How F1 has headed off its most expensive season ever

Jonathan Noble
motorsport.com

Factories are shut, staff and team bosses are in lockdown in their homes, but worst of all the financial impact is looming large in terms of a big downturn in commercial rights income and sponsor dollars.

As McLaren team principal Andrea Seidl said this week: "There is no escaping the severity of the pressures faced by the sport right now."

But every crisis has opportunities and, for AlphaTauri team boss Franz Tost, not everything is negative about the situation.

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"There are two sides to every coin," he told Motorsport.com in an exclusive interview.

His remarks are in reference to the radical decision to delay Formula 1's 2021 rules revolution for 12 months.

It means the current cars will effectively be carried over in to next year, albeit with certain changes allowed.

There will be enormous consequences for the future of Formula 1, which even experts have not yet addressed, but in the short term it is a hugely welcome thing for Tost.

"The good thing about the coronavirus story is that we don't have to do double development this year," he explained

"We can't develop the car for 2022 until the beginning of 2021. That also means 2021 development will now happen under the umbrella of the budget cap."

He added: "[That is] a very important point because it saves a lot of money. It means that double development at high cost level is no longer necessary".

It was originally planned that the new cost cap rules would be introduced in 2021, with a limit of $175 million apart from some exceptions, in line with the new cars.

But there was a catch: The cars for 2021 would have been developed in 2020, i.e. without a budget cap. And that worried some that this was going to trigger the most expensive year of development in F1 history.

Christian Horner spoke last year about his fears of unrestricted spending in 2020 ahead of the budget cap. He reckoned that it would have been better to have the spending limit come in before the new cars, not at the same time.

"We missed an opportunity there," he explained in Mexico. "In retrospect, it would have been wiser to introduce the 2021 cap and give us time to fine-tune the rules."

But everything has now been ripped up, and what looked impossible last year is now realistic as F1 moves to ensure the survival of teams and even itself.

Elaborating on what has been agreed, Tost said: "The chassis will be homologated. The mechanical parts, too, such as the suspension.

"The only thing that can be improved is the aerodynamics. That means front wing, rear wing, bodywork, side pods, floor, diffuser and barge boards."

While the outline rules will help, there are of course concerns that teams could try to get around the limits to get a head start for next year.

For example, if the wind tunnels (at least after the three-week shutdown) are allowed to continue running in principle, and aerodynamics can be developed, how will the FIA ensure that the teams only work on what is allowed, namely for 2021 - and not already for the completely new cars in 2022?

Tost explains: "The FIA controls the wind tunnel and gets video recordings and pictures of the wind tunnel. That means you can't put a 2022 car in the wind tunnel because it looks completely different. You would see that immediately.

"The FIA can ask for pictures of which car is in the wind tunnel right now. And they can check which model has been tested."

Tost added: "No team can afford to mess with the rule keepers. No team can do that because far too many people are involved.

"When a model goes into the wind tunnel, the model makers are the first ones involved, followed by the guys who operate the wind tunnel. That's at least ten people who would know about it. Nobody will accept such a risk."

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