With the Formula One season in limbo with as many as nine races cancelled or suspended so far, the sport is staring at a major crisis. Sportstar caught up with former F1 driver and media pundit Karun Chandhok on the issues in the sport and things that need to be done to avert a big crisis.
Q. With racing unlikely to start before August, how many races you think will be ideal for teams and the Liberty Group?
A. At least eight rounds need to be run in a season to constitute a World Championship based on the FIA statutes. So if we start in August and continue the season till the second or third week of December, I think it’s logistically possible to manage 12 or 13 race weekends. It will be a big commitment from everyone involved in the sport as it could mean triple headers or intense two-day weekends but it’s all do-able. Of course it won’t be a normal season but nothing is normal this year.
What changes to the weekend format can be brought to have a substantial number of races this year?
Personally, I would like to see F1 use the time to experiment with fewer practice sessions and two-day weekends and maybe even trying to do two races on the same weekend. Doing things like triple-headers are hard work for the teams and all of us who travel as part of the circus but I guess they will try and get a couple of those in.
With recent comments from Zak Brown on how up to four teams can fold, what would be the best way to avert such a situation?
The owners of the sport, the Liberty Group are very aware of the problems that are facing F1. Think of them as a government, and every government is trying to put together a package to help industries and businesses. Formula 1 Group, on a smaller scale is trying to do something similar. F1 has to ensure that teams are provided with aid, but it is also difficult for them as the sport is also losing out on a lot of money. The rights fees for races aren’t coming and there is reduced sponsorship money because the season is not on. In simple terms, if there are no races, there is less money flowing in.
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There are changes being made, for example, by carrying over the 2020 cars in 2021 which saves the cost of building and designing another car. Sweeping rule changes that were going to take place in 2021 have now been pushed back to 2022 and there’s a high chance of them going back even to 2023.
The debates about costs cap keep rearing up, but even USD 150 million excluding driver’s salary and other costs, seem high in the current scenario. Is cost caps through technical/sporting regulation restrictions on aerodynamic surfaces like we have for gearbox and PUs more realistic way to achieve it?
In principle, I think a cost cap is good as long as everyone plays ball and adheres to it. By bringing it into the Sporting regulations, means that the FIA can penalise people who are found to break the cap in the same way as other infringements.
In light of the current scenario, it seems like most teams are now in favour of a lower budget cap from the currently agreed 175 million USD. In fact, Ross Brawn indicated that his initial proposal a while ago was around the 130 million-mark and that seems to be what people like McLaren are pushing for. However, the big players at Ferrari and Red Bull Racing seem to be opposing that which has created a bit of a stalemate.
When there’s a will, there’s a way but unfortunately, the people associated with F1 are wired in such a way that they often think of themselves before the sport. In some ways, I guess that is the nature of the sport, you have to be selfish to a certain degree to be successful. But at this point, F1 needs strong leaders, they need Chase Carey, Ross Brawn and Jean Todt to somehow come up with a concrete plan to deal with the crisis.
We are at a crossroads, where if the auto industry struggles and the manufacturers pull out their teams, F1 could go back to having more independent teams, with the manufacturers becoming engine suppliers. That was the model that existed for a long time till the early 2000s, when you had independent teams with an engine partner like McLaren Mercedes, Williams Renault, Benetton-Ford, etc. That is basically what Honda is doing right now - they are not investing the money to be a full team, they’re just partners with the two Red Bull teams and there’s nothing wrong with that, it is actually part of the DNA of the sport.
Also, do you believe this pandemic poses a bigger threat to F1 as a sport itself considering the amount of travel in a season?
We have to consider that Formula 1 is a global event, unlike say the IPL in India or Wimbledon. So even if the situation improves in Europe, but not in Asia or South America, then Formula 1 may not be able to resume. The travel restrictions need to be relaxed for people to come in from all over the world, as races take place in every corner of the globe and more importantly, people need to be able to get into the countries. With the airline industry in a big mess at the moment, even chartering planes isn’t going to be an easy thing to do as the airlines you charter from need to have personnel available and aircrafts prepared.
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On the flip-side, we can have a truncated season, unlike Wimbledon, which can only be held during a certain time in a year. In Formula One we can be a little more flexible and juggle the calendar to have some form of a campaign. You can race in the middle-eastern countries in the winter and race in Europe from August through to October.
I personally do not think the season can start before August, and that is probably optimistic. I’m not a medical professional or a scientist so I won’t pretend to know how long this crisis will carry on. But from what I’m reading and seeing in the news, I feel that the summer months will be able to flatten the curve and stop the spread.
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