Should Prodrive Be Allowed To Compete For Points?

Should Prodrive Be Allowed To Compete For Points?

Frank Williams and Patrick Head - 2007 Bahrain Grand PrixAside from all the other controversies of the 2007 season, one other debate is yet to be finalised, even though it was initiated long before the Australian Grand Prix last March. The matter concerns the use of customer chassis by teams, and centres around Scuderia Toro Rosso, who are essentially using Red Bull’s car, Super Aguri, who are essentially using the 2006 Honda currently, and Prodrive who intend to use McLaren chassis next year when they join Formula One. The FIA are going to be holding a meeting later this month to decide how to proceed.

While a lot has been discussed regarding STR and Super Aguri, little has been mentioned so far about Prodrive’s legality. It was thought by many (myself included) that the rules relating to customer chassis would be cleared up for 2008, thus allowing Prodrive to enter Formula One and keep FIA president Max Mosley happy by reducing costs. Since Prodrive were awarded the twelfth slot and announced their intended relationship with a current team (McLaren), some others feel that this goes against what the sport is about.

Williams are the primary squad opposed to the idea of Prodrive using another chassis and competing in the constructors title, and they have written to the FIA who have decided to listen and possible take action to clarify further their stance. This possible action will take place after they have met on October 24th and 25th in London. One suggestion has been for the purchasing team to not score constructors points, but many feel that this means Prodrive’s entry is worthless.

Further to the receipt of a letter from the Williams F1 team regarding the legality of the entry of Prodrive F1 in the 2008 FIA Formula One World Championship, the President of the FIA has made a referral to the FIA’s International Court of Appeal (ICA) under Article 1 of the ICA Rules of Procedure. FIA Statement.

It comes as no surprise that Williams oppose the idea, particularly in the current climate of F1 and their position within the sport. Williams have a relatively long history and have enjoyed a lot of success designing, engineering and racing their own cars. Team owners Frank Williams and Patrick Head are among some of Formula One’s most respected operators, and the traditions they hold are true and commendable. However, the team have also come under fire for not necessarily moving forwards with the sport, some say to their disadvantage. Williams last won the drivers championship in 1997 – Jacques Villeneuve being the victor – some ten years ago. Since then the team has struggled at times to gain an engine partner, attract key staff and although they have won races in the last decade, they haven’t looked like the all-conquering Williams of the late-eighties and early-nineties.

Of course, Williams aren’t the only team complaining about the new rules for next year, and I imagine the primary reason is one of trying to keep the championship fair. Formula One teams spend vast amounts of money each year designing and building their own cars, whereas Prodrive would simply turn up at McLaren’s Woking factory with a big van, load up some cars and hand over a wad of cash. If I were Frank Williams and I were being beaten by Prodrive in the constructors, I’d be mad.

But then Formula One does need to control its spending in order to preserve its future. Costs have apparently been spiraling upwards, and while the manufacturer-based teams are able to accommodate these expenditures, the void between these and the smaller, poorer teams only widens. This could easily lead to poorer racing, fewer entrants and a resulting decline in worldwide audiences.

What is your take on the situation? Would you like to see each team design and build their own car, or are you happy for teams to buy chassis off the shelf and compete in the constructors championship? Is the Williams idea of customer cars not scoring constructor points an acceptable solution?

Formula One, F1, Prodrive, Williams

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4 comments

  • Constructor’s championships should be just for constructors. I would go so far as to say that I do not believe that Super Aguri or Toro Rosso should have scored points because their cars are bought off parent teams.

    Ideally, GP2 would be the place for those not ready to make their own car. However, the gap between GP2 and F1 is so large financially that the only compromise I can see is to allow time-limited participation by non-constructor teams (3 years, perhaps?). They would be allowed to keep their positions and, if they’re lucky enough to get there, they could go on the podiums. However, points and their attendant benefits would go to the top 8 cars of constructors. The three years would allow the teams to build up the manufacturing and financial capability to make their own car and fully enter the championship thereafter.

  • Alianora makes the problem clear, as she so often does. It’s that word “constructors”. I have seen it suggested that the championship be changed from a constructors’ competition to a teams’ and that is not a bad idea – especially as I believe that was the intention in the first place. Take Rob Walker’s team of the sixties – it was capable of winning races and might therefore have won a championship. Would it have been fair to deny him the spoils and hand the cup instead to a works team that he had beaten?

    In those days there was no problem, not only because it was rare for a customer team to win races, but also because they were genuine customer teams – they bought a chassis, stuck an engine in it and went racing. In other words, once they had bought the chassis they were on their own and sank or swam according to how good their engineers were at developing the chassis. And they thoroughly deserved whatever success they had as a result.

    The problem is now that the customer teams are developing into more than customers; they are evolving into works B teams and F1 looks at a future of six manufacturer teams with four cars each. That is anathema to any F1 fan, I think, and the problem needs to be addressed now before it is too late.

    I believe that customer teams are the only way for the diversity of F1 to be maintained but they need to be prevented from becoming B teams. So it should be made legal to buy in a chassis but no assistance from the manufacturer to the customer should be permitted thereafter. In this way, the skill of developing F1 cars would be maintained in depth and some of the original drama of small teams taking on the big guys be retained.

    How you police such a rule is another point entirely and not one I’d like to have to decide… 😉

  • Alianora says:

    Ideally, GP2 would be the place for those not ready to make their own car.

    The nail has been squarely hit on the head. I don’t necessarily agree with the rest of Ali’s idea, although praise is due for thinking about the issue probably more than those who get paid mega-bucks to do so. 🙂

    But what I strongly agree with is that lower formulae should be the proving grounds not just for drivers, but for teams as well. Jordan was a classic example of how one should attempt to go about the business of motor racing. The team ran in lower formulae, learning, developing and progressing at a steady rate. Then they jumped up to F1, using all that previous knowledge and all those previous contacts and companies (for sponsorship opportunities etc…).

    Even if costs were lowered, it would still be mightily difficult to competitively compete in F1 from scratch. Super Aguri tried this in 2006, and although they were helped by Honda, the pit crew still made lots of errors, wrong decisions were made, probably more so than Ferrari, Renault and McLaren.

    Surely that is how a team should gain entry into Formula One: By proving their worth in lower series. Yes, that jump would still be huge as lower classes tend to use the customer chassis framework. But at least most of the other elements would be in place and hopefully the budget wouldn’t be too shabby so they could spend on the R&D side of things.

    Stewart Racing were another great example of this. Both Stewart and Jordan grew their teams into competitive squads. Sure, the Stewart success was a bit of a fluke, but they ran regularly in the points. And Jordan did very well until it all came unraveled towards the end.

    Clive, I agree with your assessment of the problem and also how the assistance from other teams could be a way of preventing the customer role becoming more than what it once was in a era gone by.

    Great comments so far, and some well thought-out ideas. Anybody else wanna chip in?

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