Formula 1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone has hinted that next year’s grid could feature eight three-car teams, as speculation over the financial health of the field’s three backmarker outfits – Sauber, Marussia and Caterham – increased at this weekend’s Singapore Grand Prix.
Speaking yesterday at this weekend’s Grand Prix, the 83-year-old claimed that the threat of one of more teams shutting down in the off-season remained highly likely.
Under the sport’s commercial terms, should the grid fall to eight teams or fewer, all remaining teams will be obliged to field an additional car to bolster the grid numbers. The rules, however, prohibit customer cars from being used, meaning that one team could not sell its entire cars to another outfit.
“It’s always been on the cards that if we lose up to three teams then the other teams will run three cars,” Ecclestone told the media.
“I’ve been around – most people say too long – but long enough to know there are always people at the back of the grid,” he added, when asked if the sport had an obligation to help the smaller teams survive.
“I think we should do it anyway. I would rather see Ferrari with three cars, or any of the other top teams with three cars than having teams that are struggling.”
Ecclestone was quick to insist that nothing was set in stone, but that the situation would unfold by itself: “We’ll know after the next two or three races.”
Fears of a reduced grid were echoed by Sauber team principal Monisha Kaltenborn, who admitted she could not guarantee that the Swiss outfit could survive through the off-season.
“We plan to be on the grid next year. As Sauber,” she replied, when asked about the team’s future in the wake of Ecclestone’s comments.
“It’s not looking bad. It’s tough, and it’s going to remain tough for a while because it’s not easy for any team today to find sponsorship,” she added, citing the change in the sport’s technical regulations at the beginning of the year as a principal reason for the team’s plight.
“The budgets have gone up, although there’s not going to be much of a difference from this year to next year as we can benefit from developments we have done this year. But then it’s not going to decrease, so it’s going to remain challenging.”
The team is struggling through the worst season in its Grand Prix history, languishing in tenth place having failed to score to-date in 2014.
It has been the subject of a multitude of investment rumours, with the latest being claims that Canadian fashion billionaire Lawrence Stroll was in negotiations to invest a stake in the team.
Kaltenborn refused to comment on the Stroll rumours specifically, but did say that Sauber remained open to a new majority owner.
“We’ve always said on that in today’s Formula One, to be competitive, you need a strong partner. So we are open to that if it is the right partner and the right thing for the team. That’s nothing new to us. If you look back we’ve had majority owners here other than Peter Sauber. We’ve had Credit Suisse, Red Bull, so it’s nothing new for us,” she concluded.
Fellow midfield team boss Franz Tost was less sympathetic when asked by RichardsF1.com on whether the sport had an obligation to look at reducing costs in a bid to help the plight of the smaller teams.
“It’s totally easy: whoever has the money survives, and whoever doesn’t is dead. That’s the way it should be. It’s nothing new,” he told us in our exclusive interview conducted yesterday.
“You can’t save money if you have money. Who does this? The top teams have the money, so why shouldn’t they spend it to find performance? You have to work to get the income through results and sponsorship, and that’s how it is.
“We’ve been talking for years on how to cut costs. We could deliver exactly the same show for 60% less of the expenditure – the fans wouldn’t see it – but as long as the money is there, it will be spent.”
The issue is expected to be conducted during the FIA’s Friday Press Conference, which will include Kaltenborn and Tost, along with Eric Boullier (McLaren), Vijay Mallya (Force India), Manfredi Ravetto (Caterham) and Claire Williams (Williams).
Images via XPB Images