For years, smaller teams and constructors have been making noise about the cost of running a Formula 1 team being cripplingly and in some cases prohibitively expensive, but it has now escalated to the point where even global manufacturers are starting to feel the heat, raising the gnarly topic of a budget cap once more.
Speaking to Autosport magazine, Renault’s managing director Cyril Abiteboul has told the powers that be in Formula 1 that unless the spiralling cost of participating in the series is addressed, then it can look forward to an uncertain future with constructors (teams like Williams who build their own car, but buy in their engine from elsewhere) and manufacturers (teams who build their own car and engine – typically part of a road car company like Renault and Mercedes) alike being compelled to question whether or not an ongoing campaign in Formula 1 is good value for money.
This has no doubt been prompted by the gains made by Renault’s fellow engine supplier Honda, who, after four seasons of ignominious failure have decided that not to succeed is not an option and are now stacking an enormous budget behind getting their F1 engine right as they embark on a new relationship with Red Bull for 2019.
For Formula 1 to lose a constructor would be a tragedy, but to lose an engine supplier may be worse: There are currently just four engine suppliers, Mercedes, Ferrari, Renault and Honda powering the entire field, and if one were to withdraw the knock on effect could be catastrophic.
A cost cap would appear to be the solution in limiting these escalating and almost certainly unsustainable costs, but in order to introduce such a measure, Liberty would need all ten teams to agree to it, and in typical F1 fashion, the teams it helps are for it, and the teams it would stymie, against, so unanimous approval is unlikely.
It’d also be an incredibly difficult thing to police – with plenty opportunities for backdoor shenanigans.
For example, say the budget cap was £100m net. Ferrari (for want of a better example – nothing against them, I’m sure they’d never dream of trying to circumavent the rules!), think they can win the title with £300m. So they strike a deal with parent company Fiat to display Alfa Romeo branding for a hugely inflated price of £200m, and Roberto’s your uncle – a £200m cash injection for Ferrari, they get to spend their £300m, but with a net spend of the agreed £100m.
In a sport with such wealthy players, and with so much at stake it’s incredibly difficult, budget cap or no, to avoid an arms race, but it might be one challenge Liberty have to rise to if they’re going to have a sport to protect in years to come.