The August shutdown should have ended by the time you read this, and boy am I glad that I survived the long ‘forced’ hiatus from Formula 1! In fact, the return to action will be at one of my favourite circuits on the calendar, the Spa Francorchamps, for the 2012 Belgian Grand Prix!
Though the August shutdown has been around for a few seasons, I have had numerous people ask me about this period, and why it exists. In fact, a few have also asked how the FIA monitored this shutdown. Did they actually police every Formula 1 factory? Or do they have spy cameras installed to check which team is not complying with the shutdown (I’m serious, I actually got asked that)!
Well, the shutdown is there for a few reasons. Firstly, to give the team personnel a break from the hectic life of constant travel that the sport demands. This period of non-activity means that the drivers, engineers, mechanics, and everyone else concerned can take a break and spend time with their families. Some choose to go off on a holiday, while I do know those who prefer to stay home just to avoid that extra flight or two!
The second reason is slightly more important. Formula 1 factories (as it has been widely publicized) run non-stop for nearly 365 days of the year to develop their cars. This compulsory shutdown, therefore, ensures that there is no development undertaken for this brief period – ensuring that operating costs are kept in check. So, while the fans go fuming about this forced break from the sport, the reasons for its existence do sound satisfactory (for the most part anyway). And, since every dark cloud has a silver lining, the best part of the shutdown is the back-to-back GP’s that are organized before and after the shutdown – at least they provide some respite.
I, on the other hand, took this break to wonder about the sport and its immediate future – so, here are a few thoughts. Keeping costs low has been in discussion for over a decade now, and while teams have succeeded in reducing their spends drastically, there is still a lot that needs to be done to reach a stage of profitability. The FIA too must be credited in their role to ensure that cost capping regulations have been consistently introduced into the sport. The 8 engines and gearbox rule, standardized ECU and tyres, for instance, are some of the regulations that have contributed a long way towards controlling costs. The next step for the FIA would be to freeze the ‘formula’ in Formula 1 for a few seasons. What this would do is prevent the teams from having to write off the millions of dollars invested in the design of the previous years’ car.
And controlling costs is even more crucial in this current phase where sponsorship deals are difficult to come by for the teams. Chevrolet decided to sponsor Manchester United for a period of 8 years for a whopping $560 million (Rs. 3,000 crores). But, I’m curious to know why a car manufacturer would decide to invest in football and not in Formula 1! After all, the Camaro and Corvette are renowned cars from the Chevy stable that would certainly appeal to the motorsport loving community! And while sponsors and manufacturers have decided to keep away from the sport (except for Ferrari and Mercedes), teams are turning to pay drivers to foot their expenses!
The other big worry for the sport is its dependence on fossil fuels. While an F1 car is certainly efficient in generating power, the fact still remains that tons of fuel and lubricants are used annually in putting up the spectacle called Formula 1. And while the easiest recommendation would be to switch to ‘hybrid’ and ‘electric’ power, the worry then would be whether an F1 engine would still sound as ferocious as they currently do! And, if they don’t, then would the crowds still be attracted to the sport? I do recollect that the idea to run the cars on electric power in the pit lane was being explored, and I’m sure glad that it’s been shelved.
And, last but not least, the sports’ succession plan is also a worry for many, especially the teams, sponsors, and investors. You see, Bernie Ecclestone is the man who has led the sport for many decades, and he’s largely the reason for its success as a business. And while there aren’t signs of him retiring anytime soon, there’s no getting away from the fact that he is in his eighties. So, his succession plan is key to the future of the sport. After all, it’s Ecclestone’s vision that has created a sport that has spread its wings to every continent on the planet, and land multi-million dollar TV and sponsorship deals. And while the hunt for his successor is on, there’s no guaranteeing that he or she will he be able to sustain and grow the sport (or its revenues). And, more importantly, that person will need to have the tact and strength of character to manage the twelve (differently-thinking) teams simultaneously.
But, coming back to the August shutdown – the FIA doesn’t monitor the shutdown. This period is mutually agreed to by all the teams – and this is probably one of the few areas in the sport where they operate on ‘trust’!
Now, back to the action for the (crucial) second half of the 2012 season…