Bad sportsmanship or bad business? Force India couldn’t win in Paris


Yesterday was a bad day for Formula 1. In the space of 12 hours, both Caterham and Marussia appeared to bite the dust, drawing the curtain on a sorry 2014 for Formula 1.

In the case of Caterham, its demise was expected – after all, it couldn’t find a buyer. Marussia had found investment though, with its fate instead being sealed by a meeting of the F1 Strategy Group in Paris on Thursday.

The team’s plan was to race with its 2014 car this season. Although it wouldn’t have been competitive or much of a rival to the other nine teams, it would have ensured its survival. The plan was to keep it propped up and rebuild from the ground up, with 2016 hopefully bringing better fortunes.

But no. The F1 Strategy Group said that this would not be allowed: Marussia could not race with its 2014 car. Cue outcry on social media and widespread dismay in the F1 community.

The sad irony about this case is that the team that was the first to veto Marussia’s return was Force India – the very team that had threatened to boycott last November’s United States Grand Prix because of how F1 was treating the smaller fish outside of the Strategy Group. It has since become a member of the body, and its first act was to arguably do exactly what it had protested against in the past.

“During the meeting it emerged that there were compliance issues and that the application lacked substance,” Force India deputy team principal Bob Fernley told Reuters on Friday, defending his decision.

“Given the lack of information, uncertain guarantees, and the speculative nature of the application, the decision was taken that it is better to focus on ensuring the continued participation of the remaining independent teams.”

The Strategy Group meeting required a unanimous decision to bring Marussia back. With Force India saying no, the rest of the teams didn’t have to say a word as it didn’t matter. Bernie Ecclestone did however tell The Independent that “there were three or four of them” who were against Marussia’s return, without mentioning any team names.

As I explained at length in this article on Thursday ahead of the meeting, by allowing Marussia back, the remaining nine teams would be spurning the opportunity to grab themselves an extra 1.1% of the prize money on offer – Marussia’s allocation – which amounts to several million.

At a time when Force India, Sauber and Lotus are all staring down the barrel of financial uncertainty, income such as that is hard to come by.

The main criticism has been that Force India’s veto was grossly unsporting and unfair. However, bear in mind that it is a business; passing up on multi-million dollar opportunities doesn’t cut it in the boardroom, particularly when your car is behind schedule and may only get four days of on-track running before the first race of the year.

Ecclestone did hint at another reason behind the decision to say no to Marussia, telling The Independent: “Maybe the other teams would have liked to use last year’s car. The trouble was that you can’t do these things for one team, you have got to do it for everybody.”

Force India is yet to launch its new 2015 car, the VJM08. We’ve only seen last year’s car with a 2015 nose in a new livery. Food for thought.

What next for Marussia? Making the grid in Melbourne for the first race of the season appears to be out of the question, considering the time constraints involved. However, written into the teams’ contract with the sport is a clause that allows them to miss three races per year. Theoretically, Marussia could wait until the Bahrain Grand Prix to make its debut and not face any great penalty.

This does need to be a very quick and costly project though. The Marussia operation is, in truth, dead as we know it. The factory has been sold off to Gene Haas, with very little of the old team remaining. There is still a heartbeat though, even if it is a weak pulse. The odds don’t look good, but it isn’t game over quite yet.

Instead of pointing the finger at Force India in this, the bigger picture must be considered. F1’s cost crisis is only worsening, and the F1 Strategy Group continues to do nothing. It is a self-interest group that has made hardly any progress in its eighteen months of life, only acting to alienate the outsiders further.

In 2012, we had 12 teams and 24 cars. In the past three years, three F1 teams have collapsed financially: Marussia, Caterham and HRT. Three more are facing uncertain futures: Force India, Sauber and Lotus. At this rate, we may just have six teams left in Formula 1.

The sport is in crisis. Change must come. Be it from Bernie Ecclestone or from the FIA, or even if the Strategy Group finally wakes up, something must change. And soon.