McLaren CEO Zak Brown has called on the FIA and the sport’s owners to be wary of the big teams – Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull – of trying to undermine the budget cap while warning that too much power is given to Formula 1 teams.
In a lengthy, detailed and riveting address, Brown urged newly-elected FIA president a Mohammed Ben Sulayem and F1’s relatively new chief Stefano Domenicali to be attentive to renegade teams in the midst of huge regulation changes that kicked in this year, on track and off track.
The American marketing guru turned McLaren boss also had harsh words for the sport’s big three: Ferrari, Mercedes and Red Bull – without directly mentioning the teams by name but the no-BS accusations are very clear. Message received.
Brown said in the report published on the McLaren website today: “The election of Mohammed Ben Sulayem last December as the new president of the FIA provides the opportunity for collective reform of the way Formula 1 operates.
“It is obvious to focus on the events of Abu Dhabi at the end of last season, which are the subject of an FIA investigation, but this was a symptom rather than cause in my view.
“There have been systemic issues around alignment and clarity on who makes the rules – the FIA or the teams – that have manifested themselves in the past couple of years, at times in a high-profile way.”
While Abu Dhabi was the final straw in the officiating saga involving FIA Race Director Micahel Masi and his FIA appointed Stewards, Brown noted: “The signs of organisational difficulties could be seen at the 2020 Australian Grand Prix and at last year’s Belgian Grand Prix, both hallmarked by a seeming lack of preparation for the events unfolding and temporary inertia on the solutions.
“Greater clarity on the roles of the FIA and F1 and the need for increased leadership of the sport will undoubtedly be on the agenda for Mohammed Ben Sulayem and Stefano Domenicali and their respective teams.
“Previous administrations pursued a mainly autocratic style of governance, so to point the sport in the right direction it was necessary to take a more consultative approach with teams and stakeholders.
“But now the sport has been successfully reset, moving forward there is a need to shift back to stronger, more directive leadership and governance at the top of the sport,” ventured Brown.
On track, it was clear that rules were bent beyond acceptable rules of engagement, while the last ten minutes fiasco that tarnished the season at the very end has triggered an investigation in order to avoid such a farce ever happening again in F1.
I have said before that the teams have too much power and it needs to be reduced
“It is clear that some of the rules and their governance are not acceptable as things stand,” continued Brown. “No one is happy with the inconsistency in the policing of the regulations, but which has been habitually exploited by teams for competitive advantage.
“I have said before that the teams have too much power and it needs to be reduced. We have a significant role in the drafting of the regulations and governance of Formula 1 and that influence is not always driven by what is best overall for the sport.
“Teams should be consulted, and their informed perspectives considered, particularly on long-term strategic issues. But at times it has seemed the sport is governed by certain teams.
“Let us not forget that we, the teams, have contributed to the inconsistencies in the policing of the regulations as much as anyone. It is the teams who applied the pressure to avoid finishing races under a Safety Car at all costs,” pointed out Brown, in reference to the shower of shenanigans at Yas Marina in December.
He also had a go at his rivals: “It is the teams who voted for many of the regulations they have complained about. It is the teams who have been using the broadcasting of radio messages to the race director to try to influence penalties and race outcomes, to the point where an over-excited team principal plays to the gallery and pressurises race officials.
“This has not been edifying for F1. At times it’s felt like a pantomime audition rather than the pinnacle of a global sport,” recalled Brown of the debacle between Masi in race control, with Red Bull and Mercedes bosses in his ear complaining, even negotiating how the race should end, and for everyone to hear!
“I am confident that we will see increased leadership from the FIA and F1, and that collectively as custodians of the sport we will focus on evolving the sport and not shirk responsibility when it comes to tough decision-making,” added Brown.
These teams seem unable to accept that a budget cap is in the best interests of the sport
The off-track issue is of course the always hard to monitor budget cap that has now been instilled for F1 teams to adhere to but Brown is wary of the Big F1 teams and their endgame to stay on top of the pecking order: “We must continue to drive economic sustainability across the sport.
“Some teams still look for excuses to raise the cost cap and win world championships with chequebooks. The ongoing lobbying by certain teams to increase the cost cap for sprint race damage is a continuing example.
“The Saturday sprint race initiative by Formula 1 has added new viewers and raised the profile of the sport to expand its global fanbase.
“However, these teams continue to demand a raise to the cost cap by an inordinate amount of money, despite the clear evidence that little damage was incurred during these races last year, in a thinly veiled attempt to protect from their competitive advantage being eroded.
“The current governance structure of the sport enables a situation where some teams, to protect their own competitive advantage, are effectively holding the sport hostage from what’s best for the fans and therefore the sport at large.
“These teams seem unable to accept that a budget cap is in the best interests of the sport and cannot kick their habit of spending their way to the front. In addition, the threat of A and B teams has not gone away, and it is vital that the governance of the sport is strengthened to prevent this.
“The regulations, as they stand today, are heavily biased towards B teams/customer teams which is not in line with F1’s principle of a group of genuine constructors competing with one another on even terms. It is diminishing what being an F1 ‘team’ means and the fabric of the sport.
There are times when some smaller teams vote against their own interests to satisfy the agenda of their A team
“F1 needs to be 10 true constructors, where each team – apart from sharing the PU and potentially the gearbox internals – must design and produce all parts which are performance relevant. Right now, there is too much diversity in the business models between teams.
“Trying to apply the same set of complex regulations to each, and then policing them effectively, is needlessly complicated and compromised as a result.
“This cost-capped environment should allow teams to become more recognisable entities in their own right within a realistic budget, without the concern of significant performance differences based on how much each team can spend.
“In a nutshell, the current situation allows B teams to be over-competitive compared to constructors, and A teams to be over-competitive by having the benefit of a B team. Without a correction, the way things stand means that any team with championship aspirations needs to have a B team in place and that simply is not Formula 1.
“On top of this, the voting pressure placed by the A teams on their B teams is not consistent with the promotion of an equitable sport based on individual team merit.
“As I have said before – and these teams won’t admit to it – there are times when some smaller teams vote against their own interests to satisfy the agenda of their A team,” ventured Brown on a clear attack on Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari.
McLaren are partnered with Mercedes for their engine supply since the beginning of the 2021 season, after a couple of years with Renault power that preceded the disaster they endured with Honda from 2015 until the end of 2017.