Formula 1 needs to learn from Caterham’s story

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When Tony Fernandes closed his Twitter account earlier this week with the message “F1 hasn’t worked”, he managed to sum up the sorry state of the sport’s cost crusade in less than 140 characters.

Caterham’s demise has been hard to watch. The team has fought tooth and nail to stay ahead of Marussia, and has been the leading backmarker team for most of its five years in the sport. Last year, it was behind the Anglo-Russian team for just four races – sadly for Caterham, it was enough time for Jules Bianchi to rack up a 13th place finish that would secure Marussia P10 in the constructors’.

For 2014 though, there was renewed hope. In Kamui Kobayashi, the team had secured a very popular and talented driver; you can expect the Suzuka grandstands to be a sea of green in October. The stars seemed to be aligning for the minnows to make the step forwards and perhaps even score some points.

So when one of the new teams did score points, it was something of a surprise that Marussia had that honor. The teams had been largely neck and neck, but some more brilliance from Bianchi meant that he finished ninth. On the same day, Marcus Ericsson matched Caterham’s best ever result in 11th, but few smiles were raised.

The future for the team is not clear, but buyers are lining up to take over from Fernandes, meaning that it should at least run to the end of the season before perhaps being rebranded.

“F1 hasn’t worked” – for Fernandes, no, it has not. Formula 1 on a budget is always difficult, if not impossible.

But Fernandes did not come into the same sport that we have now. Following the withdrawals of Honda (2008), BMW and Toyota (both 2009), new teams were needed to take the grid back up to a healthy number. After receiving a number of entries, berths were given to Lotus Racing (now Caterham), Virgin (now Marussia) and Campos Meta (then HRT, now defunct).

For all three entrants, the big condition for them joining the party was that a cost cap would come into force, allowing them to run on a budget of around $50m per season. Toyota was spending close to nine times that figure during its time in F1.

At the time, it seemed to be the only way to save F1 from itself. Red Bull’s Christian Horner was enthusiastic, saying: “I think Formula 1 has reacted responsibly. It’s positive to see new teams entered for next year which would have been impossible, I think, without the resource restrictions that will be introduced.”

So when the cost cutting measures were not enforced as strictly as planned, it hit the new teams hard. The fact that they managed to keep gradually cutting the gap to the leading teams despite running on far smaller budgets is highly commendable.

F1’s outlook has changed. At the time of Caterham’s entry, it had the feeling of an “all for one, one for all” club. FOTA, the teams’ association, was doing some great work. However, it sadly became impotent as a political body, and eventually folded earlier this year. The voice for the teams now is the F1 Strategy Group, which only includes the bigger players in the sport. Caterham and company have little to no say in the future of F1 at the moment. The big boys have formed their own club now.

The sport needs to learn from Caterham’s story, but it is unlikely that it will. Teams have come and gone in the past (Super Aguri, Prost, Arrows etc), but that was in a different time when it was a case of spending what you want to be successful. Caterham came in on the provision that things would change, but it has not.

We’re back to 2010. Cost cutting talks continue, but little is actually done. The sport plays host to some of the finest minds in the world, yet they continue to squabble like children and come to few actual solutions. Tony Fernandes’ views and approach was refreshing, just as Monisha Kaltenborn and Bob Fernley are at Sauber and Force India. They are voices of reason.

F1 has managed to reduce five years of struggling and fighting the good fight to less than 140 characters. It is likely that the stories and fall-out from the impending sale of the team will be a bit more drawn out.

Have a decent tax refund coming? Buy Ayrton Senna’s 1993 Monaco-winning car

Photos courtesy Bonhams
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Are you expecting a better than normal tax refund? Did you get a very nice bonus from your company due to the new tax cut?

Well, if you have a good chunk of change hanging around and potentially can be in Monaco on May 11, you can have a chance to bid on the 1993 McLaren-Ford MP4/8A that the late Ayrton Senna drove in — and won — that year’s Monaco Grand Prix.

We’re not just talking about any race winner. It’s also the same car Senna won his sixth Monaco Grand Prix, and the chassis bears the number six.

It’s also the same car Senna piloted to that season’s F1 championship (his third and final title before sadly being killed the next year) and is the first McLaren driven by Senna that’s ever been sold or put up for auction.

The famed Bonhams auction house is overseeing the sale of the car.

“Any Grand Prix-winning car is important, but to have the golden combination of both Senna and Monaco is a seriously rare privilege indeed,” Bonhams global head of motorsport, Mark Osborne, told The Robb Report.

“Senna and Monaco are historically intertwined, and this car represents the culmination of his achievements at the Monegasque track. This is one of the most significant Grand Prix cars ever to appear at auction, and is certainly the most significant Grand Prix car to be offered since the Fangio Mercedes-Benz W196R, which sold for a world record at auction.”

How much might you need? You might want to get a couple of friends to throw in a few bucks as well.

“We expect the car to achieve a considerable seven-figure sum,” Osborne said.

The London newspaper “The Telegraph” predicts the car will sell in the $6.1 million range.”

“This car will set the world record for a Senna car at auction,” Osborne said. “We are as certain as you can be in the auction world.”

While you won’t be able to take the car for a test drive before the auction, it’ll be ready to roar once you pay the price.

“In theory, the buyer could be racing immediately upon receipt of the cleared funds after the auction,” Osborne said. “All systems are primed and ready.”