Paul di Resta, Force India, Barcelona, 2012

Customer cars could jeopardise midfield teams – Whitmarsh

2012 F1 season

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Paul di Resta, Force India, Barcelona, 2012
Force India use McLaren technology but build their own cars
McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh has warned that re-introducing customer cars into Formula 1 could undermine the viability of midfield teams who build their own cars.

Bernie Ecclestone said last week that new teams to run customer cars when they enter the sport.

Speaking in a Vodafone McLaren Mercedes Phone-in, Whitmarsh said: “Philosophically, we’re not sure that customer cars are the right thing for the sport.

“One characteristic of Formula 1, one of the features that differentiates it from other branches of motor sport is having teams that are constructors that are responsible for building their vehicles, and having the variety that flows from that. So, philosophically, I don’t think it’s the right thing.”

However Whitmarsh conceded that “if the regulations allowed it we’d obviously have to look at it.”

He added: “It might one day become necessary, to either allow some of the small teams to survive, to allow new entrants, for there to be some form of interim customer car allowed.

“But at the moment I think to do it would be a threat to the middle-order teams.”

Whitmarsh explained: “Forgetting whether we’re philosophically for against, forgetting whether we’re willing to do it or not, I think we’ve just got to be careful here that some teams might find it attractive but for the middle-order teams – the Williams and the Lotuses and Force Indias and the like – maybe it’s a threat to their structure if there was an arrangement whereby customer teams were able, without the capital investment, without the long-term investment, to compete with them.”

He admitted that customer cars may be needed in order to keep the number of entrants at a reasonable level: “We need twenty-ish cars, we’d like them all to be relatively competitive to put a show on in Formula 1. And we may have to resort to a variety of tactics to do that.”

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Keith Collantine
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33 comments on “Customer cars could jeopardise midfield teams – Whitmarsh”

  1. I used to like the idea of customer cars (the last time around) but now I am against it. It cant be fair to a team at the back such as HRT to just buy a quicker car when teams such as Sauber and Force India work hard to get where they are. If this does happen they it should be a 1 or 2 year old cars so they remain at the back where they belong.

    1. Wouldn’t the constant rule changes in Formula One make using 1 to 2 year old cars improbable though?

      1. Exactly, say for example a front wing and chassis from 2 years ago trying to fit today’s regulations? The teams would either have to spend huge amounts of money to just develop other parts, and try keeping the bits that comply with the current regulations. It won’t work.
        The issue is the management of F1, not the money involved in developing the cars. If you have a look at other sports around the world, the lower teams are given assistance eg, NBA. They get the first draft picks for the best up and coming talent, which is going to have the biggest influence on how competitive they are as they try to develop over the years.
        In F1, what makes the biggest difference is money. At the moment, the teams that finish higher in the constructors championship get the biggest chunk of the pie, leaving the smaller teams to consistently struggle, until they eventually give up. Many people would like to see a very competitive field, but how can this be possible without the smaller teams having some form of assistance?

      2. I agree… I can’t see how a previous year’s car could be used and still be compliant with new rules.

        For example how could a 2011 exhaust blown diffuser car comply with 2012 regulations and still be competitive ? How could a 2011 car comply with the nose regulations and still be competitive ?

        Let alone all those rule changes (from time to time) introduced for safety reasons – like uprated crash tests or cockpit size/shape regulations ?

        Bernie is just flying a kite.

        The only way customer cars can work is they are THIS YEAR’S car with the customer supplying some of their own components eg chasis only and they design their own aero or use different engines.

        Otherwise they are just spec cars.

  2. I think it would end up with everyone having to buy the fastest car. Just imagine Ferrari buying a Red Bull to be more competetive! Not that Red Bull would allow them to get their latest updates.

  3. I think its good that Withmarsh is saying this. And it should be a reminder what FOTA is good for. In my view, customer cars is good only for the big teams, as they will end up not just winning everything, and being able to throw horrible amounts of money at development if needed to squeeze out a competition, but also making more money and having more influence through selling their older cars off.

    If I think about it, is the recent talks from Bernie saying he would like this and now the “reaction” from Withmarsh (speaking for FOTA? and McLaren – who arguably have the best sharing model going with FI and now Marussia) another power/money struggle?

    Because I am pretty sure that what Bernie said is well received by both Ferrari and by Red Bull, who quit FOTA because of either feeling too much restricted to spend or wanting to cut out a more exclusive deal with FOM.

    1. What i like about Mclaren is that i get the picture that they are the only team from the big boys that seems to be able to put their temporary self interest a little aside and look at the bigger picture and good of the sport instead of always being egoistical and uncompromisable with tunnel vision like Ferrari and Red Bull seem to be.

  4. That must sting a bit for a Williams employee / fan to read that statement and get to the bit where they are classed as a mid-field team. I know based on budget and recent results that’s the truth. However when you think of their heritage and previous stature it must make for painful reading.

    1. The most painful thing about it is that they are moving in the wrong direction. last year was their worst season to date and looking at how close the midfield is this year it will be even tougher to move up the grid.

      unless they finally step up. but i have been hoping for that for the past 5 years..

      The most worrying thing about Williams is that they practically became a company first and a racing team second, with the IPO last year. Just reading their memos it sends shivers down my spine when i see the corporate language they are using (shareholders, lateral integration, growth, etc). This used to be THE privateer team at one point, and now they are turning into another Toyota. This bothers me even more than their bad performances of late. One of my favorite teams have sold their soul.

  5. I think it could work if they are only allowed to use it for their first few years of their existence, and if they were limited to using a chassis from one of the previous year’s backmarkers.

    1. I agree that that might actually work @matt90, although I would be afraid its almost impossible to define who would classify as a “backmarker”.

      Would Marussia be able to sell its chassis, designed with McLAren support, or STR its car designed with a bit of Red Bull engineering support (exhaust blowing last year) or Sauber with the Ferrari-influenced rear, Caterham with the Red Bull gearbox or just Williams who build their car by themselves?

      1. Perhaps whoever comes last in the previous season (of the established teams) would be required to sell their chassis, or at least the design, to any new start-up teams.

  6. It could work, but only if teams that use customer cars are excluded from constructors championship.

  7. With a such inconsistent rule making from the FIA over the last few years it wouldn’t work now, that’s for sure.

    1. inconsistent rule making from the FIA

      How so?

  8. Personally, I think customer cars are a good thing. However, it would need a slight alteration to be viable.

    It should be the bigger team gives them a chassis, minus certain aero parts and mechanicals. That way, no more HRT mishaps as the chassis is already crash tested and proven to work. Giving HRT a fully working RB7 or F150 Italia would be stupid. but give them the chassis parts that’s an idea.

  9. I don’t buy the argument that It would threaten the midfield. Certainly not the teams Whitmarsh mentioned since Lotus and Force India are in fact much closer to the front runners than the actual midfield. I think it would be a threat to the big guns themselves, unless of course they would sell inferior designs to their own, but in such case there would be no problems at all. A bit worse Ferrari would still be a lot behind the front runners and teams aspiring to be front runners such as Lotus and Mercedes, especially when such customer car wouldn’t have the development potential even remotely comparable to the parent-car.

    Customer cars would influence the big teams selling such by means of taking their human and technical resources. The big teams should not be naive and think that customer cars would just be a moving, outsourced testing platform. FIA would do everything to restrict such attempts at getting around the testing restriction. This would be just another car needed to be designed with limited benefit for the designer. Scenario in which big teams sell exactly the same design to customer teams is pretty much unthinkable. Nobody wants to equip their competitors with machinery capable of fighting their own. Imagine Red Bull selling RB8 design to Lotus, just to have Kimi steal points, podiums and victories from Vettel. Therefore customer cars will not comeback. Big guns benefit too much from the weak competition to let it happen.

  10. My idea is to have a independent manufacturer. Maybe company like Panoz,Dallara,Swift etc. sell car for new F1 team for a season or two before the new team capable of having their own car.

    1. @sesku that is not a bad idea. Not sure how that would work out though.
      I think there is a huge imbalance in F1, the money is not going to where it should, and that is the teams who make F1 what it is. I mean think about, without the manufactures actually wanting to make the cars, what is left? Another spec Motorsport series like any other.
      I wish the teams walked out on Ecclestone when they had the chance! Set it up the way it should be, and give the money back to the people who actually make ‘the show’. Not some old guy charges insane amounts of money to hold an F1 event, that the best tracks in the world can’t afford it. I bet if you asked all the drivers where they would like to race, it wouldn’t be today’s modern tracks that’s for sure!

  11. How about if only the midfeild teams could supply customer cars? Top 4 or 5 teams are not eligable (Red Bull, Ferrari, McLaren etc) and only the Williams, Force India’s, Saubers supply the customer cars?

    The midfield teams get more revenue…. they will not be too threatened by the customer teams… and it brings the tail end closer to the midfield.

  12. Customer cars could be a good thing if we redefine the term to mean a car designed with input and technical assistance from one of the big teams. Essentially what Marussia are doing with McLaren this year and Force India before them, but perhaps taken a step further. It would give the new team an idea of what it takes to run an F1 team, it could be a training ground for junior design people from the big teams to cut their teeth all while still being an autonomous project.

    1. Actually that’s a good idea, kinda partner them up with a big team to help them get to a base working level.

  13. I’d support the idea of customer cars, but to make it fair, the cars would only score driver points and not be included as a “constructor”. That way when the teams get their annual prize money then the customers will be at the bottom of the pecking order for handouts, thus giving the potential financial gain for building their own chasis. If there are multiple customer teams then their ranking would be decided by individual driver results in the same way as any constructor teams who are tied on points.

    1. Then what is the point of having a customer car. No team will take it if it’s a guarantee last place in the constructors.
      Don’t forget than for the smaller teams the only significant championship is the constructors championship.
      To care enough about the drivers championship to even sacrifice money from constructors means you are a top team with plenty of money.

  14. Super Aguri used Honda chassis in 2007 it scored 4 points, Honda scored 6 points. Honda were lucky cause Button scored 6 points that season or they would have finished behind Super Aguri. Toro Rosso-Ferrari in 2008 scored more points than Red Bull-Renault & even won a race that season. Risk of customer cars is that at times the customer can embarrass you.

  15. As we know Aero makes up 90% of the teams R&D where as the engine is the biggest chunk of the cash. I question if giving a new team an established chassis is really going to help them even short term given that with out the CFD and wind tunnel to compliment this they are a sitting duck anyway. They should be made to design a chassis from scratch use innovation and ingenuity to enter the sport. And if they get it right it will be a success and if not then it will fail. We should be tempting the likes of VW/Audi, Renault BMW etc back into into the sport who have the resources to develop new cars that have a fighting chance of winning after just one or two seasons. We need to work out the financial reasons of their departure / absence and make it easier for them to comeback / join. I think there will always be a place for the smaller outfits to burst onto the scene but this should be done on merit not gifted a car. And perhaps a budget cap would be the best method to give them a chance.

  16. I mean why allow the entry of teams who cannot even manufacture their own cars to F1 ? Look at HRT ? 2 years up and they are still struggling to build their own car . . . and have to agree with “Rhys Coles”, if customer cars are indeed allowed then all the efforts put in my the midfield teams will be of no good.

  17. i think it would be mclaren’s position that would be undermined by customer cars, not williams.

  18. Customer teams could work but only for a couple of seasons. I don’t think the established midfield teams would be too threatened, there’s more to a successful team than having the right base for a car. Having a decent chassis is only 50% of the challenge, developing it to be constantly competitive, extracting the most from your strategy and utilising your drivers strengths makes up the balance.

    I can’t see how anyone could come in with a top flight chassis and be instantly and consistently competitive. Look at Mercedes.

  19. Customer cars worked brilliantly in the past so why woudn’t it work now?

    Look at the 70s where there were a couple teams running customer McLaren’s & such, Frank Williams ran customer cars for a couple years before building his own car & several other teams got started the same way.

  20. Mark in Florida
    12th March 2012, 23:02

    Customer cars could work only if the basic chassis was allowed.Basically the crash structure and pickup points for the suspension.All the external aero would have to be made by the customers.The backmarkers have a hard time just passing the FIA crash test’s .A solid tub would put the lesser teams on a better footing it would free up money for other things.If anyone thinks that if Mclaren made a tub for HRT that they would be world beaters is laughable.The cream will always rise to the top in any sport, F1 is no different.

  21. Just read an article from Luca Di Montezemolo, the greatest advocate for customer cars and third cars (remember they are two separate things).

    I found his article hilarious as he said that if allowed Ferrari would supply last years car to a minor team and force them to run a young Italian driver and hence this would solve the issue of no Italian driver in F1.

    Err Luca you (Ferrari) supply customer engines and drive trains to a couple of teams already and have done so for numerous years so why don’t you force them to run a young Italian driver?. If you were really serious about helping young Italian drivers instead of pushing you own(Ferrari’s) agenda you could still easily do it with the need of customer or third cars.

  22. If anything Martin Whitmarsh would be one of the people ‘you would think’ that would want customer cars in F1, as McLaren would be one of the teams that would supply year old race cars to the smaller teams. However, Whitmarsh is smart to realise the potential backlash F1 and the teams could recieve from the fans by going down that road.
    However, I suppose Ecclestone wanting to do this should not be a surprise. Afterall, there has been a freeze on engine development for years now and that is always the first step you take if you want a spec series which F1 is becoming. From Bernie’s point of view, which is always painted green, spec series can be profitable. NASCAR for instance is a spec series, as is the IRL in the USA and both are popular series and the main reason they did it was to keep costs down.
    Its worth remembering that F1 teams spend millions developing F1 cars, the top teams’ costs are no doubt in the hundreds of millions and have been for years. Customer cars would bring those costs down dramatically, but at the cost of upsetting the puritans who since 1950 have become used to seeing teams each build their own cars.
    The reality is we may see a year old Ferrari one day painted in Williams colours or a McLaren, something that for a guy like me who remembers to days of Mansell mania in the 1980’s would be unthinkable. If the small teams did this they would need front wings, rear wings, the whole nine yards from their supplier who may not be so forthcoming if their supposed old car is as quick or quicker than their new one.
    To an extent we have seen that already with Super Aguri back in 2007 and the likes of Sauber and Toro Rosso are nothing more than satellite teams for Ferrari and Red Bull. This would only make the situation worse, but my fear is that this is exactly what will happen.
    Ecclestone will convince the teams in that his idea will save them money and they will swallow it whole in the end. Whether its in the best interest of the sport is the real question here?

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