Formula 1 future rests on FIA cost cuts talks
|By Jonathan Noble||Wednesday, April 30th 2014, 10:01 GMT|
Formula 1 chiefs have been warned the sport could face a fan exodus if it does not make serious headway in addressing rising costs during a crunch meeting on Thursday.
Ahead of the get-together between the FIA, teams and Bernie Ecclestone at Biggin Hill to try to make progress on a cost reduction plan, there is a growing feeling in the F1 paddock that action is now essential.
Marussia sporting director Graeme Lowdon reckons the outcome is not just crucial for the survival of teams, though, because he thinks the sport's popularity is also at stake.
He is concerned that a growing financial divide between the big and smaller teams is adversely affecting competition on track and becoming a turn-off for fans.
Under the terms of F1's current prize money structure, teams like Red Bull and Ferrari are taking home £100 million per year, while outfits like Sauber, Williams and Force India only get around £30 million.
Lowdon fears that if the financial situation is not changed to help level the playing field and open up the fight for wins, then F1 risks being losing more fans at a time when it is already seeing an audience drop.
"The most important asset in F1 is not any particular driver or team - the most important asset is the fans," Lowdon told AUTOSPORT.
"The fans want to see spectacular and close racing - everything that makes F1 great - and our view is that we can learn a lot from looking at what other sports have done.
"The sports that have exhibited the biggest financial growth, where fans have voted with their pockets, are those that have adopted two things: a form of financial control and an equitable distribution of revenue.
"We know from the commercial rights holder that there has been a dip in audience figures and those sorts of things are extremely important signals.
"We have to ensure that the sport is attractive to the fans.
"This is a sport that lost Jim Clark, and a sport that lost Ayrton Senna - but it survives. If the sport lost all the fans though, then it is finished."
BATTLE LINES DRAWN
The costs meeting has been called amid fury from four of the sport's smallest teams - Force India, Sauber, Caterham and Marussia - about plans for a cost cap being abandoned.
They wrote a strongly-worded letter to FIA president Jean Todt recently, questioning the legitimacy of his agreement to ditch the cost cap plans because F1's top outfits decided it could not be policed.
While those big outfits are convinced a three-year plan they have discussed will reduce costs, their rivals are not so sure. However, they are willing to hear in detail what the plan is.
Bob Fernley, Force India's deputy team principal, told AUTOSPORT: "I think it's difficult to tell until we listen to what the FIA comes up with.
"They've made a directional change, we've challenged that change, they've now set a meeting up and we need to listen before we can make the next step.
"We can't understand why there is this direction change because there's no mandate for it. There is no provision to change tack - it's about delivering on what we've all agreed needs delivering."