Cost cap reversal at what cost?

Sebastian Vettel... keen to make up for his disastrous race in the Monaco Grand Prix recently.-AP

If the FIA accepts FOTA’s wish to defer the cost cap until 2011, it will affect the new teams whose entries for 2010 were prompted by the budget cap’s reduction of costs to a level they might be able to afford. By Maurice Hamilton.

All eyes may be on Turkey on June 7 for the seventh round of the 2009 World Championship, but June 12 will be a more important date for the long-term future of Formula One. That is when the sport’s governing body, the FIA, will reveal the entries accepted for the 2010 championship.

Among them are likely to be Ferrari, an inclusion that is just as predictable as the bluster surrounding the Italian team’s recent threat to quit the sport and the subsequent compromise by both sides.

Between now and then there will be a continuation of the horse trading that led to the Formula One Teams’ Association (FOTA) meeting the May 29 deadline by making a block entry, but on certain conditions. The most significant proviso is the absence of the FIA’s proposed £45m cost cap, the main stumbling block and one that was discussed at length during meetings with the FIA president, Max Mosley, in Monte Carlo recently. If, as seems likely, Mosley accepts FOTA’s wish to defer the cost cap until 2011, it will come at a price achieved in other directions.

The larger teams need time to reduce their workforce and slash budgets in excess of £100m. In return, options put forward by FOTA for 2011 include a maximum of 275 working staff (not including administrative and marketing) within each team’s headquarters and 46 personnel travelling to the races.

McLaren and Ferrari currently have in excess of 750 employees on their respective payrolls and the big teams take, on average, 100 staff to the races. On a more altruistic level, manufacturers such as Mercedes and Ferrari have agreed to supply engines for euro 5m (£4.3m) for a season, a significant saving for smaller teams such as Force India and Williams who have previously paid more than euro 20m.

It is believed that BMW and Toyota, despite increasing rumours that the latter are on the point of withdrawing, have committed at board level to the championship until 2012, a major step in terms of the sport’s future stability and one that will be appreciated by Mosley and Bernie Ecclestone, F1’s commercial rights holder.

The FOTA proposals will not be welcomed, at least in the short term, by new teams whose entries for 2010 were prompted by the budget cap’s reduction of costs to a level they might be able to afford. Prodrive, Campos Meta1, Team USF1 and, possibly, Lola have submitted applications for the three additional places on an entry list that will expand to 13 teams.

Prodrive, owned by David Richards, will be financed by Dar, the Middle-East company that backed the Richards-led conglomerate that paid $925m (£480m) for a majority stake in Aston Martin in 2007. Richards, who has first-hand experience of F1 through previous managerial roles, knows exactly what he is letting himself in for. If Mosley accepts the FOTA proposals, then Prodrive would have to ride out next year at the back of the grid before probably re-branding as Aston Martin in 2011. Otherwise, given that Brawn GP have had difficulty raising sponsorship despite leading the championship, the chances of newcomers managing to survive 2010 must be slim.

Ross Brawn, mastermind of five world titles with Ferrari, will continue to travel to the races with EasyJet as part of the cost saving necessary for Brawn GP to spend its limited resources where it matters.

Jenson Button finished 11th in Turkey last year, but there is a fair chance he can go 10 places better this time. A return to Istanbul Park will remind Button of how much has changed in 12 months as he goes into this race knowing that, come what may, he will continue to lead the championship through to the British Grand Prix at Silverstone on June 21.

Last year, Button’s Honda was a terrible handful on fast and tricky corners that will now be smoothed out by the surefooted handling of the Brawn-Mercedes. The problem is, those same corners will also play into the hands of Brawn’s most serious rival, Red Bull. Button knows Sebastian Vettel will be keen to make up for a disastrous race in Monaco where the young German driver crashed while trying to make up ground lost by a poor qualifying performance and a wrong choice of tyres.

Button may have won five of the six races so far, but the racing is so close that the championship is by no means the walkover it seems. Having had two desperate years with substandard equipment, Button’s life is in healthy perspective. He took a self-imposed, substantial drop in salary for 2009, but must be one of the very few in a climate of cutbacks who can expect a well-deserved increase in pay for 2010.

© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2009