FIA president Max Mosley has conceded that Formula One is facing its biggest test for 40 years, but insists that there are still some encouraging signs that all is not lost.

Addressing the media during a scheduled pre-season luncheon, Mosley pointed to the rumours of a new US-based team and his own expectation that something will rise from the ashes of the Honda team as positives to be taken into the 2009 campaign, despite admitting that the global financial crisis will have a big effect on F1.

Amid talk of seeking new ways of slashing the cost of competing in the top flight, both to preserve the future of those teams still in existence and to attract newcomers to fill the void left by Honda, Super Aguri and the non-appearance of Prodrive as a twelfth team, Mosley told Reuters that he fully expected the situation to get worse before it got better, but was optimistic that F1 would come out the other side, and possibly in better health.

"It's by far the biggest [threat] since I've been involved in the late 1960s," he conceded, "There has been a Formula One bubble which rivals any credit bubble or housing bubble or IT bubble - and there seems a reluctance to recognise that."

Having already played a part in convincing the remaining teams to slash their spending by adopting restrictions on testing, R&D, engine and gearbox use and parts that many feel should be common to all, the president is keen to see outlay further reined in by next season.

"For 2010, we want to see budgets come right down - to the point where FOM money [from television income and prize money] plus very modest sponsorship equals the cost of going racing," he continued, "The teams, as I understand it, agree with the principle but they don't want to do it that quickly. However, I think we are going to have to do it that quickly.

"[The manufacturers] are looking for cost-cutting everywhere, and the feedback I am getting from some CEOs is that they 'want to see Formula One sorted out but, if it becomes a nuisance, they will just stop'.

"[That] wouldn't actually be damaging, but I think it would make everyone realise, finally, that there really is a problem. I think the days of the billionaires who p*ss money away are gone, [but] there are one or two people who still don't understand.

"I don't think it would matter provided we could lay out a plan for 2010 that makes it possible for a small team to run competitively - and do so without losing money."

Despite his views casting a pall over the build-up to what could be one of the most open seasons in recent memory, thanks to sweeping - and, ironically, costly - regulation changes, Mosley remains optimistic that Formula One remains attractive to potential entrants. He admitted that his personal view was that something could be rescued from the demise of the Honda team in time to contest the 2009 campaign, and insisted that the mooted USF1 operation was to be taken seriously.

Although he admits that the best hope of anything coming from Honda rested with the reported management buyout being led by erstwhile team principal Ross Brawn and CEO Nick Fry, rather than the dozen allegedly interested buyers, Mosley remained 70 per cent confident that there would be ten teams on the grid come Melbourne next month.

"I have no inside knowledge, but my feeling from all the circumstances is that it is more likely than not," he said, "[Brawn and Fry] may succeed as they are both very competent people and, talking to the people around the team, they seem optimistic - but they always are until the moment comes."

Mercedes has said that it would be willing to extend its customer programme to supply engines to any team emerging from the rubble at Brackley, and Honda's entry for the championship remains valid, having been lodged before its death was unexpectedly confirmed in December. Jenson Button has two years left on his contract and is apparently keen to race for whoever takes on the programme, having seemingly missed the boat at Toro Rosso.

Mosley was also keen to play down negative responses to rumours of a new team being put together in the United States by respected F1 and IndyCar engineer Ken Anderson and former Williams team manager Peter Windsor, but admitted that his next wave of cost-cutting measures could be the key to the team actually making it to the grid.

The president confirmed that the nascent team had contacted the FIA about entry to the 2010 championship, but acknowledged the fact that the current economic situation made it hard for outsiders to take the bid seriously.

"I would have thought it would be extremely difficult but, there again, a lot depends on what their income could be," he said, "At the moment, if a new team comes into Formula One, they race for nothing for two years - they do all their own transport for two years and they only get money in the third year. That is a significant barrier to entry.

"I think it is very unhealthy that there is no new blood in Formula One, and we've got two vacancies, possibly three if Honda don't make it. [USF1] are serious, but I think they will be the same as everybody else, needing costs to come down if they want to be competitive.

"It would be unthinkable to have two vacancies in the Premier League, so there is something wrong with Formula One [if] the barriers to entry are far too high. Nobody could go out today with a private team and get $50-60m in sponsorship, so it's impossible for somebody to come into Formula One. We must change that and get the cost of the engines and gearbox right down. There's a lot of people who could make a chassis, provided we stop this thing of incredibly expensive components."

If Honda - and, longer term, Super Aguri and Prodrive - are not replaced, Mosley has admitted that other teams may be asked to fill the void until the health of the sport looks up - but not necessarily those already competing in the category, as had been expected.

"What we are trying to do is to make it easy for independent teams to come in, as that would be the efficient way of filling the gap," he insisted, "But that depends on getting this done quickly. If we don't get a move on, it won't happen.

"In the absolute worst case, we have in our contract with Bernie [Ecclestone] that, if there are insufficient cars, we will fill [the grid] with cars from other categories. For that to happen, however, would be very unfortunate because, at the moment, we are in a position to arrange the rules so that we could get independent teams in."



Loading Comments...