Susie Wolff: The myth and magic of F1 is its unapologetic elitism

Amid ongoing debate about the Formula 1 versus Formula E, Venturi team owner Susie Wolff believes the two single-seater series can exist side-by-side as the ethos of each series is vastly different as are the budgets.

It would be fair to assume that the wife of Mercedes team chief Toto Wolff will know a thing or two about where the marque is going with their motorsport programme, while her own experience as an owner offers an interesting insight into the great debate.

In her column for the Financial Times, Wolff wrote, “Since arriving in Formula E last year, one of the questions I’m most frequently asked is: Will Formula E ever replace Formula One? The short answer, in my view, is no. More to the point, nor should it: the two series are so very different.”

“Now in its fifth season, Formula E is like a tech start-up. What started in 2011 as a vision of two men — Jean Todt, the FIA president, and Alejandro Agag, Formula E’s chairman — has quickly grown into a global sport, attracting some of the world’s top automotive manufacturers.”

The biggest difference in the two series is money. You could probably run the entire series on the budget of a private F1 team.

Venturi Formula E Technical Director, Franck Baldet explained last year, “There is a minimum amount of money needed to compete. We could say 10 million and then if you increase to 15-million or 20-million you can improve. Over 20-million is more of a money waste than a performance gain.”

The similar budgets and the one make chassis and components provide a level playing field, while in Formula 1 the minnows are spending in the region €200-million for scraps while the Big Three – Ferrari, Red Bull and Mercedes – spend anything north of €600-million for the privilege of winning.

Wolff continued, “F1 is most definitely not a level playing field but, most importantly, nor does it want to be. The myth and magic of F1 is its unapologetic elitism: it is the pinnacle of motorsport and teams have to be world class to be part of it.”

“To say F1 is big business would be an understatement. The 10 teams involved spend $2.6bn annually to take part, according to estimates from the consultancy firm Formula Money.”

“What is more, the difference between the budgets of the top teams and the bottom means participation is not for the faint-hearted or shallow-pocketed. The top teams generally spend about three times more than the smaller ones, according to Formula Money’s analysis.”

“[But] you get plenty of bang for your buck. The audience reach of F1 is phenomenal: more than 490-million unique viewers tuned in during 2018. F1 teams generate considerable income from commercial partnerships and share in the profits from the series too — the team prize money was estimated to be [over] €900-million for 2018.”

“F1 is all about the iconic glamour and action of seeing the most technologically advanced cars in the world compete. Formula E has a very different ethos: from the outset, the main aim has been to highlight the potential of electric tech, and to focus on sustainability and the crucial role of electric mobility.

“In this respect, I don’t think it is an either-or situation for the series. Neither sport can be complacent — both need to ensure they continue to innovate and attract fans — but that’s the same whether you are in the business of engines, footballs or any other sport,” Wolff added.

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