McLaren F1 boss warns big changes needed if sport is to survive

The boss of McLaren F1 team, Zak Brown, says major changes are necessary if the sport of Formula One is to survive the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Could F1 lose teams?

Brown warned the sport is in a “very fragile state” due to the fact the pandemic has derailed the 2020 season. We’re yet to see a single race this year and currently, we aren’t set to see any action until the Canadian GP in June at the earliest.

“This is potentially devastating to teams, and if [it is devastating] to enough teams – which doesn’t have to mean more than two – then very threatening to F1 as a whole,” he said.

In his interview with BBC Sport, Brown spoke of the cost cap that is set to come into place in F1 in 2021. Currently set at $175m, Brown believes that cap should be lowered significantly if F1 is to survive in its current state.

“Could I see – through what is going on right now in the world if we don’t tackle this situation head on very aggressively – two teams disappearing? Yeah,” said Brown.

“In fact, I could see four teams disappearing if this isn’t handled the right way.

“And then, given how long it takes to ramp up an F1 team, and given the economic and health crisis we are in right now, to think there would be people lined up to take over those teams like there has historically been… I don’t think the timing could be worse from that standpoint.

“So I think F1 is in a very fragile state at the moment.”

Last week, McLaren became the first F1 team to place some of their staff on furlough leave. As well as that, drivers Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris took a pay cut to help the team get through this difficult period.

The fact remains though, that the delays to the season and the cancellation of races will severely impact the amount of revenue the sport of F1 will make in the coming year. That’s why Brown wants the cost cap lowered.

The Formula One teams have already agreed to a whole host of changes to help cut costs for the teams – that includes pushing back the proposed rule changes to 2022 and lowering the cost cap to $150m (£122m) – but Brown wants more.

The McLaren boss has proposed that they drop the cost cap for 2021 to $100m, and even said that one of the three top teams was willing to drop that low too. Although Brown wouldn’t say who it was, BBC Sport reported it was Mercedes.

“You have everyone at $150m, and the strong majority – including one of the big teams – willing to come substantially under $150m,” he said.

“If we don’t make an aggressive enough budget cap and some people feel they have to top up this year and have no chance of getting it back,” he said, “then they ask themselves: Why are they in it?

“I don’t think anyone competes in F1 just to make up the numbers.”

Opposition to the lower cap

Red Bull boss Christian Horner, who belongs to one of the two teams resisting the proposed drop in cost caps, says it’s not the cap that needs changed, but the cost of racing as a whole.

Meanwhile, Brown disputed that, saying that there is no chance for the smaller teams to win in formula one in the way there is in other sports, such as football. He believes that some teams, Red Bull included, are “putting their own sporting interests first.”

“In football, while everyone knows Manchester United or Liverpool are going to win more often than not, every team has a chance to beat them, and in F1 it is just not the case.

“And a couple of the teams are putting their sporting interests well ahead of the greater good and missing the point that they are really running the risk of jeopardising the sport – and then we all lose.

“You’d almost think they are uncomfortable about having a fair fight with teams that maybe they haven’t viewed as a competitor before, and they might be uncomfortable having a fair fight because they have never actually been in one.

“Sport in my mind is a chance for everyone to compete fairly and pretty equitably. It is like a heavyweight boxer who only wants to fight middleweights.”

Do the resistant teams have a point?

One of the points made by the teams resisting the drop in cost cap from $150m is that many of the smaller teams don’t even spend that much anyway, so reducing the cost cap would do nothing to help them survive financially.

That point is true – in 2018, at least three teams had a budget of $150m or lower anyway, so there isn’t much to gain financially speaking by lowering the budget. As a result, the likes of Ferrari and Red Bull see this as the small teams trying to hobble them.

In all fairness, Zak Brown admitted that one of the advantages of the smaller cost cap is that it would reduce the gap between the top three teams and the rest – thus allowing the smaller teams more of a chance to win and have some success.

Isn’t that what we all want? Unless you’re on the fabled top three teams, don’t you want to see a more competitive field? Imagine an F1 wherein there were regularly five or six teams capable of winning races – that’s where we want to be, no?

While I understand the point that the big teams are making, I agree with Zak Brown that the cost cap should come down even further, thus allowing for some, hopefully, more competitive racing.

It then becomes about who can build the best car rather than who can spend the most money – which is currently what the sport is.

Formula One is a financially motivated sport, and probably always will be, but this is the chance to bring formula one back to the point wherein it is the most elite motorsport on the planet – not for the money spent, but for the quality of the racing.

The last thing we want is for that gap between the top three and the rest to get even wider. If things stay as they are, and budgets for the smaller teams do decrease – which they will due to lost revenue – then that’s exactly what will happen.

For the sake of the sport as a whole, the cost cap should be reduced. It will be interesting to see the outcome of their upcoming meeting – Brown says he thinks it will be “tense” in that room.

“There is a divide,” he says. “Not a 50-50 divide. I would say it’s more 80-20. The reality is you can survive with 80% (of the teams), but you can’t survive with 20.”

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Kieran Harm
Kieran hails from Newcastle-Upon-Tyne and holds a degree in Sports Journalism from the University of Brighton. He covers a range of sports, specialising in football and NFL. Kieran is a long-suffering member of the Toon Army as well as a very proud member of Broncos Country.

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