Plans to reduce practice distract from real cost cutting needs

The news broke yesterday of a plan to reduce the amount of running teams do on a Friday from next year.

The idea, which has been proposed by Bernie Ecclestone, is to scrap the current Friday morning practice session in favour of a single session in the afternoon, with the thinking being to cut costs for the teams and condense the entire Grand Prix weekend into a three-day event, with the usual Thursday media activities being moved to fill the void left by the following morning’s empty circuit.

Whilst, at first glance, the plans seem sensible enough, as usual, both the teams and Mr. Ecclestone are missing some very fundamental flaws.

Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, the proposals will do little, if not absolutely nothing, to cut down on the amount of running the teams will do on the Friday. They may have half the time on the track, but all that will happen is that teams will condense their current FP1 and FP2 programmes into one, meaning they will complete double the mileage they usually get through in a single session. At present, the price of car parts doesn’t legislate for the time period in which their owner decides to use them, meaning that cost saving on this front will be kept to a tidy maximum of absolutely zero. Not bad going.

Secondly, whilst cutting the weekend’s activities from four days to three may save an extra night’s payment for a hotel room, in the grand scheme of things such expenditure is but a mere dot on the landscape that is modern day Formula One budgeting. We’re living in an age where the sport needs to save millions, not thousands, and to the teams paying for accommodation that kind of saving is small change. If one compares the current need for penny-pinching to climbing Everest, this little measure is more akin to scaling Mount Wycheproof.

If meaningful progress is to be made on the cost cutting front, then the sensible thing to do is to sit down and agree on a budget cap. How that is done doesn’t matter. Whether it’s by cutting the number of personnel a team can hire, standardising more car parts, or allowing for an increase in technical partnerships between the frontrunning teams and the struggling privateers, at a time when the sport has just presided over a multi-million pound switch to turbocharged engines – one that whilst technologically important, could have waited another two or three years until the global economy was in a better place – more significant action needs to be taken to keep budgets down, not sugar-coated token gestures that do little to improve the overall picture.

What also cannot be ignored is that, if these proposals do come to pass, yet again the real losers will be the fans. With ticket prices for the Friday alone of next month’s British Grand Prix starting at £65, the paying punters want on-track action. If the length of time Grand Prix cars spend hitting the Silverstone tarmac on that first day next year is halved, will that be reflected in a drop in the admission fee? If the past few years are anything to go by, that seems pretty doubtful.

Formula One is walking a very precarious tightrope with regards to its treatment of the fans. After showing complete contempt for its support last winter by disregarding the wishes of more than 90% of the fanbase with the now infamous double points debacle for this year’s season finale in Abu Dhabi, the sport needs to be extremely careful with regards to how it treats its viewers. If the fans continue to be treated as a commodity rather than the single most important part of the sport that they are, they will walk away, leaving nothing but an irrelevant, out of touch series heading for a rather swift expiry date.

If the teams, Mr. Ecclestone and the FIA met, went through a number of ideas rationally and banged some heads together, a real, and effective set of regulations that genuinely cut costs could be thrashed out. The problem you have is that when you allow the teams so much influence over the regulations, the likes of Mercedes-Benz, Red Bull and Ferrari are not going to vote for Christmas and squander their own significant financial advantage over the rest of the field.

Until that changes, and a proper, impartial structure put in place when making the big decisions, little will be done that is truly in the interests of Formula One.

Stephen D’Albiac


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