Formula One and Ferrari. Ferrari and Formula One. The two are synonymous. As long as Formula One has existed, Ferrari has competed. The latter used the global appeal of the sport to elevate its prestigious brand. And as true codependents, the famous prancing horse raises the profile of the former’s championship. On the surface, this looks to be a real yin-yang, but perhaps it’s a dysfunctional long-term marriage. It seems that Ferrari can’t live with or without F1. But could F1 live without Ferrari?
The scarlet team is, once again, in 2020, going against the grain of the F1 world. With such a disrupted season because of the coronavirus pandemic, financial woes are at the forefront of the smaller teams. 2021 has a $175m budget cap already in place, but the crisis has this figure back on the negotiating table. Some outfits are calling for a sharp reduction to as low as $100m to allow their team to survive. Ferrari is not one of them.
Team principal, Mattia Binotto, claims that teams like themselves, Renault, and Mercedes, who manufacture everything in their cars, including their engines, would be hit harder than ‘customer’ teams. The rules allow some component purchases from other teams, and of course, most buy their engines. As these customers don’t have to design, develop, or manufacture parts, they operate on reduced costs, argues Binotto. Negotiations over the budget cap are due to continue in the coming weeks.
It’s perhaps a matter of time before Ferrari threatens to leave the sport again if F1 implements further reductions. They threatened to exit in 2009 over a proposed budget cap. In 2004, Ferrari warned they could leave if the teams didn’t receive a higher revenue share. The 2014 warning was due to the new, quiet engines. 2017 because of discussions regarding reducing development costs. And what happened after each instance? Ferrari remained in Formula One and continued with very favorable terms.
It’s no secret that Ferrari receives special treatment with the power of veto and their annual ‘Long-Standing Team’ payment. The team is the only one to have raced at every single F1 event in history. The irony is that their objections are against a fairer playing field for others because it reduces their prospect of victory. Yet they haven’t achieved a championship for a decade with all their competitors having one financial arm behind their back. Would Formula One really change much if Ferrari isn’t there?
Let’s look at this from a sporting perspective first. Ferrari sells engines to other teams; currently Haas and Alfa Romeo. Both constructors would need to find a new supplier. Haas also buys most of the parts used in the cars from the Italian outfit. Again, a new supplier would be required. Both are hurdles rather than barriers, however. Other manufacturers on the grid would be happy to take on new customers and bring in additional revenue.
On the racetrack, there’d be one fewer team. But now the sport could offer two benefits it hasn’t been able to in the past to lure new entrants. A lower budget cap to control outgoings and a higher revenue share by reappropriating the money the Ferrari team currently gets for merely turning up. Could we see VW enter the sport with their Porsche or Lamborghini brands? The return of BMW or Toyota? Or a full works Aston Martin team?
It’s entirely speculative, but reducing the financial burden for a manufacturer would be appealing. Plus, the newcomer(s) would have a field without two Ferraris to beat; increasing their chance to appear on the top of a podium.
In short, the racing would continue. Possibly with a tighter field and more competition to boot. On the other hand, there would be those who would forever judge any championships won without any Ferrari car competing as lesser titles.
F1 can be considered prestigious because of the presence of an iconic luxury brand such as Ferrari. Does the omission of a single name reduce the influence Formula One has? Would Formula One still be considered an elite competition when the engine manufacturers racing are those you’d spot on a Sunday drive to the supermarket? That question leads us to the fan perspective.
Attend any race, and the caps in grandstands and merchandise in shop stalls tell you a lot. Many F1 followers love Ferrari. There is something about that prancing horse and that yellow and red combination that inspires race fans. Even during times when success eludes the Scuderia, the Tifosi stick with them. Formula One fans show their support vocally. Yet Vettel winning in Germany, Mansell winning at Silverstone, and even the emotional Kobayashi podium at Suzuka are nothing in comparison to a Ferrari victory at Monza.
Such devotion does make one wonder how many fans F1 would lose if Ferrari turned its back. Yet most Formula One fans aren’t Ferrari fans. Despite what teams would like to believe, most followers will support their compatriot drivers regardless of the car they drive. I suspect most F1 Ferrari fans would continue to watch if the racing provided entertainment. But they’d be the first to switch off if a new Scuderia-less looking sport failed to provide competitive racing.
Also, would new fans flock to the sport if Ferrari weren’t present? We’ve mentioned the prestige the red cars bring. Even those who don’t care for Formula One know that Ferrari is a team. They are what Manchester United is to football or the New York Yankees to baseball; a brand that brings an association to a sport.
However, how many people wearing the iconic NY baseball caps are tuning in to watch a Yankees MLB game? Could the same be said for those buying prancing horse clothing? Drive to Survive brought new fans to the sport in 2019 with Ferrari having no screentime. Could newcomers to Formula One simply adapt to the racing without two red cars because they know no difference?
The adage goes, “No one person is bigger than the team”. I suspect in F1 that becomes “No one team is bigger than the sport”. The departure of any constructor from F1 is a crying shame. Ferrari’s absence would be huge, but then again, so would those of Williams, McLaren, Mercedes or Red Bull. The sport would continue just fine without Ferrari. To me, a full grid of cars is far more essential than a grid containing two cars from Maranello. The best situation is to have both. Whatever this upside-down start to the 2020 decade of racing brings us, I hope as few teams leave as possible. Ferrari or otherwise.
Originally published at https://www.fortloc.com/