Following the announcement last week that the FIA has closed the application process for new F1 teams, the championship will now have a maximum of 11 teams racing in the championship until at least the end of 2017. But is that enough?
Since the closure of Panasonic Toyota Racing in 2009, F1 has lost a further three teams to financial issues – although Manor Marussia has of course come back from the brink – and failed to get USF1 to the grid.
As a result, the F1 grid size dipped to fewer than 20 cars for the first time since 2005 late last year, and with financial question marks hanging over a number of other teams, now is the time for F1 to inject some new blood into the series.
Counting the cost
Larger grids across motorsport are known for bringing more excitement for fans by creating more action throughout the field and keeping the pressure on larger teams with increased competition.
It is important to recognise that the latest applications were rejected by the FIA as they did not pass the process of due diligence, which protects F1 from entries that will be to the detriment of the show and the series reputation. And that is vital.
However, the fact that only two applicants took part in the process is endemic of the situation in which F1 finds itself in – a cultured image of exclusion and expense.
Many cite that the decline of recent new entrants is enough to warrant F1 excluding new entries. However, it must be made clear that Manor, Caterham, HRT and USF1 were all sold the concept of a budget cap by the FIA when they made their applications and that the failure to deliver this directly resulted in escalating costs and ultimately their failure.
However, smaller teams have given F1 fans some of the most impressive and well-remembered stories even on a tight budget. One only need think of Damon Hill’s near win in Hungary in 1997, or Mark Webber’s fifth-place finish on his debut for Minardi, or even Sebastian Vettel’s first F1 win in the Torro Rosso at Monza in 2008.
Limited budgets have provided the best examples of innovation, which have provided the opportunity to propel the fortunes and results of even the smallest teams. For example, Sauber’s novel front wing design in 2001 became the envy of the grid and helped the team to a record high of fourth in the Constructor’s Championship as their rivals played catch up.
Another excellent example is the Leyton House team, which achieved some shock results in its two seasons of racing thanks to its innovative approach employed by Adrian Newey – which clearly demonstrates the other reason for F1 needing expanded grids, talent development.
Without smaller teams, drivers, engineers, admin and marketing staff, and team bosses have nowhere to learn their trade.
The step up from GP2 or other categories is more significant than most people recognise, with greater pressures placed on personnel at every level. Like racers, engineers must perform at the highest level under more public scrutiny, but what better way to advance their knowledge and showcase their skills?
With a limited number of seats available, drivers are increasingly turning their gaze away from F1 to the likes of the World Endurance Championship on order to progress their careers and earn back some of the funds that they invested in their careers.
Fernando Alonso, Sebastian Vettel, Damon Hill, Michael Schumacher, Ayrton Senna – All of these famous names, each one of them an F1 World Champion started their careers in a smaller team at the back of the grid.
A more balanced and fair financial structure is needed to support the existence smaller teams and to make F1 an attractive option to successful racing teams making their way up through the ranks. Redistribution of prize and travel money would be a beneficial start to this process and would encourage squads racing in GP2, endurance racing, IndyCar and even lower categories to make the daring jump to the pinnacle of single seater racing.
Without new blood and new teams, F1 will stagnate, and where will the next generation of champions prove their talent? With the FIA, FOM and current teams reviewing the regulations for the future of the sport, now is the time to make a change that will support the inclusion of new teams in the long term.
What do you think? Is F1 full or would new teams be a welcome addition? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below