Ecclestone, minnows to meet over future
7 February 2013
F1's less well off teams will get a chance to put their case to the sport's ringmaster, Bernie Ecclestone, as all parties look to stave off the effect of the current economic squeeze.
With HRT having already gone to the wall, regardless of a rumoured acquisition by a US-led consortium, attention is now falling on those teams outside of the top five, who could follow suit if financial issues are not resolved. Several have had to resort to taking drivers backed by wealthy sponsors over those with more talent, underlining the severity of a problem which can only deepen with the added expense of a new engine formula being introduced for 2014.
Ecclestone has reacted by inviting representatives from Sauber, Force India, Toro Rosso, Caterham and Marussia to London for crisis talks, having already met with the leading teams in the build-up to pre-season testing.
According to Germany's Auto Motor und Sport, 'the situation is serious', with no guarantee that existing sponsors will remain in the category beyond their existing contracts and even teams further up the field not being immune to the threat of income disappearing. The report also suggests that Caterham's Tony Fernandes is turning his attention to football, frustrated by the cost of being no better than tenth in the F1 pecking order.
“There is much to discuss,” correspondent Michael Schmidt insisted, “It's quite possible that [Ecclestone] will remind them of an old idea as, throughout the paddock, the words 'customer car' are doing the rounds again.”
The feeling of inequality is not helped by news that Ecclestone this week signed a five-year agreement with the airline Emirates, which could be worth in excess of $200m to the sport, but not necessarily of benefit to those teams that need help the most.
The increasing reliance of 'pay drivers' would explain why Marussia eschewed Martin Whitmarsh's attempts to get them to hire former McLaren driver Heikki Kovalainen. Having already jettisoned Timo Glock because it would have to pay him a handy salary to occupy a seat that could be given up to a driver with better financial backing, it was always unlikely that the Banbury outfit would accede to Whitmarsh's request, despite the close technical ties between the two teams, mainly because Kovalainen would want to be paid for his services.
The Finn lost his Caterham ride after instructing his management team not to turn him into a 'pay driver', and it was no surprise that Marussia plumped for the well-supported Luiz Razia as partner to fellow rookie Max Chilton.
Ironically, while the new edition of the Concorde Agreement waits to be signed, Ecclestone and the teams have reportedly reached an agreement for the future distribution of funds, with the competitors now due to share 60 per cent of the sport's income, rather than the previous 50 per cent. However, with the four biggest teams - Ferrari, Red Bull, McLaren and Mercedes – guaranteed a bigger share due to their 'privileged' status, it leaves less to be divided amongst those who have greater need for cash.
Ecclestone himself is being squeezed with the FIA also wanting a bigger share of the spoils, and it has been proposed that teams be forced to pay for their success via future entries, with the price per point scored rising sharply over previous entry fees. McLaren and Mercedes appear to have rebelled against that suggestion, reportedly holding back the portion of their entry that relates to points.