Former Williams ace and Sky Sports F1 analyst Damon Hill has warned that financial uncertainties may even be putting pressure on some of Formula One’s bigger players.
However Hill, who won his sole title with the Grove-based team in 1996, also reasons the financial oddities add to the peculiar nature of the sport.
Since his retirement from Formula One at the end of the 1999, Hill has watched as the spending within the sport has spiral upward.
Huge costs have led to the withdrawl of manufacturer teams Toyota, Honda and BMW in the last decade, while the likes of Jaguar sold to Red Bull and Genii Capital assumed Renault.
Numerous privateer teams also pulled out of the category or sold their entries, including the lacklustre HRT, who disappeared at the end of last season.
As the reality of the ongoing economic recession weighs down upon once dominant markets, even the larger marques are feeling the pinch despite Formula One’s success as a global enterprise.
“It’s expensive, isn’t it?” commented Hill. “It hasn’t shrunk as a business, it seems to have gotten bigger and bigger every year and the interest has grown and grown. It is competitive, so in the end you get people who survive that and it gives you a clue as to the pressure for the teams at the front – it is enormous, you just can’t believe the things they have to find each year. That’s why the sport is so fascinating.”
Hill’s father Graham – himself a double world champion with BRM and Lotus – ran his own Formula One team from 1973 until his death in a plane crash in November 1975. Since then, the scope of the sport has changed dramatically leading to some of the bigger players spending absurd amounts in the chase for victory.
“This year they’ll blow something in the region of a billion dollars if you think about it in just running the cars and going to all the circuits, so that’s the costs of putting on the show. This is a crazy world.”
Fellow Sky Sports F1 pundit Martin Brundle agrees with Hill’s sentiments, but was keen to add, “What we have now is quality, we just haven’t got the quantity and there’s always been this threat that it is all going to fall over, but it just keeps getting bigger and bigger. In 1989, there were twenty-nine cars; twenty of them were rubbish – I wouldn’t want to walk passed them, let alone sit in them, they were dreadful cars.”
Although the monies the sport earns from its season long global tour would make the eyes of many a millionaire well up with envy, Brundle believes a cautious hand needs to be played. “There is some genuine concern as to how the second half of the grid is going to pay for the new engines next year. The money has got to come from somewhere and it’s a question of the value.”
As sponsorship proves more difficult to come by, financial pressures are beginning to take their toll with several teams taking on drivers with backing or connections in order to stay afloat.
The clearest example of this occurred at the Marussia team in recent weeks, when the team dropped the experienced Timo Glock in favour of GP2 Series graduate Luiz Razia. However a prominent backer of the Brazilian driver failed to materialise, forcing the Anglo-Russian squad to recruit Jules Bianchi – a Formula Renault 3.5 driver, heavily associated with Ferrari.
Only two weeks before what would have been his Grand Prix début, Razia’s Formula One career looks to be over – a story which has not reflected well upon the sport.
It is a situation that garners some sympathy from Hill: “If two drivers knock on your door and one’s really good and the other’s really good too, but he’s got $40 million, you’d be an idiot to turn away the guy with $40 million.”
Continuing, the former champion noted despairing, “If you look across to sports that are predominant in the world right now, it does stick out a bit that someone could be in a competitive situation by virtue of bringing some money. Where does it stop? Would Ferrari take a driver who brought $100 million?”
But as Sky Sports F1 lead commentator David Croft points out, “They did, he’s called Fernando Alonso. That Santander backing would not be there at Ferrari had it not been for Fernando Alonso.”
A famed West Ham supporter, Croft has spent several years announcing Grands Prix and that while the financial balance in Formula One skewered, there should still enough to spread amongst the teams. “There’s enough money in Formula One to keep eleven teams running, it doesn’t mean they need to take all the money for themselves, but in return for a long term commitment to the sport more money could be made available to the teams to go racing.”
With a touch of his usual straightforward nature, Hill gets in the final word. “Eventually it comes out in the wash. If you’re not good enough as a driver, it’ll show up and he won’t stay there. Eventually you get found out. If they’ve got more talent than is suggested by mere money, then they’ll stay. That’s partly our job is to explain.”
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