

"Formula One should be championing new, cleaner technology, and if we were to get involved we want to be sure that we could run our cars in a very short period of time on clean fuels, which would set an example to normal cars on the road," Branson said. "I think they need to organise Formula One so that the teams can actually make money instead of losing a lot of money, especially the smaller teams.

"I love F1. One day, you never know, we might see a Virgin car on the circuit."

While F1 frets about its future, other motorsports have similar worries – and have come up with similar solutions. This year's MotoGP World Championship, for example, will see the introduction of several rule changes which were only agreed last week. They include:

*An end to Friday morning practice sessions.

*A cutback in the length of all remaining practice sessions.

*A limit to the number of engines which can be used in the second half of the season.

"The important reduction in the amount of practice sessions and the reduction in length of practice sessions will significantly reduce costs, as will the banning of certain launch control systems and the reduction in the amount of engines that can be used later in the year," said Vito Ippolito, the president of the Federation Internationale de Motocyclisme. "These are the final decisions relating to this year and we believe they will help everybody. They are the first steps. We will meet again to discuss further reducing costs in 2010."


The percentage of an F1 team's budget that actually goes to the two drivers. The test team are allotted the same amount, and the race team get a little more. The biggest item of expenditure by far is the engine, which accounts for 50 per cent.

The minimum percentage of racing cars' fuel which must be made up of "oxygenates derived from biological sources". F1 is keen to brush up on its green credentials.

The maximum number of engines each car will be allowed to use over the course of the 2009 world championship. An additional four engines can be used for testing. Any additional engine use will be penalised with a grid penalty at the Grand Prix where the infraction occurs.

The number of races in the 2009 calendar, which begins with the Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park, Melbourne, on 29 March.

The average temperature, in degrees Celsius, of a cockpit during a Grand Prix.

Current age of legendary commentator Murray Walker. The veteran will be involved in the BBC's coverage of F1 this season, but on their website rather than as part of the live commentary team.

The maximum number of kilometres each team is allowed to carry out in testing this year. In addition to that significant cut, no testing is allowed during the season, which is defined as from a week before the first Grand Prix to 31 December. To give an indication of how quickly teams can rack up those kilometres, BMW Sauber's two drivers, Nick Heidfeld and tester Christian Klien, managed over 2,300 between them over four days in Bahrain last week.

The new rev limit for this season, cut from 19,000 in 2008. The change is designed to boost engine reliability, and comes into force for this year's world championship along with the rule which restricts the number of engines each car can use over the season.

The maximum number of kilometres each team was allowed to carry out in testing in 2008.

40 million
The amount, in pounds, the BBC is paying per annum for securing the rights to televise the Formula One world championship from this year to 2013. ITV, which had broadcast F1 from 1997 in a deal worth £30m, exercised its right to walk away from the deal last March.

291 million
The annual budget, in dollars, which Honda claims to have allotted to its F1 team. The Japanese company has said it is quitting the sport, but efforts are ongoing to keep the Honda name involved.

2.9 billion
Total budget, in US dollars, of Formula One teams in March 2007. Toyota led the way with $418.5m, then came Ferrari with $406.5m, McLaren $402m, Honda $380.5m, BMW Sauber $355m, Renault $324m, Red Bull $252m, Williams $195.5m, Midland F1/Spyker-MF1 $120m, Toro Rosso $75m, and Super Aguri $57m.

* Last Updated: 23 February 2009 12:37 AM
* Source: The Scotsman
* Location: Edinburgh
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