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The battle to save Formula One

By Simon Austin

Max Mosley
Mosley has long railed against the "excesses" of Formula One

The millionaires' playground of Monaco was the unlikely venue for Formula One to usher in its new credit crunch era on Friday.

The boss of world motorsport, Max Mosley, unveiled a raft of cost-cutting measures and declared them "the first step towards Formula One saving itself".

How did F1 get to the stage where its very future was in question? And is the sport now in better shape to survive?


Formula One is a sport in which teams have been spending up to 180m a year on engines and one gearbox can cost 9m.

Last season's biggest-spending team, Toyota, had a budget of 300m and the highest-earning driver, Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen, is reported to have been paid 25m.

Such largesse may have been justifiable during the boom times, yet the global economic crisis changed everything.

Many of the teams are run by major car manufacturers, whose sales have fallen off the cliff in recent months.

For example, Toyota's sales from April to September were 69% down on the same period last year, while BMW's were down 25% in November compared to the same month last year.

Honda, whose US sales were down 31% in November, decided enough was enough last week and pulled out of the sport.

There have also been major declines in sponsorship and marketing revenues that have hit every team.


Mosley argued that a lot of the spending did not improve the spectacle of F1.

"The only people who can really appreciate a 10m euros gearbox are the people who build it and take it apart," he said earlier this month.

Williams co-owner Patrick Head wants F1 to be a challenge for engineers as well as drivers

Mosley wrote to the teams on 5 December to tell them he wanted their expenditure to be cut by 80%.

He had several suggestions for how to do this, including restricting spending to technology that could be used in road cars.

The central, and most controversial, part of his plan was that all the teams should use a standard engine from 2010.

Indeed, Mosley revealed that he was already in advanced talks with Cosworth about producing this "one size fits all" engine.


It is no exaggeration to say that the idea of a standard engine sent shockwaves through the sport.

Mosley claimed he needed the agreement of only four teams to push the proposal through.

But Ferrari, F1's biggest name, threatened to pull out of the sport if the idea was implemented.

"It would deprive F1 of its whole reason for existing, which is based on competition and technological development," a statement from the Italian manufacturer read.

The Formula One Teams Association (Fota), set up in July to represent the teams and provide a counterpoint to the power of Mosley and Bernie Ecclestone, insisted all teams were united against the plan.


You might have expected there to be blood on the carpet when the teams met the FIA in Monaco to discuss cost-cutting measures on Wednesday.

After all, the very mention of the standard engine idea provoked the ire of representatives of manufacturer teams such as Ferrari and McLaren-Mercedes.


Meanwhile, Mosley lambasted the teams for their short-sightedness.

"It's as if we're all on an ocean liner, sinking," he said, "and these people are talking about the colour of the wallpaper in their cabins. Anybody sensible would be looking for a seat on the lifeboat."

Yet the meeting turned out to be something of a love-in.

Mosley said he was "delighted with the outcome", while Di Montezemolo purred "the answer we found was beyond all our expectations".


On the face of it, everyone seemed happy when the measures were ratified by the World Motor Sport Council on Friday.

The teams were delighted that the idea of a standard engine had been dropped.

Instead, it was agreed that engines would be cheaper, longer-lasting and that power would be pegged to 18,000 revs per minute.

And Mosley believed the teams had finally woken up to the dangers facing them and dramatically reduced their spending.

The FIA boss said the proposals would enable teams to cut their spending by 50% in 2010.

Williams engineering director Patrick Head says he is optimistic that the measures can "provide a technical challenge for engineers and a competitive challenge for the mechanics as well as for the drivers of the cars".

Renault boss Flavio Briatore once bemoaned the sport's preoccupation with technological minutiae.

"Nothing costs more, and delivers less entertainment, than hidden technology," he said. "And that's what engineers love most of all."

Yet Head insists this is still crucial to the sport.

"I come across a large number of people who say they like F1 because of its advanced technology," he said.

"They like the fact that an F1 car is the pinnacle of engineering and technology."

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see also
F1 unveils cost-cutting blueprint
12 Dec 08 |  Formula One
Big teams pledge to remain in F1
06 Dec 08 |  Formula One
Ferrari make F1 engine row threat
28 Oct 08 |  Motorsport
Others may follow Honda - Mosley
05 Dec 08 |  Formula One
Global crisis ends Honda F1 era
05 Dec 08 |  Formula One
F1 boss plans scoring revolution
26 Nov 08 |  Formula One
F1 teams to reduce engine costs
09 Nov 08 |  Formula One
F1 teams agree cost-cutting deal
21 Oct 08 |  Formula One
F1 & Mosley to discuss cash cuts
15 Oct 08 |  Formula One

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