Formula 1’s smaller teams are resisting hard against the latest moves to introduce customer cars by the bigger constructors..
Four teams – Manor, Force India, Sauber and Lotus – are reportedly at risk of financial collapse, and perhaps as soon as 2015, according to Germany’s Auto Motor und Sport.
They are pleading for lower engine bills and a fairer distribution of the sport’s billion dollars in official income. But the solution put forward by Bernie Ecclestone and the big teams is ‘customer cars’.
The latest iteration is that grandees like Ferrari and Mercedes would make four cars apiece, supplying two to a satellite partner who would lose their status as a full ‘constructor’.
“We would lose our independence,” Force India’s Bob Fernley insists. “They would tell us what drivers to run and who we should vote for and we don’t want it.”
Also gravely concerned is Pat Symonds, a veteran engineer who has seen F1 from the perspective of title-winning teams, from the very back of the grid, and currently with Williams.
“I’ve never really worried about formula one as I do now,” he admitted. “Customer cars are one way of sending the sport to the grave.”
Fernley explained: “Once a customer, always a customer. We would have to dismiss our designers, sell our machines, give up our expertise. There is no going back. As a customer, we would be only the puppet of a manufacturer.”
Sauber knows that story well, having given up making its own gearboxes during the BMW era, because the German carmaker developed its technology in Munich. Now, with BMW long gone, the Swiss team has to buy a complete gearbox from Ferrari.
“We no longer have the expertise to do it,” admitted Sauber team manager Beat Zehnder. And “It would be the same in every other area” if customer cars came in, he added.
Symonds said he knows why the big teams are proposing customer cars rather than accepting the need to ramp down their huge budgets, “If all the teams had to race tomorrow with the 120 million pounds that we have to live with, Williams would win the world championship. Because we are used to operating efficiently with that sort of money.”