All season long the F1 community has droned on about a crisis. This crisis was about various concerns: viewing figures, the number of spectators at the track, the sound of the cars, the lack of eventful races and the prospect of Bernie Ecclestone being banged up for bribery (until he ironically paid himself clear). Meanwhile the real crisis rumbled on in plain sight. Money.
The rich teams are doing well and the poor teams aren’t. This has been brewing ever since the deal for cost caps broke down and it’s finally hit large. At this point it’s worth mentioning some of the discussions recently on Midweek Motorsport. The podcasts are available and they go into detail on all this including the way quality drivers used to make it to F1 but may not now have the finance. They also discuss the lack of a single seater pyramid for drivers to climb. I concur with a lot of the analysis. F1 used to contain the best drivers in the world. That is now not the case lower down the grid. F1 contains some of the best drivers in the world plus some ones that are there more on the sponsorship they bring to a team than on their talent. Why would you drive at the back of an F1 grid in a terrible car when you can potentially win a World Championship in sportscars for example?
The F1 buisness model is all wrong. From the distribution of prize money, the TV rights, the lack of a sensible online presence, all the way to how a driver might reach the series, F1 is in trouble. For far too long its leading figures have acted as though it’s a sport in its own right rather than a significant part of a sport. The reason for this is that the leaders in F1 don’t actually need the rest of motorsport. Long gone are the days when it was marketed by insiders and outsiders alike as the pinnacle of motor racing. It’s talked about these days as a sport in its own right. But the affect of that is an F1 that looks increasingly towards itself. If it can’t save the bottom rungs of it’s own ladder, what hope for grassroots motorsport? Ultimately F1 can’t exist without a grassroots to train drivers and mechanics. The talent has to come from somewhere.
The crisis has exacerbated and we now have the prospect of three car teams. There is a serious prospect of an F1 with very few teams but lots of cars each. That might work for a while but one day we will be ;looking again at further teams running out of money because the problem isn’t the smaller teams being run badly, it’s that it is almost impossible to run an F1 team without a near bottomless pit of money. If the rule-makers (which incidentally includes the top teams) don’t change that then this problem will come back again.
The results are going to be bad for fans in the long term. Broadcasters are losing interest. Nobody at the top of the sports seems to have an answer. But the answer is fairly simple: F1 needs to develop itself as the top of a global sport. It needs to recognise that it is propped up by the rest of motorsport. It needs to be relevant to the motor industry. These are all things it used to have going for it. The push for profits and corporate sponsorship and the neglect for the rest of motorsport showed by the F1 circus has damaged it.