Small teams: New rules will grow gap

Updated: January 31, 2014, 4:47 AM ET
Associated Press

JEREZ, Spain -- Formula One's sweeping rule changes might be contributing to defending champion Red Bull's dismal start to the preseason. The smaller teams just don't see those troubles transferring into a major shift in the balance of power this season.

F1 decided to overhaul its rulebook after the 2013 season, in which Sebastian Vettel paraded his Red Bull to victory in the last nine races to win his fourth consecutive title.

However, team bosses and chief engineers told The Associated Press that the move to more expensive turbo engines, as well as numerous other changes, will only reinforce the dominance of the front-runners, who are better equipped to absorb the increased costs and have money left over to spend on other aspects of their vehicles.

Many of those who help run the teams that rarely, if ever, reach the podium expect the gap between the top and bottom to only get bigger.

Williams' chief technical officer, Pat Symonds, said the best way to encourage parity was not through change, but rather by creating "stability" that would level the technological playing field.

"If you stir up the rules to make it economically more difficult, absolutely no, you are not going to make the racing closer," he said.

Symonds spoke to the AP in Williams' hospitality tent, pitched at the end of a row of the other teams' luxurious motorhomes at the Jerez track, where preseason testing is being held until Friday.

Symonds joined Williams this season from struggling Marussia to help with what he called a rebuilding of the team, whose ninth and last constructors title came in 1997. Its last grand prix victory was in 2012, and it earned just five points last year.

"Changing to the 2014 power unit and then running the 2014 power unit is very significantly more expensive than it was prior," Symonds said. "Now, that hits the smaller and the midsized teams much harder than it does the big teams."

Force India deputy team principal Bob Fernley said his team and others agreed.

"The disparity between the teams that are lower down the grid and the ones at the front is also connected to how much you can spend on development," Fernley said. "We are all having to spend roughly 100 million euros ($135.74 million) to go racing; that's to build a car, to go to each of the 19 races. So whatever you've got above that is your development. So if you've got 10 million and Ferrari have got 100 million, there's always going to be a difference."

Besides switching to a 1.6-liter V6 turbo engine from last year's 2.4-liter V8 engine, the rule changes focus on boosting cars' energy recovery systems, and alter their fuel limit, weight and body.

F1 also decided to award double points to the season's last race to keep the title race alive, and keep fans and TV audiences interested.

Caterham team principal Cyril Abiteboul called the double-points decision an "artificial" fix to try to increase competition in appearance, while not in reality.

Abiteboul said he supported the move to push innovation in F1 so it could continue its mission of "preceding the automobile industry."

But he said applying so many changes in one year instead of over two or three hurts smaller teams such as Caterham, which didn't win a point in its first two seasons.

For both Fernley and Abiteboul, the new regulations put more importance on the engine manufacturers: Renault (Red Bull's engine maker), Mercedes and Ferrari, who in addition to having their own factory teams sell engines to the other eight teams.

For a smaller team "to win a race I think is a little bit extreme," Abiteboul said. "That would really only happen if one of the three engine manufacturers we have this season has a real performance advantage on the other two, firstly, and even if that happens, I would expect that the factory team of that engine manufacturer would have an edge."

Although Red Bull has managed just 14 laps through three days of testing due to engine problems, it should be in fine shape come season's end.

The season begins with the Australian Grand Prix on March 16.


Copyright 2014 by The Associated Press

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