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GP Week : Issue 190
20 GPWEEK.com // 20 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: I’ve always been something of a depressive optimist. I prepare for the worst and hope for the best – it’s the only way I’ve found to save my bacon while keeping a smile on my face. But I’ve never bought into the glass half full/ half empty nonsense. Any cup that doesn’t runneth over is just a sign that it’s time to get the next round in, right? But for a working journalist such as myself, there’s quite a lot of mileage in doom and gloom: initial comments, rebuttals, denials, the list goes on. And while I am normally loath to give column inches to apocalyptic visions of Formula One’s future, there is real cause for concern when it comes to the future of motorsport, and not just at the highest level. Where the vast majority of F1 press conferences are filled with platitudes and easy statements pre-approved by team PRs, the Friday press conference in Singapore – attended by the team principals (and deputy team principals) from Caterham, Force India, Lotus, Toro Rosso, and Williams – was remarkable for the honest and open discussion it contained. The hot topic on Friday evening was costs in Formula One, and the need for more cost controls within the sport. And while such chatter can be drier than the Sahara, on this occasion it highlighted genuine concern over the future viability of the sport, with representatives from nearly half the teams on the grid worried by ever-escalating costs. In a competitive world such as motorsport, no one worth their salt will publicly confess to any form of weakness – for to do so is equivalent to presenting one’s Achilles’ heel to an enemy – but it is no secret that a number of teams have operating budgets best described as perilous. In my short time in the sport, the grid has reduced from twelve teams to eleven, while there was an attempt over the off-season to merge Caterham and Marussia, further reducing the size of the paddock. A number of teams have come very close to financial ruin, and the wolf is never far from the door. But the real concern is not in the F1 paddock, but in the many rungs below. Over the course of the past two years a number of once-healthy national single-seater championships have fallen by the wayside, reducing the pool of available (and experienced) talent for Formula One teams to call on in future. Countries with long histories in motorsport, such as Australia and the UK, have seen their feeder categories grow weaker by the year: the 2013 British Formula 3 calendar boasted four events, down from ten. Yes, you read that right – four paltry events. The FIA has been working to formalise the single-seater career ladder, with Gerhard Berger (right) doing what he can to simplify the structure. “People are complaining that the best drivers are now all spread out and so you cannot look at the British Formula 3 Championship, for example, and say that he is certain to get to Formula One,” Berger said earlier this year. “These days the best drivers are all over the place: one in Formula 3, one in GP3, one in Formula Renault and one in Formula Abarth. The system no longer does what it is supposed to do, which is to give a highly talented driver a CV he can use to progress to Formula One.” Despite the Austrian’s best efforts, however, only so much can be done in the current financial climate. It doesn’t matter how clear the ladder is if there’s no money available to help racers mount the first rung. The problem is multifaceted. On the one hand, the Global Financial Crisis means that there’s not as much sponsorship cash floating around as there was a decade ago. And what money there is tends to go to where the TV cameras are (Formula One), as the paucity of television coverage of other series means there’s little point spending money on a sticker that few people will ever see. But without significant investment in the lower tiers, there will come a point where F1 starts to hurt like never before. Junior categories don’t just exist to train drivers into the ways of motorsport – they are also an excellent education for mechanics, engineers, and analysts who will make up the F1 workforce of the future. And as those championships weaken one by one, so too do the employment opportunities for the next generation. And what happens to Formula One in this dystopian future? Either it staggers on with a paddock filled with the pay drivers needed to keep the teams afloat, supported by crews learning their craft on the public stage, or... Honestly, I don’t know. The only ‘or’ I can see is that F1 falls victim to its own arrogance, with the series ending thanks to the sport’s inability to adapt to the financial reality of the world we currently inhabit. Want some good(ish) news? At least we’re not alone. Formula One is the standard-bearer of single- seater motorsport, and has a much better shot at longevity than any of the feeder categories. But if the junior categories fall, it’s only a matter of time before we do. One symbol of eternity is the ouroboros, a snake devouring its own tail. It’s an apt metaphor for the current state of single-seater motor racing. THE END OF DAYS? OPINION OPINION KATE WALKER Editor