In Formula One deep pockets don’t always guarantee victory

It is accepted wisdom that in the world’s most expensive sporting series the team with the most money will win the most races.

Written by New York Times | Sao Paulo | Published: November 24, 2013 4:06:43 am

It is accepted wisdom that in the world’s most expensive sporting series the team with the most money will win the most races. In fact,as Formula One stages its last event of the season on Sunday,the Brazilian Grand Prix in São Paulo,it will also deliver the final verdict in the real test of a team’s sporting strength,as defined by the 11 Formula One team owners and directors: which teams get the best bang for their bucks.

Despite some public perceptions that Formula One teams are having financial difficulties,the truth is that there is plenty of money in the series,and on average there is probably more on a team level than in any other sporting series. But the problem,according to team owners and directors,is the huge disparity between team budgets.

Based on current-season budget estimations made by Autosport magazine in August,the team with the biggest budget has not won the championship: Ferrari,with a series-leading estimated 250 million British pounds,or $402 million,for the season,did not win the title. Instead,Red Bull,with the second-highest budget of £235.5 million — did. Ferrari is only in third place.

The teams with the largest budgets behind Red Bull show that there really is a sporting competition outside of the money race. Ferrari,Mercedes,with £160 million,and Lotus,with £130 million,are all fighting for second position in the series. McLaren,like Mercedes,has a budget of £160 million. But while Mercedes is currently in second place — with 15 points more than Ferrari — McLaren is fighting to hold on to its fifth place against the Force India team,which has a budget of £100 million.

Clearly,Lotus and Mercedes have got far better results out of their budgets than have Ferrari and McLaren.

“The principle is that a good big one will always beat a good little one,” said Ross Brawn,the director of the Mercedes team. “But if you use your money properly,the more you have the faster you will go.” This,for team directors,is the key to not only proving to the public which team is truly the strongest in sporting terms,but also in trying to appeal to sponsors and team owners,who want to get more results for less money.

While it is true that a team with £235.5 million won the series,and the two teams at the back of the standings have budgets a quarter that size,even those teams see the game of their survival in terms of trying to get more out of their budget. For the moment,the Marussia team,with the smallest budget — £51 million — has proven that point: It is classified in 10th position,while Caterham,with £65 million,is last.

Thriving on less

This has been a leitmotif of the 2013 season,and,in fact,of most seasons in the last several decades of this technology-driven sport. The lower level Formula One teams are on a crusade to lower the costs of the series in order to allow them not only to survive but to thrive on a more level playing field.

““This is a competition,and the best win. But if the best are very often simply defined by the financial resources that you have,then something is not right,” said Monisha Kaltenborn,the director and part-owner of the Sauber team,which has a budget of £90 million and is seventh in the series,or two spots higher than Williams,which also has a £90 million budget.

She,like some of the other smaller-team owners,said that the solution was to put a cap on team budgets and then the series would truly be about who spends their money the most wisely.

Among those who remain skeptical about teams holding back on spending whatever they have to improve the car,is Bernie Ecclestone,the series’ promoter and commercial-rights holder,who contributes millions of dollars to the teams in prize money,given out according to their finishing position in the championship. “If you gave these teams 25 percent more than they currently get,at the end of the year it would be the same discussion,they would need more money,” he said.

Still,F1 has always been about the survival of the fittest. Christian Horner,the director of the Red Bull team,which has won the last four drivers’ and constructors’ titles,pointed out that for his team owner — the Red Bull energy drink company — the amount of money the company has had to sink into the team has actually gone down since it started in 2005,as the team has earned more prize money and sponsorship money.

Money wars

Team Budget Points

Mclaren $381.7 mn 553

Mercedes $259 mn 348

Ferrari $402 mn 333

Lotus-Renault $210 mn 315

McLaren-Mercedes $259 mn 102

Force India $162 mn 77

Sauber-Ferrari $146 mn 53

Toro-Rosso $113 mn 32

Williams Renault $146 mn 5

Marussia $83 mn 0

Caterham $105mn 0

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