As Formula 1’s proposed 2021 revolution gathers momentum, the gears of its political machine squeal as they slowly but surely drive the championship away from the mists of lofty ideals – better racing, sustainability and closer competition – and towards the clear skies of cold, hard reality – compromise.
Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, of course, but important details are reaching definition. A budget cap of $175million per year appears to command broad consensus, mainly because it is slightly higher than the midfield teams wanted and slightly lower than the big teams wanted.
The cap will not cover driver salaries, engines and marketing expenses, sensible when you consider the principal aim is restricting the aerodynamic development largely responsible for the competitive chasm behind Ferrari, Mercedes and Red Bull.
Depending on what Lawrence Stroll is prepared to invest in Racing Point, I can't see any of F1’s midfield teams (excluding Renault and McLaren) reaching this cap, even if driver salaries, marketing and engine costs were included, but it should still force a significant reduction in spending by F1’s ‘big three’.
That’s if – and it’s a big if – the cap can be policed correctly. Christian Horner made the point recently that each team has a different structure, so finding a one-size-fits-all solution to maintain equilibrium in the new ‘Formula 1 Financial Regulations’ will not be easy. Red Bull is a separate entity to Honda; Mercedes and Renault manufacture their own engines but in physically separate locations from their chassis; while Ferrari houses everything under one giant roof. There is potential to accidentally favour certain structures over others, especially when every team is unique, and won’t be doing its job if it doesn’t try to exploit loopholes.
Horner talks about the law of unintended consequences, which F1 must be forensic about when defining new rules. Recent proposals to bring parc fermé forward to Friday morning is a case in point. It could stop bigger teams stretching away from the competition before qualifying begins, as well as easing the mechanics’ workload but, as Toto Wolff points out, this will simply shift work away from the circuit and into the virtual world.
This is already happening because the battleground of modern F1, between the haves and the have-nots, is the world of simulation, where top teams essentially test during the race weekends, employing groups of engineers and drivers to help the race teams perfect their cars before qualifying. The rise of ‘Virtual F1’ is itself an unintended consequence of testing restrictions, implemented to reduce costs and rebalance the competitive picture.
Which brings us neatly back to the budget cap: a laudable way to tackle F1’s inequality, but one that, if all consequences are not carefully considered, could end up unintentionally doing precisely the opposite.