The 2009 season saw F1 teams faced with the prospect of cutting workforces and reducing costs – with the issue leading to high profile bickering between the FIA and FOTA as the sport at times threatened to implode.
However, Formula 1 wasn't the only area of motorsport faced with the need to cut costs in the face of a recession, with the impending financial crisis leading to many questions about how the industry would cope during 2009.
Twelve months ago during a visit to the Rolex 24 at Daytona in Florida, I sat down to chat with Chris Aylett from the Motorsport Industry Association about what the recession would mean for the sport and a year later, it was time to reflect on what had happened.
“Remarkably well, and better than any of us thought,” he replied recently when questioned on how motorsport had coped. “I go around the world speaking on these things and I think one of the key things is that motorsport is full of lean companies. They are used to laying people off over the winter in between seasons and many of them probably do. What that means first of all is that we went into the recession lean and weren't carrying a lot of fat, so we didn't need to shed a lot. I'm taking the F1 teams out of this as they have halved their staff, but because they volunteered to. It's the perversity of motorsport - in the recession you half your staff even if you don't have to.
“Other than the F1 guys, people went into the recession lean and flexible and they are small businesses – so are quick to react. If you read the business papers, that's what companies have to do to deal with a recession, so naturally, we were better equipped. Funnily enough, brands grow big in recession and certain brands gobble up the others and they have to market it. They have bigger budgets to market with and they look for a way to market their product and find motorsport. That is how we have Virgin coming into F1, Santander doubling its investment, so it's not all bad news. Brands need to market themselves and in the commercial side of things, motorsport is a brand opportunity and we are pretty good value.
“[However] I don't want motorsport to hold itself up as being anything other than lucky. Motorsport is an optimistic sport, as there are 30 cars on a grid and 29 are optimists – only one is the winner. The following week, they all go back again as they are optimistic that they will win that time. Optimism is a powerful thing to have through a downturn, with the view that it will get better and we are resilient. We go racing week after week and may keep losing, but we keep going back.
“Optimism, resilience, leanness – these are all things that are in our nature. People are writing articles about companies needing to do those things – they just haven't looked at motorsport and realised that we were lucky and already doing these things. It's an interesting strength of the industry which I don't think many people realised, because they didn't realise what a recession was going to bring.
“It's a very odd set of circumstances and when we sat there in Florida looking at the year ahead, I didn't think we would get through as unscathed as we have. Although times are tough, people have worked hard – but then they always did.”
Away from F1, a key way in which motorsport companies battled the economic downturn was to explore other avenues when it came to bringing in money – even if it meant utilising skills in a completely different marketplace.