Insofar as it involves teams competing for trophies inside a championship with rules and regulations, Formula One is a sport. But, like all modern sports, Formula One is also a business. There are profits and losses, deals to be cut, and money to be made or lost.

Which is no criticism. Any professional sport is a business these days, and sports fans who hope to glory in pure, unsullied competition of any sort are better served by amateur efforts. If they can find them, that is, as part of the business of modern sport is television coverage (and lots of it).

But what became startlingly clear during the Thursday press conference in Monaco, which featured team principals and their deputies from the six teams represented on the F1 Strategy Group, is that whatever protestations senior figures might make, Formula One is now a show. A very expensive show.

Having spent the Barcelona weekend grilling the five disenfranchised teams about the challenges of competing in an arena that seemingly wants them to fail, the attendant media used the opportunity of the Friday press conference to ask the sport's heavy hitters about their thoughts on cost-cutting and on the inequitable distribution of funds across the sport's eleven teams. The responses were received with incredulity, both for their honesty and for their implications.

It was honest of (some of) the team principals present to say on record that for them, Formula One was a branding exercise for their larger corporate interests with the added bonus of a little racing on top. But the implication was that the majority of the F1 Strategy Group is in the sport for marketing purposes, while the bulk of those teams who exist solely to race are those who have been left out in the cold when it comes to planning - and safe-guarding - the long-term interests of the sport.

It was also honest of those present, when asked about the fairness of the additional payments - a reported $250 million per annum, split (inequitably) between four teams - to admit that while the situation hardly created a level playing field, they would be fools to turn down any arrangement that was to their benefit.

But it is the lack of a level playing field that is Formula One's big problem. If one team gets 60 percent of their operating costs straight from the commercial rights holder, they do not need to find as much income from sponsorship or other sources as a team in receipt of ?10 million.

To be clear: while the division of the prize fund is inequitable, in that it is based on results, it is still a fair and transparent system, and one which (in theory) is a motivator. But the legacy payments and other preferential terms given to a select group are creating a situation in which it is simply not possible for the minnows to compete with the sharks.

With x proportion of the big spenders' costs covered before they sign a single sponsorship arrangement, the lucky few are in the position of being able to allocate resources based on a guaranteed income from the CRH while treating any additional income from a company or sponsor as a bonus to be diverted into development, for example. For those in a less fortunate position, income must be found before salaries can be paid, making it all but impossible to lure top tier talent from other teams, or to invest in researching and developing innovations.

Those currently at the back are condemned to stay there, while those at the front receive additional funding that only extends the gap to the rest.

That is not sport. It is not sporting. It's not even entertaining. And with sport and entertainment now off the agenda, our very expensive show is little more than a corporate branding exercise which - in the current financial climate - isn't even that good at shifting product.

Formula One must fix itself or die. And the only way to get fixed is to change the distribution of funding from the commercial rights holder. Keep the prize fund the way it is, and split that $250 million equally between however many teams are left to reap the benefits when the current memoranda of understanding that govern the sport retire.

The way things are going, that's probably going to be those teams currently in receipt plus their customers. How sporting.

By Kate Walker

Kate Walker is a senior F1 writer for Crash.net. A member of the F1 travelling circus since 2010, she keeps an eye on the behind the scenes wheeling and dealing that makes Formula One a political melodrama.

 

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