McDonald: The end of Formula 1? - thestar.com
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Norris McDonald: The end of Formula 1?
November 06, 2009
The 2009 Formula One season ended in Abu Dhabi last Sunday and, for Grand Prix racing fans, it might have been the day the music died.
BMW, of course, had announced mid-year it would be gone as of season's end. So there were goodbyes all round on Sunday.
Then, the bottom dropped out:
On Tuesday, Bridgestone announced it would no longer supply tires to F1 as of 2011.
Wednesday, Toyota β as expected β pulled the plug on its involvement.
Thursday, the board of the Renault car company met in Paris to discuss its future in the sport and, somewhat ominously, said afterward that it would announce "by the end of the year" what it intended to do for 2010.
A constant all week: Adrien Campos, who was awarded one of four new places on the grid for next season (along with Lotus, USF1 and Manor Grand Prix), was flying all over Europe trying to sell his team.
So what's going on?
1. It's the economy, stupid. (Sorry, that's just an expression.)
2. Ongoing concern about the FIA leadership (Max Mosley and that crowd, including the new guy, Jean Todt).
3. Bernie Ecclestone's greed (or that of his partners, CVC Capital Partners and JP Morgan).
4. The whims of the manufacturers.
Let's take a quick look at each.
1. Except for Ferrari (Marlboro cigarettes and Spanish banking giant Santander) and McLaren (Vodafone, Johnnie Walker, plus the personal wealth of Mansour Ojjeh and Ron Dennis), there is not a lot of serious money in F1 going forward.
For instance, Brawn GP β which won both the constructor's championship and the driver's title this season β does not have a title sponsor for 2010 (Virgin has gone elsewhere) and its Honda subsidy ended when the checkered flag flew at Abu Dhabi.
Renault has lost ING and, if it stays to race in 2010, might have problems attracting a title sponsor because of its involvement in race-fixing.
Red Bull, Toro Rosso and Force India are all financed out of the hip pockets of their owners, Dietrich Mateschitz and Vijay Mallya. If their personal portfolios take a hit, guess what?
Given all of the above, how will any of the four new teams get enough money to race in F1?
2. Who really β really β wants to get into bed with that bunch at the FIA who are running F1 these days? Having Max Mosley continue at the helm after his porn hobby became public was nothing but an embarrassment for everybody. Jean Todt, his successor, is being welcomed in the paddock with open arms simply because everybody knows it's going to be business as usual.
3. We all know the fable The Goose That Laid The Golden Eggs, don't we? Well, Bernie Ecclestone is killing the goose.
He's been doing it for years, of course. "Mo' money, mo' money" is Bernie's motto and he's running out of the Bahrains and Abu Dhabis willing to pay the outrageous fees demanded for the privilege of putting on an F1 race.
Canada is a case in point. One of the most successful Grands Prix on the calendar β huge crowds, huge TV audiences (in 2005, the Canadian race was the most watched F1 race in the world and the third most-watched sporting event on the planet, behind only the Super Bowl and the Champions League final) β it was taken away last year because various levels of government were unwilling to spend enough public money to save it.
You will note that there has still not been an official announcement of a race in Montreal in 2010. Guess what's holding it up?
4. Ferrari has been saying this week that the manufacturers are not dropping out because of the economy but to get back at the FIA (see 2, above). Bernie said years ago that F1 was much better off when the teams were independent and not beholden to the manufacturers "because when they don't sell as many cars, or something, they'll just pack it in."
Well, either way, look what's happened.
I don't want to be too much of a pessimist, but 2010 is shaping up to be a disaster.