May 1, 2013

Eyes on no prize

A battle for survival? © Sutton Images

Bernie Ecclestone’s announcement that there will be no prize money available to the eleventh-placed team at the end of the 2013 season is an intriguing piece of news.

On the one hand, the F1 supremo’s announcement is guaranteed to heat up the competition still further between Caterham and Marussia – not only will sporting dignity be at stake, but the lost prize money could mean the difference between survival and disappearance. But the fight for tenth could be expensive enough – in a season when both teams would really rather focus on their 2014 car – to put one or both out of business.

Which might well be the intention behind it all. The current major sticking point in the Concorde Agreement negotiations is Bernie’s desire to reclassify the grid into A and B teams, with the Bs buying customer chassis from the As. In order for this plan to work, he needs an even number of teams, hence the mid-winter attempt to merge Caterham with Marussia.

Part of the problem is Williams. While the team was founded on the purest of racing principles, and is the last independently surviving of the British garagistes, under Bernie’s current definition, the Grove racers are classed as a B team – customers, not constructors. Their recent results place Williams on the bottom half of the grid, but the concept of Frank Williams’ team buying in a car is as alien as it gets.

With eleven teams on the grid, it is hard for Bernie to argue his case – which of the top tier teams would supply two others? The teams find it hard enough to agree on changes that would benefit all equally, let alone to create a situation that would appear to give an advantage to an opponent.

But if either Marussia or Caterham fall without further funding, that argument is back on the table.

Caterham have funding, but their survival relies on the whims of Tony Fernandes, who currently has a lot on his plate with QPR, and who could always decide to pull out of Formula One should he decide the results no longer merit the investment.

Marussia are also subject to the whims of their investors, although it should be noted that the Russian car firm recently bought the Lloyds Development Capital shares, increasing their stakeholding.

According to Bernie, nothing untoward is going on – he is simply acting according to an agreement made with previous FIA president Max Mosley, which governed the admission and early financial support of 2010’s new entrants.

“[Marussia] don't have a commercial agreement because they are not in the top ten,” he said. “We pay the top ten, that's what we do. For three years we did something different because we had an agreement with Max but from now on we will pay the top ten and that is it.”


Posted by Gary S on 03/05/2013

So five (5) A Teams with five(5) B Teams buying Customer cars from the A teams.... Currently we have dodgey tyres and DRS to make the racing interesting so this might be the straw that breaks the F1 camels back,

Posted by William Hernandez on 02/05/2013

Bernie should better resign and go live in Alaska, that probably would save the sport

Posted by John B on 02/05/2013

In my mind, what appears to be proving the difference this year is the presence of Pat Symonds at Marussia; with all respect to the relevant engineers, he's the only real "top team-material" between the two of them. Caterham wins the financial battle, but with money you buy talent, and Caterham needs to do this, as opposed to just counting on maintaining form and using 2 pay drivers to lower costs. I think Marussia caught them napping this year.

Posted by Brian on 01/05/2013

Perhaps a couple of Ferrari's special payments could go toward smaller teams or at least help fund a cheap engine supply to one of the bottom teams (Bianchi's Marussia team?). If my dream could come true there would be 30 cars on the grid. There will always be fastest, slowest and everything in between teams and it would be so much fun to watch them all fighting it out no matter if for 1st or 29th place. Hey, how about Bernie taking a pay cut to help fund another team? Probably won't happen.

Posted by Yves Ferrer on 01/05/2013

Actually, I believe that Bernie wishes to see Marussia AND Caterham disappear: 9 temas >> three engine suppliers >> 3 x 3, simples!
No need then to attract other expensive and divisive suppliers like Honda, Toyota or BMW; unless Renault drop out, of course, and that is more likely than not in the light of their financial plight currently.
Bernie, What have you done to our sport?

Posted by flavio parigi on 01/05/2013

Is the reason not that there is less money so they start to pay the teams less? Can someone tell me which are the main sponsor that arrive in F1 in the last 5 years?

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Kate Walker is the editor of GP Week magazine and a freelance contributor to ESPN. A member of the F1 travelling circus since 2010, her unique approach to Formula One coverage has been described as 'a collection of culinary reviews and food pictures from exotic locales that just happen to be playing host to a grand prix'. Kate Walker