News coming out of the Canadian Grand Prix weekend is that Formula One is poised to run only a single practice session on Fridays next year.
F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone is behind the move for reduced running on Fridays, as he believes that a later practice session would enable more fans to attend after work. Rubbish!
The primary reason comes as the sport’s bosses continue scrambling to find solutions to cut costs. Never mind that a cost cap could solve most problems and give struggling teams a chance.
It seems that the FIA and the governing bodies are doing everything else other than introducing a spending cap, because they can’t convince F1’s big teams to agree on it.
Plans to cut a Friday practice session will not only save money on track – as it costs approximately 1,000 euros a lap to run an F1 engine – but it will also save off the track by a reduction in accommodation for team personal, as teams could arrive a day later.
The idea to cost cuts on Friday’s will have a negative impact on the sport in multiple ways:
1. The fans don’t benefit
First and most importantly, race fans will be the ones to suffer from the move. The sport is already showing a decline in viewership due to the Mercedes team’s domination and (allegedly) the sound of the cars, so why push fans further away by taking 90 minutes of F1 running?
This issue extends further to race-goers. Tickets to a Grand Prix are far from cheap – no matter what country you’re in – so how will venue promoters sell weekend or Friday passes with the amount of track time cut in half? They won’t.
Even if ticket prices drop (which they’ll have to) fans who have been loyal to the sport will feel robbed and vote with their feet by boycotting races. First fans were faced with half the atmosphere of the weekend taken away from them as the sport introduced the much quieter V6 engines, and now they’re going to be deprived of F1 action for a further 90 minutes?
Next we’ll inevitably be faced with the FIA and FOM looking into why attendances have been dropping trying to pinpoint where it all went wrong.
2. Reserve drivers get further squeezed
Teams from the midfield down all utilise their reserve driver/drivers in order to develop both the car and the driver themselves. Most of them also provide financial backing to their respective teams, so if their position is made redundant, so is their sponsorship money.
That means that the next up and coming F1 drivers – perhaps among the likes of Felipe Nasr, Robin Frijns, and Alexander Rossi – will have even less track time to advertise their skills to a prospective employer.
3. Off-track development
This segues perfectly into another problem. The lack of Friday running will result in teams being forced to use their simulators more, which is a large role of the reserve driver and is something only the richer teams can afford, with a few exceptions.
So the cost cutting plan of taking away FP1 comes undone for the smaller teams – the plan’s apparent focal aim – upgrading/buying new simulators to try and keep up with the rest of the field.
It just doesn’t make sense.
4. Sponsorship squeeze
Gone are the days when teams were swimming in tobacco advertising revenue. Since the mid-2000s, the ban on tobacco advertising and the tightening global economy have made F1 sponsorship opportunities more difficult to come by.
It’s only going to get harder for teams to attract and convince potential sponsors to invest when there’s less airtime for their product to be advertised.
The same goes for the venues that host F1 races. Each circuit has a title partner and plenty of sponsors that pay to have their logo advertised around the circuit. Less running means a reduction in sponsorship costs and could lead to circuits pulling out of the calendar.
5. It’s not a cost-cutting measure
Finally the cut to Friday practice doesn’t address the issue of cost cutting adequately. The FIA has said that the move is to help struggling teams. However it’s the big teams that are supporting the move and the smaller teams rejecting it.
It’s a decision that has approval from the rule-making Strategic Working Group – comprising the six leading outfits: Ferrari, Red Bull, Mercedes, McLaren, Williams and Lotus – as well as F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone and FIA president Jean Todt. The five smaller outfits – Force India, Sauber, Toro Rosso, Caterham and Marussia – don’t get a say at all.
Force India’s technical director Andrew Green said: “From Force India’s perspective, we don’t see this as cost-saving at all. For us, we’ve always looked to use the FP1 session to blood in some new drivers and that was an income stream for us and if we lose that, that’s going to be a relatively severe blow, which, in turn, will have an impact on our technical ability so in that respect, I don’t think it’s cost-saving.”
The smaller outfits won’t have a chance to oppose the decision, which is likely to be rubber-stamped at a future meeting of the FIA World Motor Sport Council.
If the sport was truly serious about cost-saving measures, it would look to seriously implement proper cost-saving initiatives instead of a solution which is akin to treating an amputation with a band-aid.
The smaller teams – a number of whom are potentially in serious financial trouble – are keen to get serious cost-cutting initiatives in place, and have threatened to take F1’s leadership to the European Commission to sort out the problem once and for all.
Image via XPB Images