Marussia cry foul over F1 cost cap, but Mercedes call it unviable

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It’s no secret that Formula 1 is something of a rich man’s playground, but efforts have been made over the years to try and bring the cost of competing down in order to ensure a fairer playing field.

However, the likes of Marussia and Caterham do not have the kind of backing that Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull enjoy, meaning that it is no surprise that they languish at the back of the grid.

The idea of a cost cap to alleviate this problem has been spoken about for years. FIA president Jean Todt was keen on introducing one in the next couple of years, only for the F1 Strategy Group to reject it.

Said group is made up of Ferrari, Williams, Lotus, McLaren, Mercedes and Red Bull, who of course have the money to spend.

Marussia sporting director Graeme Lowdon feels that this isn’t good enough, though. “We want to see Formula One grow, and there is an important lesson to be learned from sports that have demonstrated huge growth over the last five to 10 years,” he explained to the Press Association.

“There are two elements that are a feature of those sports. One is an equitable distribution of finances within the sport, and the second is cost control of some description.

“It doesn’t necessarily have to be a cap. There are other techniques used – ceilings, luxury taxes, financial fair play mechanisms. Some people have said it’s too difficult to implement financial rules. Frankly, that’s absolute rubbish.”

‘Some people’ can certainly include Mercedes executive business director Toto Wolff, who – despite being in favor of the cost cap – believes that such limits are simply too hard to regulate and implement.

“Engineers are always going to find loopholes,” he said. “If you reduce something on the left, you are going to find possibilities on the right. This is why the concept of the cost cap would be a difficult one to police. If you are going through sporting and technical regulations it makes sense.

“I was for a cost cap actually, but we realised some of the other big teams could not follow that path. Ferrari are a good example as they have everything in one entity, the road car business and F1, and it’s difficult for them to have everything screened.”

Perhaps it’s a matter of perspective. It once again underlines the importance of organisations such as FOTA, which recently disbanded, that allow all of the teams in Formula 1 to have a say in the future of the sport.

Hamilton, Bottas clock fastest times as F1 testing starts

Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty IPhoto by Mark Thompson/Getty Imagesmages
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MONTMELO, Spain — Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas sent an ominous signal to their challengers after clocking the two fastest lap times on the first day of Formula One’s preseason testing.

Hamilton set the top time of Wednesday’s opening session’s of 1 minute, 16.976 seconds, after he took over from Bottas behind the wheel of the new Silver Arrow for the 2020 season. Bottas’ best effort was 0.337 seconds slower.

The Mercedes duo also completed the most laps of any team with 173.

Sergio Perez of Racing Point was the third fastest, followed by Max Verstappen in his Red Bull.

Hamilton enters the season as the clear favorite as he seeks to equal Michael Schumacher’s record of seven world titles and surpass the German’s mark of 91 career wins. Hamilton has six titles and 84 wins.

“It’s been a good day and a really good start for all of us, considering we had a long break,” Hamilton said. “So to come back and clock in over 170 laps just shows how hard everyone has been working over the winter.”

In last year’s preseason testing, the Mercedes cars were slower than the rival Ferraris. But they beat them come the first race of the year and never lost their advantage.

Hamilton and Bottas had nine one-two race finishes last season as they dominated the field to finish first and second in the overall points standings.

Wednesday’s eight hours of running went smoothly for all teams, with no accidents or breakdowns and good weather ideal for high speeds.

The only setback was for Sebatian Vettel, who couldn’t run as scheduled because of an illness.

Charles Leclerc took Vettel’s place and settled for the 11th best time of the 15 drivers who drove.

Leclerc, who finished fourth ahead of Vettel last season, said that his team had changed strategy.

“Last year in testing we were great but the first race was a little less great, and I think we have learned a few things on this,” he said. “This year we have started trying to focus more on ourselves and on trying to learn the car as much as possible during these first few days and then focus on performance later on.”

Verstappen finished third last season and is expected to again be biggest challenger to Mercedes’ dominance along with the two Ferraris.

Verstappen focused on accumulating 168 laps as Red Bull’s sole driver on the track. Alexander Albon will get his turn with the Red Bull on Thursday.

Williams’ George Russell was the first car to take the track, ensuring his team got off to a better start than during last year’s preseason when its car wasn’t ready to run until the third day of testing.

This year’s rules have not varied much ahead of the massive overhaul of regulations set to take effect in 2021 with the goal of shaking up the pecking order and closing the gap between the three traditional title challengers – Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull – and all the rest.

This season’s tweaks feature fewer tests days to compensate for the record-breaking 22 races on the calendar, including a new Vietnam GP and the return of the Dutch GP. Preseason testing has been reduced from a total of eight days to six, and the mid-season test has been eliminated.

Cars will now sport shark fins on the engine cover with the number of the driver to help fans identify them better. Drivers have been given more control of the go sequence at the starting line, and those large screens that crews would wheel out to shield cars from the view of snoopy rivals during tests have been banned.

Alfa Romeo and Haas unveiled their cars early on Wednesday in the pitlane to complete the presentation of the new vehicles for this season.

Testing continues on Thursday and Friday at the Barcelona-Catalunya Circuit, home to the Spanish GP, and again from Feb. 26-28.

The season-opening Australian GP is on March 15.