Formula One: Road to consensus a long one for F1's 2021 concept car

Formula One 2021 concept cars were unveiled on Sept 14, 2018, on the sidelines of the Singapore Airlines Singapore Grand Prix.
Formula One 2021 concept cars were unveiled on Sept 14, 2018, on the sidelines of the Singapore Airlines Singapore Grand Prix.PHOTO: INSTAGRAM/F1

SINGAPORE - It was a sneak peek into a proposed retrofit of a vintage car, by a representative of the new owners who want to revitalise the vehicle for the 21st century roads.

But the mixed reactions that followed the unveiling of Formula One's 2021 concept car on Friday (Sept 14), on the sidelines of the Singapore Airlines Singapore Grand Prix, by F1's managing director for motorsports Ross Brawn, showed that the road to consensus is still a long one.

Brawn's three concepts, with 18-inch wheels and partial rear-wheel covers, impressed the likes of Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton and his former teammate Nico Rosberg, as well as 18-year-old Lando Norris, who will race for McLaren next season.

But Ferrari team principal Maurizio Arrivabene was unimpressed.

"I was looking at the cars presented a couple of days ago by Ross. It's a good exercise," the 61-year-old Italian said at a media conference on Friday (Sept 14), before adding that his engineers felt they looked "like an old Champ Car (the old designs of cars in American motor racing)."

At the Bahrain Grand Prix in April, current F1 owners Liberty Media presented a five-point plan - concerning revenues, governance, sporting and technical regulations, power units and costs - to teams beyond the expiry of the Concorde Agreement in 2020.

Success can be directly co-related to spending, as teams with more resources will be able to pump more money into research and testing of their machines.

According to a Forbes report in April, Ferrari were the biggest spenders in 2016 with costs up to £464 million (S$833 million) that year, followed by Mercedes (£402 million), Renault (£318.5 million) and Red Bull (£238.1 million).

Haas, who were eighth among 11 teams in the constructors' championship that year, spent the least, £101.1 million.

The sport has been dominated by Ferrari, Mercedes and Red Bull since 2014, with drivers from the three teams winning all 93 grands prix between the 2014 season and this term (see sidebar).

Mercedes have won the drivers' championship during this period, while Sebastian Vettel won four straight drivers' titles with Red Bull from 2010-2013.

Jenson Button of Brawn - Mercedes' predecessor - won in 2009, and McLaren were the last team outside the current big three to win a drivers' title, when Hamilton triumphed in 2008.

Kimi Raikkonen, then driving for Lotus, was the last driver outside the current leading teams to win a grand prix, when he prevailed in Australia in 2013.

Brawn, in his presentation of the 2021 concept cars, acknowledged as much the correlation between spending and success.

Asked when the 2021 regulations would be released, the 63-year-old Briton said: "Realistically end of next year is when we should be looking to issue the principal regulations. That gives everyone a year to work on the car.

"What we mustn't do is to leave it late, so that people with the maximum resources can do the best job.

"There will always be the benefit of having experience and good resources, you can't move away from that. But, if the regulations are issued too late, you end up benefiting bigger teams."

But Arrivabene said on Friday (Sept 14): "The objective of everybody is to save money, to reduce costs. Then the question is not the 'what', it's based on the 'how'. How do we want to do it? How do we want to maintain Formula One at the pinnacle of motorsport as it is?

"How do we want to continue to develop cars that are beautiful, also for the public? I mean, it's not an easy equation. Everybody, they go sometimes their way but I think at the end we can find the solution."

He added that the teams would have to make a "strategic" decision as a group when the details are finalised. But smaller teams such as Force India and Williams are more receptive to the proposed changes, especially spending caps, given their financial troubles this season.

Nine-time constructors' champions Williams will lose a major sponsor in Martini at the end of the year, and are slated to lose the backing of billionaire Lawrence Stroll, who led a consortium to take over the troubled Force India last month.

Meanwhile, Williams deputy team principal Claire Williams - daughter of founder Sir Frank Williams - has put on a brave face amid the scrutiny on their finances, and told The Sunday Times last week that "Williams have been in Formula One for more than 40 years, and we will continue to be in F1".

But she also warned earlier this year that her team "will close" if budgets are not capped in the future, and that only three teams will be capable of winning.

Force India's COO Otmar Szafnauer told The Sunday Times: "It (the budget caps) won't be coming in 2019 or 2020 for sure. In the future, teams that outspend us... it will just bring them to our level and we will be more competitive."

The road towards a resolution continues but, to Brawn, there is no doubt where the end goal is.

"I think there is a positive feel in Formula One because we genuinely care about the fans," said the former Ferrari technical director and former Mercedes team principal.

"The fan is king, lots of things are being done around the fans... we want the fans to be excited and passionate about Formula One.

"We don't want to take them for granted."