Formula One not immune to global financial pressures

Seven out of 11 groups are reportedly facing difficulty staying in the black, which is evident in the shrinking line-up on the grid

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 25 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 25 July, 2013, 2:59am

This weekend's grand prix in Hungary is being held in what once was a potato field. Not perhaps the image one would expect or desire for the glamorous world of Formula One. As an outsider looking in, you'd think the global economic problems encountered in the past few years had not bothered the gold-plated bubble that is the F1 paddock.

You would be wrong. According to reports, seven of the 11 teams face a financial crisis. For every Ferrari or McLaren, there is a Marussia or the now defunct HRT.

You know things are getting bad when Peter Sauber is reduced to admitting he can't pay his suppliers and his star driver, Nico Hulkenburg, may have to leave. It was rumoured the German driver was unpaid for several months. The Swiss team owner is a dignified man with a well-honed sense of humour and no-one wanted to see him in that situation.

Fortunately, the Hinwil-based team have been bailed out by Russian backers. The mood music has completely changed at Sauber, although it might come at the price of having a Russian driver foisted on them next year.

Sauber's issues date back to when BMW dumped the team in a hurry and Peter Sauber dipped into his pocket. The fact that one team's future seems secure does nothing to reassure fans about the prospect of a shrinking grid as other teams go to the wall.

Matters are not helped by a new raft of rules next season, including new engines. It's a whole new layer of costs being put on teams, and although the idea is to reduce the amount of cash splashed out in the long term, it isn't going to help teams in the short term.

You can see the effect it is having at the back end of the grid already, with teams trying to protect their existence. F1's smallest team, Marussia, have just signed a deal to take Ferrari engines, gearboxes and other technical systems. In doing so, Cosworth have made their exit. It's a shame as Cosworth are brilliant at what they do, but as an independent engine maker it may well be too expensive.

I would love to point to a cunning solution to this financial conundrum, but I fear there isn't one. F1 is the top end of motorsport and as such should give free rein to technical brilliance. That comes at a considerable cost, and while rule makers quite rightly should try to rein in those costs, they tread a fine line in not smothering the next great idea from the designers and engineers.

Talking of rule makers, there would seem to be trouble at the the top of the FIA, the sports governing body. President Jean Todt could be facing a challenge. The former Ferrari team principal took over after Max Mosley stood down, but a sizeable faction want to see him challenged in elections next year.

It is understood the Frenchman is not held in high regard, despite (or perhaps because of ) his success with Ferrari. He also has a poor relationship with Bernie Ecclestone, which cannot help his chances. Newspaper reports suggest Englishman David Ward, formally Mosley's right hand man, is being lined up for a challenge.

Fans may not care much about yet more political wrangling, but it could have wide-ranging implications. The sport is still to conclude a new Concorde agreement that will govern the commercial aspects, and the FIA will want a strong man to play a strong hand.