In keeping with his maverick reputation, Eddie Irvine has gone against the general grain in suggesting that the current economic crisis sweeping the globe may actually turn out to be a good thing for Formula 1.

Whilst the sport's ringmaster and commercial rights-holder Bernie Ecclestone has outwardly seemed to be unconcerned by the financial situation, Irvine argues that it is spiralling costs that have made the top flight, in F1 World Championship leader Lewis Hamilton's words, 'boring' - and suggests that by bringing expenditure down and thereby reducing the larger teams' ability to innovate and make technological advances, the smaller outfits will become more competitive and the racing more exciting and unpredictable.

"It will level the playing field off a little bit," the outspoken Ulsterman - who with Ferrari finished a close runner-up in the 1999 world championship to McLaren-Mercedes' Mika Hakkinen - told Sky News. "Money hasn't made the show any better; it has made it worse.

"The sponsorship deals are subsidised by car manufacturers. You're going to see the spending come back - and it has to come back - because it has been madness for years."

Despite the glitz and glamour of F1's first-ever night race in Singapore last weekend, teams are also in agreement that costs must be reined in given the increasingly precarious nature of the current international economic climate, with FIA President Max Mosley having issued the Formula One Teams' Association a mandate earlier this year to come up with ways of reducing spending, improving environmental efficiency and generating more of an on-track spectacle - or risk, he warned, the sport 'becoming unsustainable'.

In evidence of that, Super Aguri became the tenth team in the top flight to collapse in the last 15 years when it folded back in May - joining Prost Grand Prix, Arrows, Lotus, Larrousse, Pacific, Simtek, Forti Corse, Lola and Scuderia Italia on the F1 scrapheap - whilst Scuderia Toro Rosso co-owner Gerhard Berger has confided that the small Faenza-based concern will 'struggle to carry on' post-2009, when customer cars are outlawed and STR's Red Bull support will become redundant [see separate story - click here].

Whilst Red Bull Racing may be heftily funded by the energy drinks empire and Force India F1 is run by Kingfisher Airlines billionaire Vijay Mallya, the future of other squads is less clear.

"Those teams that are very dependent on car manufacturers for funding and don't have commercial sponsors might be under more pressure," former Benetton and BAR team principal David Richards - who himself very nearly led a Prodrive entry into the uppermost echelon back at the start of this year, only to be dissuaded by the customer car row stipulations - told international news agency Reuters.

"Formula 1 is in rude good health," countered Adam Parr, chief executive of Williams - which earlier this week registered combined losses of almost $100 million over the past two seasons. "I think that it can stay in great health - provided that we take action.

"Formula 1 is marketing itself very well in terms of establishing new races in key areas, but we need to do more. Costs have grown exponentially in the last ten years, and it's time to put an end to that.

"I think it is absolutely urgent - whatever measures we take must be in place for 2010. Anything beyond that is too late; both the teams and the FIA recognise that.

"The car manufacturers could halve their spending in Formula 1 tomorrow. I know that because I know what we are spending. Why does anyone have to spend more than Williams spend on going racing?

"If the board of another team says we want to stay in F1 because it's a fantastic platform for our business but we are only prepared to spend what Williams spends, is that the end of the world? It's a lot of money that can be addressed with one swish of the red pen, and some of these teams could save EUR100 or 200 million by doing that."

F1 is by some margin the most expensive sport in the world, and prominent car manufacturers Fiat (Ferrari), Mercedes (McLaren), BMW, Renault, Toyota and Honda all either wholly or part own teams, some of them spending in excess of $400 million a year with - in the case of the latter two companies - little to show for their investment in terms of on-track results, and sponsors getting increasingly cold feet as the economy freezes over.

One saving grace could be the sport's predilection for more and more races in Asia and the Middle East - the area of the world least affected by the credit crunch - with the inaugural Singapore Grand Prix widely judged to have been a roaring success and Abu Dhabi set to join the fray too in 2009.

"I think we had 900 guests over the Singapore weekend," revealed Parr, who added moreover that a number of Williams' backers had either renewed or extended their deals in recent weeks. "Our sponsors were enormously active.

"Businesses still have to achieve their key objective and Formula 1 is still a unique platform for doing that. For a company worth let's say ?40 billion, to invest ?20 million a year in a Formula 1 partnership is not a major undertaking. It's significant, but not major."


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