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2008.11.16 18:44

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Thursday, Nov. 06, 2008
Formula One: Cutting Corners
By ADAM SMITH


To get an idea of the gap between a winner and an also-ran in motor racing's toughest series, consider the contrasting fortunes of two drivers in the Nov. 2 Brazilian Grand Prix, the final race of the year. In just his second season in Formula One, 23-year-old Briton Lewis Hamilton became its youngest ever world champion, sensationally grabbing fifth place on the last corner of the Interlagos track in São Paulo to claim motor sport's premier prize by a single point from hometown hero and Ferrari star Felipe Massa. Italian Giancarlo Fisichella was less fortunate. Fisichella, 35, and in his thirteenth year in Formula One, was the last driver to finish, and ended the season without a single point.

On the clock, there wasn't much to separate the two; little more than a second split Hamilton's and Fisichella's fastest lap times in Brazil. But a second is an eternity in Formula One, and a powerful reflection of perhaps the most important factor separating drivers: money. McLaren, for which Hamilton drives, lavished an estimated $430 million on its campaign, according to industry analysts Formula Money — a sum typical of big teams but two to three times the outlay of independent teams such as Fisichella's Force India. In such a high-tech sport, those with the deepest pockets tend to end up on top. (Read "How to Win a NASCAR Race.)

The people who govern Formula One have been trying to reduce these financial and competitive gaps for years. Rule changes between seasons often ban new technologies, or at least limit their further development. In the season that just ended drivers were required to do without the hugely expensive computerized traction-control systems that make cornering easier and racing more boring. Such rule changes have boosted competition in the last five years by helping to narrow the gap between the fastest and slowest cars by two to three seconds. Now the global financial crisis has added a new sense of urgency to organizers' efforts to make racing more competitive. The current setup, with big teams depending on "massive handouts from their parent companies" and small independent teams relying on "the goodwill of rich individuals," is "unsustainable," according to a memo given to teams in October by the FIA, world motor sport's governing body. The FIA's answer: Slash the cost of competing.

Even the big teams see the sense in that. FIA rules allow for up to 12 teams, with each running two cars. But escalating budgets have forced smaller teams to quit in recent years. When U.K.-based Super Aguri pulled out last May, it left just 10 teams on the grid. If more quit, the FIA worries, the sport could cease to be credible. "All teams realize that losing another [team] would do great damage to Formula One overall," says a leading adviser to several teams and manufacturers. Says Christian Horner, team principal at Red Bull Racing, an independent team whose best-placed driver finished 11th in this year's championship: "There's a genuine realization in the whole of the paddock that the costs quite simply are incompatible with the product at the moment." Formula One, he adds, "can't afford to hang about" in tackling this crisis.

One of the biggest problems is the way teams are funded. The bulk of the resources for top performers comes from major carmakers. BMW, for instance, contributed an estimated $200 million to its team this year, nearly six times the sum invested by Indian Vijay Mallya, the billionaire owner of Fisichella's Force India. Small teams struggle to make up the difference through sponsorship or their share of the sport's commercial rights.

The FIA wants a team to be able to compete on a budget much closer to its share of those rights. That averaged around $40 million for each team this year. In a meeting with the FIA in Geneva last month, teams agreed to a number of measures aimed at reducing expenditure starting in 2009. The cost of engines supplied to independent teams by manufacturers was reduced from around $20 million to $13 million, and teams will save money by changing engines every three races, rather than every two. More talks on lowering the cost of chassis development — which can set a leading team back an estimated $175 million a year — are also underway.

But there is one proposal that teams are not prepared to accept: the FIA's suggestion that all cars use an identical engine built by a single manufacturer. The idea, backed by FIA President Max Mosley, has drawn fierce criticism, with Ferrari arguing that it would undermine the sport's "raison d'être, based principally on competition and technological development." If it happens, Ferrari and other big teams say they would consider abandoning Formula One. Perhaps, as has been suggested in the past, a few big teams might even set up rival races. "Why would Toyota want to use somebody else's engine? Why would Ferrari? Or Honda? Or BMW?," asks Jackie Stewart, a three-time world champion and former team boss. "The whole reason they're in the sport is not only to be able to win on Sunday and sell on Monday — it's also a gymnasium for talent and technologists."

Even for smaller teams that might benefit, using a single engine supplier is probably a step too far. Horner of Red Bull, owned by the energy-drinks company, says racing with a standardized engine might be "no bad thing" for a team like his. But he says it's not worth risking the loss of the sport's biggest names: "Formula One needs the balance of independent teams and manufacturers and most certainly [needs] Ferrari involved in the sport."

The FIA stresses the controversial idea is only one of several options. Also up for discussion — this time between the FIA, teams and the majority owner of the sport's commercial rights, private equity firm CVC — is a new agreement governing the distribution of revenues from Formula One. The current deal gives each team a share of the profits that varies depending on their position in the championship. A new deal could increase the teams' combined share from 50% to as much as 75%.

International growth markets offer another fresh source of cash. New sponsors in Asia and the Middle East poured close to $60 million into the sport this year; plans to introduce Grand Prix in Abu Dhabi, South Korea and India over the next three years will boost interest further. Lewis Hamilton surely counts on racing around those circuits. If costs come down enough, Fisichella will hopefully be right beside him

* 102代회장(이미리내)님에 의해서 게시물 이동되었습니다 (2008-11-18 13:53)

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