FORMULA ONE is in dire trouble due to the Covid-19 coronavirus outbreak, according to McLaren chief Zak Brown. Speaking to BBC Sport, Brown, 48, said that the sport is in a “very fragile state” due to the cancellation of postponement of races, and needs to undergo big changes in order to survive what has been a testing start to the year.
Eight races have been either cancelled or postponed, with even the Monaco Grand Prix — a jewel in the crown of sporting and social calendars — struck from the schedule. The lack of races has meant that teams have lost millions of pounds in missed revenue. It has been announced that the usual August break will be forgone in order to allow the rescheduling of some races. The FIA is currently working on an amended calendar but of course, it will depend on how long different nations continue to enforce restrictions on travel and gatherings, and how quickly the virus is brought under control.
In order to mitigate the damage done to the sport and its teams, a series of alterations have been agreed, including delaying changes in technical regulations until 2022. Teams have also agreed to use the same cars next year as they will this year.
“Could I see — through what is going on right now in the world if we don’t tackle this situation head on very aggressively — two teams disappearing? Yeah,” Brown told BBC Sport. “In fact,” he continued, “I could see four teams disappearing if this isn’t handled the right way.”
Gene Haas, owner of the Haas F1 Team, has already raised questions about his operation’s future after an interview with Autosport, in which he said that the start of the current season would dictate the future of his team. He said that F1’s “business model does not favour smaller teams”.
Brown said he believes that the $175m (£143m) budget cap, designed to put teams on a more level playing field and slated to come into effect in 2021, needs to be lowered significantly if the sport wants to retain all of its current teams.
Teams have reportedly agreed to lower the cap to $150m (£122m), but Brown believes that it needs to come down even further. He has proposed a cap of $100m (£81.5m) but would be open to meet less willing teams in the middle, at $125m (£102m).
Reportedly two of the big three teams are reluctant to lower the budget cap, which would, in theory, narrow their advantage over less wealthy rivals. Although Brown refused to say which teams were unwilling, BBC Sport understands that while reigning world champion Mercedes is open to lowering the budget cap, Ferrari and Red Bull are opposed to the idea.
Not one to avoid speaking his mind, Brown said: “You’d almost think they are uncomfortable about having a fair fight with teams that maybe they haven’t viewed as a competitor before, and they might be uncomfortable having a fair fight because they have never actually been in one.”
Brown’s team, McLaren, became the first to furlough staff last week, with those who remain at work doing so on a reduced salary. McLaren drivers Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris are not exempt from the pay cut, receiving the same rate of reduction as other staff. This is despite McLaren having one of the biggest budgets of the F1 teams outside the top three.
Teams have not been idle while races have been cancelled. Under the Project Pitlane initiative, seven UK-based F1 teams have been working to mass-produce ventilators for the NHS. McLaren and Williams Advanced Engineering, a branch of Williams F1 team, also joined a consortium with the aim of quickly producing 5,000 ventilators. Mercedes has been working with University College London to produce non-invasive breathing aids for sufferers of Covid-19.
F1 has attempted to keep its fans entertained with a series of virtual races for the real ones that have been dropped or postponed. Last night’s replacement for the Vietnamese GP saw Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, Williams’ George Russell and Red Bull’s Alex Albon competing, alongside former world champion Jenson Button and cricket world cup winner Ben Stokes OBE.
Albon and Button provided a tense midfield battle, while Leclerc took first place in his first ever F1 e-race. Stokes came last after spinning out. Russell took an unfamiliar podium position, finishing third.
— Formula 1 (@F1) April 6, 2020
Teams are due to partake in a virtual meeting today to discuss cost cutting strategies, which Zak Brown said he expects to be tense.