Caterham team owner Tony Fernandes has issued a stark warning about the future of the F1 world championship if rivals do not heed the call to rein in their spending habits.
Viewing the F1 world from the opposite end of the grid to the likes of Red Bull and Mercedes, the Malaysian also has a different outlook on the struggle to keep a team on the grid, let alone be competitive and challenge for world titles, and warns that the split between the 'haves' and 'have nots' could eventually lead to the sport being reserved for an elite few, but a shadow of its former self.
Fernandes has long been an outspoken critic of the free spending that characterises the F1 world and, along with others such as Force India's Vijay Mallya, has called on the sport to find a way of policing the profligacy before the smaller teams are driven to the wall in their attempts to remain on the grid. Even though the end-of-year announcements from the FIA and World Motor Sport Council hinted at cost capping measures to start in 2015 [ see separate story
], the Malaysian is keen to point out the severity of the situation as it stands right now.
"I don't think
there is [a cost crisis] - there is
one," he told Reuters
around Christmas, "You hear about people not having been paid, suppliers taking a long time to be paid. These are certainly not happy days. At the end of the day there may be only five F1 teams if it carries on the way it is."
Much has been made in recent weeks about the possibility of teams fielding three cars. The suggestion, not a new one by F1 standards, would become reality if entry numbers fell below a certain level, with race contracts stipulating a minimum number of cars on the grid. Should it come to fruition, such a field would almost certainly not include Fernandes' Caterham operation – or the likes of fellow midfield and back-of-the grid runners such as Marussia, Sauber, Force India and even multiple world champion Williams.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, current champions Red Bull, mass manufacturer-owned Mercedes and Ferrari, and multi-faceted McLaren would appear safe, with each having a budget in excess of $200m and enjoying the sort of on-track success that begets a bigger share of revenue from the sport in a self-perpetuating cycle.
All eleven teams shared around $750m of the income generated by the sport last year, but the bulk of the revenue still goes to its shareholders, led by private equity firm CVC.
Precise rules regarding the proposed cost cap will be drawn up by mid-2014 but, until then, the teams – who briefly appeared in control of their own fate via the self-imposed Resource Restriction Agreement - will be left to their own devices at a time when the FIA-mandated introduction of a new engine and powertrain will push costs back up.