Bernie Ecclestone is right: they should cancel the Formula One season. Why? So the sport can survive.
In fact, all the big-league racing leagues in the world – NASCAR, IndyCar, WEC, IMSA – should do the same thing. Otherwise, with some exceptions, many of the teams across all series won’t be able to stay in business.
Let’s start with F1. Ecclestone has been taking a lot of heat on Twitter and some of the other social media platforms for suggesting the people running it now should bite the bullet and call off everything until 2021. This is his reasoning:
Some of the smaller teams, Williams, in particular, are living hand-to-mouth. If there is no season, they can lay off most of their employees and save the money. But Liberty Media, owners of the sport, have opted to keep postponing races in hopes of getting the 2020 season running at some point.
At present, the Canadian GP will be the first race of the season. Until it is cancelled (as it will, you know), Williams – like all the other teams – has got to be ready to race. All of their engineers and mechanics and pit-crew members and designers and support staff have to remain on the job. With next-to-nothing coming back in the meantime, Williams is in danger of running out of money. But if there were no Grands Prix, Williams could furlough them all (or most of them), bank the cash and live to race another day.
It’s not just the smaller, underfunded teams that are vulnerable. In case no one has noticed, most of the world is locked down. The automobile industry is not making any cars and if they are not making and selling cars, they are not making any money. Auto racing sponsorship is discretionary spending. Short of cash? Stop advertising and sponsorships.
For instance, it is no secret that Mercedes-Benz’s board of directors, in recent years, has discussed withdrawing from the sport. The return on investment, even though they win everything, isn’t worth it, some on the board say. A year like this, where the world is roaring toward recession, if not all-out depression, could be the straw that breaks the Mercedes back. But if there is no racing this year, a recovery in late 2020 or early in 2021 could make everybody feel better about sponsorship and the Mercedes board could vote to carry on.
Nobody knows F1 as well as Bernie Ecclestone. He knows who makes money and who doesn’t. And why does he know this? Because if a team went broke, Ecclestone – when he was in charge – would give them money to keep going. Ask Sauber about that. If a team owner wanted out, Bernie would find a buyer (Jordan became Spyker became Midland became Force India became Racing Point – all engineered by Bernie.)
What is happening now is unprecedented. But the one constant is that motor racing costs an enormous amount of money and while there will still be money around when things get back to normal (which is not going to happen any time soon), there will not be enormous amounts. So Williams, Haas and AlphaTauri could be on the bubble in F1 with Renault, Alfa Romeo and Mercedes also under threat.
If there is no 2020 season, the teams can save money instead of having to continue spending it.
When Bernie Ecclestone talks, people should listen.
Moving over to this side of the Atlantic, the NASCAR and IMSA seasons have been put on hold and IndyCar and others just never got going. But the economy is going down the toilet and despite what some people might like to believe, many sponsorship contracts that were signed in good faith before the season started will likely not be honoured because the money just won’t be there.
I don’t want to get into a guessing game here as to who won’t survive but the betting is that not all the teams that are entered in the various series as of today will be answering the bell when the seasons finally get going.
Everybody talks optimistically about the crisis being over by such and such a week or month but nobody really knows. That’s why I think it’s folly to announce that racing will begin on such-and-such a date because who knows if it will happen or not?
IndyCar cancelled the Indianapolis 500 and moved it to Aug. 23. Would it not have been better to say the 500 would be held when it could be held rather than trying to appear definite? Otherwise, it becomes a mug’s game.
When they announced that the 500 would be moved, the IndyCar brass said the season would start with the two races on Belle Ilse in Detroit the end of May/first of June. Pretty optimistic. But the idea was that the races would kick off the two-week Detroit auto show community festival. Unfortunately, this weekend, the auto show festival was called off, which means the auto races are under threat.
Maybe it would have been better to just say the season was off – except for the 500, which wold be held if possible. Street races like the Honda Indy Toronto cost a fortune because of setup and teardown and it’s highly unlikely the promoters will start to build Toronto if there is any chance they won’t be able to actually hold a race.
See? Who really knows? Nobody, that’s who.
Which brings up this thought. Say they all get to start – or, in NASCAR and IMSA’s case, restart – the seasons and then nobody comes. I think people will be very wary this year of attending sports events with thousands of other people. It will be one thing to re-open the coffee shops and restaurants and department stories because some – albeit reduced – social distancing can still happen in those places.
But to go to the Rogers Centre to watch the Blue Jays or the Scotiabank Arena to watch the Leafs or to go to Exhibition Place to be packed in to watch the Indy cars race in July is another matter entirely. TV ratings will be phenomenal but I really expect sports crowds in stadiums will be way down and, in the case of auto racing, could threaten future races if the losses turn out to be monumental. Better they not happen at all.
You have to feel sorry for Roger Penske. At 83, he’s the most – yes, the most – successful businessman in the United States and a man who has given his all to the sport. He now owns the Indianapolis Speedway and the IndyCar Series and everybody who knows anything about the man has been rejoicing at the potential for the iconic race track and the series.
And now this.
Everybody has the right to be optimistic. Guys like me, who have spent their entire working lives reporting bad news, tend to be pessimists. It’s bad enough when you can see the finish line and get to guess who will arrive there first. It’s impossible to pick a winner when there is no finish line.
My father, the late J.A. (Al) McDonald used to say that whenever you’re in doubt about something, “drop back 10 yards and punt.” He meant that by kicking the ball as far as you could, it would give you time to figure out what to do before it came down.
Which is why cancelling auto racing for 2020 might – hell, would – be the best way to go.
Meantime, F1, NASCAR, IndyCar, the World of Outlaws and just about everybody else in auto racing is involved with iracing.com in virtual racing. The drivers sit at home in their simulators and “race” against each other at famous race tracks.
I know some people think this is swell but I don’t. Simulated racing is terrific when you do it – it’s great fun – but boring to watch after awhile because it isn’t real. I watched an IndyCar “race” from “Watkins Glen” on Saturday and found it interesting for 10 minutes and then went off to do something else. Leigh Diffey, Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy were doing their schtick, just like it was a real race, but the banter was awkward. And at one point, Scott Speed spun out and stalled his car. He was going to have to refresh or reboot his game, so while I was watching him sitting there, his car just disappeared from the screen.
NASCAR had a “race” from “Texas Motor Speedway” on Sunday, which I watched – again, for 10 minutes. They didn’t try to make it into a real race; Jeff Gordon interviewed Clint Bowyer, and others, in their living rooms. Dale Earnhardt Jr. made a “comeback” to race in the Cup series. The TV networks are desperate for programming, though, so FOX and TSN carried the NASCAR race, in which NASCAR Pinty’s Series racer Alex Labbe made an impression.
For the record, Timmy Hill won the NASCAR race Sunday and Sage Karam was first in the IndyCar race Saturday.
By Norris McDonald Special to wheels.ca