If you were looking for proof of Formula 1’s cost crisis, you needn’t look any further. Both Caterham and Marussia will be missing the United States Grand Prix in Austin next weekend because they simply cannot afford to race. It is a sad, sad story.
It is not, however, a surprising story. Indeed, ever since both teams joined the F1 grid at the start of the 2010 season, the aim of the game has been survival. HRT fell apart at the end of 2012, and just when Caterham and Marussia appeared to be finding their feet, both are now facing the possibility of shutting their doors.
Formula 1 has allowed this to happen. Both teams entered the sport on the proviso that there would be a cost cap in place to ensure that racing was affordable and sustainable. Such ideas were then scrapped, and despite a number of efforts to get them back in place, the selfish agendas of the big teams have prevented any progress being made.
It has been a slippery slope for the teams towards the back of the grid. Ever since the demise of FOTA and the formation of the F1 Strategy Group – a big boys club for those who have the money and weight to throw around – the writing has been on the wall for both Caterham and Marussia.
Since the beginning of the season, Caterham’s stability has been in doubt. Tony Fernandes kept insisting that there was nothing wrong and he would not be selling up, before eventually summing up his foray into F1 in just three words: “F1 hasn’t worked”.
He then supposedly sold the outfit to a company called Engavest, which claims it has not received its shares. Fernandes claims he hasn’t received his money. It’s an impasse that has ultimately put the team in administration, risking hundreds of jobs.
Through 1 Malaysia Racing Team, Caterham CF1 Grand Prix, Caterham Sports Limited and their various sub-companies, the messy nature of the team’s ownership has come to light. It’s a tragic scenario as the team collapses in far from dignified fashion.
I was told back at Spa not to expect to see Marussia at Monza. In all honesty, I was skeptical given that the team was sitting ninth in the constructors’ and in better shape than Caterham. However, the sad truth has now emerged: the financial problems are grave enough to warrant a no-show in Austin.
Is this the end for both teams? Not yet. The Concorde Agreement does permit teams to miss three races, so it may well give both outfits a chance to find fresh investment or indeed a new buyer. However, with entries for the 2015 F1 season required by November 1st, both have just one week to get their act together, otherwise we could face an 18-car grid next season.
18 cars. It’s not good, no. However, there have been a few cynics comparing it to the notorious 2005 United States GP at Indianapolis where just six cars took part. It must be stressed that this is a different case. Twenty cars qualified, and twenty cars lined up on the grid at Indy. Fourteen peeled in on the formation lap after the Michelin-shod cars felt it was unsafe to race.
Once again here, there were efforts to make the race work, only for the major powers in F1 to say “no”. They did not want to lose their competitive advantage, not even for the good of the sport. The same is true amid F1’s current cost crisis.
For some time, the cost problems in F1 have been well-known and well documented. The likes of Monisha Kaltenborn of Sauber and Bob Fernley of Force India have warned that a major scalp would have to be claimed for those at the top to get the message.
The sad truth is that even the loss of both Marussia and Caterham in the space of 12 hours won’t be enough for those leading the sport to wake up to the reality that the sport does have a crisis on its hands.