Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Formula 1 Deadpool, Revisited

Well I didn't see BMW's departure coming at all. I figured that BMW would recognize that the dynamic change in the rules, coupled with the predictable unstable "clarification" of some rules with respect to the aerodynamics (specifically, the double-diffusers), that this year was going to be a down year. I fully expected them to brush themselves off and carry on building towards a more successful year next year.

Their involvement and support of both the FIA's wacky technologies (KERS) and FOTA's insistence on having some control over their own destinies showed that they were trying to bridge the gap between the two positions and embrace the future of the sport.

Instead, they are gone.

In the short term, this is the perfect time to quit. It means that they can focus on finding a new ownership group for the team instead of paying to develop next year's car. The ownership should be pretty straight forward, the rumblings seem to suggest that Peter Sauber will get control of the team if nobody else more attractive comes forward; from that point, building for the future becomes someone else's problem. This reduces the risk that BMW will feed another Brawn, paying to develop a car which ends up being much more competitive than expected and making the departure look premature.

So what else has changed since we last looked at the deadpool?

Red Bull has become unexpectedly competitive. This will breath new life into Torro Rosso as a 'junior' team, assuming that the results continue to be suitably 'junior' and costs can be kept under control.

Toyota has had a down year. While they were optimistic about their chances this year, the results have followed the path from previous years -- being on the verge of a break-out at the beginning of the year, then falling back as the rest of the pack continues development. For some reason Toyota builds a better car on average at the beginning of the year but just can't develop through the season. It is an odd failing. Toyota also has to face the fact that their goals in joining Formula 1 will not be met -- they joined to beat Honda. The problem is that 1) Honda isn't in Formula 1 any more, and 2) even having left, Toyota can't beat the remnants (Brawn).

Renault has been revealed to be a bigger budget team than suspected. This makes them a prime candidate to be the next to depart, especially considering their results thus far and the treatment they are receiving for their behavior in Hungary. Their parent company continues to have a rough year financially and the Formula 1 team has to look increasingly like low-hanging fruit to cut from the expenditure table.

Toyota and Renault's uncertain future has to have an effect on their customer teams too. Williams and Red Bull are current engine customers, and should the parent team leave the supply of engines may be eliminated. One wonders if Red Bull knows something we don't, as there have been stories that they are seeking a supply of Mercedes engines instead. It's quite possible that they want to get rid of the Ferrari engines that Torro Rosso is using, and shuffle around who is using what, but the fact that they might have been quietly told that alternate arrangements will be required cannot be dismissed.

All in all, things are looking pretty grim for Formula 1 as a premier series. The series enjoys its status because of the manufacturer involvement. Should too many of the manufacturers withdraw, it will become just another international series.

We can only hope that Renault and Toyota stay the course for the next few years and then re-evaluate things as the costs come down.