How Formula 1’s sprint race standoff highlights huge problem

F1's sprint event saga is just one part of a a wider issue which has plagued the sport in recent years.


Formula 1 teams and Liberty Media are in a deadlock over the budget cap and sprint events for the 2022 season.

The original plan was to have six sprint events this year, taking place in Bahrain, Imola, Canada, Austria, the Netherlands and Brazil.

F1 offered a $2.65 million compensation package for the six sprints, however there will be no extra allowance in the cost cap for crash damage, which is the biggest change from 2021. This is how the dispute between the teams began.

The top teams want this extra financial allowance, including accident damage, whereas the majority of the grid appear to be happy with F1’s offer.

What has been said?

McLaren CEO Zak Brown has been the only team boss to publicly express his thoughts about the issue, urging the need for economic sustainability in the sport.

“Some teams still look for excuses to raise the cost cap and win world championships with chequebooks,” said Brown in his column for McLaren.

“The ongoing lobbying by certain teams to increase the cost cap for sprint race damage is a continuing example. The Saturday sprint race initiative by F1 has added new viewers and raised the profile of the sport to expand its global fanbase.

Formula One F1 – Russian Grand Prix – Sochi Autodrom, Sochi, Russia – September 28, 2019 McLaren Chief Executive Officer Zak Brown REUTERS/Anton Vaganov

“However, these teams continue to demand a raise to the cost cap by an inordinate amount of money, despite the clear evidence that little damage was incurred during these races last year, in a thinly veiled attempt to protect from their competitive advantage being eroded.

“The current governance structure of the sport enables a situation where some teams, to protect their own competitive advantage, are effectively holding the sport hostage from what’s best for the fans and therefore the sport at large.

“These teams seem unable to accept that a budget cap is in the best interests of the sport and cannot kick their habit of spending their way to the front.”

Most teams, along with Liberty Media and the FIA, are not keen on raising the cost cap, so a new offer of just three sprint events has been made. But, the issue is much bigger than how many sprint races there should be in 2022.

The ongoing power struggle in F1

Arguably to the detriment of the sport, the teams have too much power and it’s become an increasingly significant problem in recent seasons.

Ultimately, it’s the teams who have a vote on regulations, sporting and technical, and this has led to a political dispute and a power struggle which has gone too far.

The thrilling battle between Mercedes and Red Bull was a battle on the track, and a war off the circuit as Toto Wolff and Christian Horner divided the paddock with accusations that were made to ‘get one over’ the other.

You can argue it’s part of the sport, but it has gone much too far with the teams having too much control over the sport, which Brown also points out.

“No one is happy with the inconsistency in the policing of the regulations, but which has been habitually exploited by teams for competitive advantage,” said Brown.

“I have said before that the teams have too much power and it needs to be reduced. We have a significant role in the drafting of the regulations and governance of Formula 1 and that influence is not always driven by what is best overall for the sport.

Formula One F1 – Italian Grand Prix – Autodromo Nazionale Monza, Monza, Italy – September 11, 2021 Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas celebrates pole position after the sprint qualifying REUTERS/Massimo Pinca

“Yes, teams should be consulted, and their informed perspectives considered, particularly on long-term strategic issues. But at times it has seemed the sport is governed by certain teams.”

How much power do the teams have in F1?

It’s normal for F1 to be political at times, but now the politics seem to have taken over the sport.

The best interests of the sport are no longer being served and the teams have become more selfish than ever.

You only have to look at Mercedes‘ and Aston Martin‘s reaction to the 2021 rule changes which they felt were targeted to slow them down, or Ferrari‘s sudden loss in engine power from 2019 to 2020 being swept under the carpet with a settlement that was never made public.

During a time when some people don’t trust the FIA, following the controversial Abu Dhabi GP, we should also question how much we can trust the teams are thinking about the integrity of F1.

Brown admits the teams must take some of the blame for the events which sparked an outcry in 2021.

“Let us not forget that we, the teams, have contributed to the inconsistencies in the policing of the regulations as much as anyone,” continued Brown.

“It is the teams who applied the pressure to avoid finishing races under a Safety Car at all costs. It is the teams who voted for many of the regulations they have complained about.

Formula One F1 – Brazilian Grand Prix – Jose Carlos Pace Circuit, Sao Paulo, Brazil – November 13, 2021 Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas celebrates on the podium after finishing first place in sprint qualifying Pool via REUTERS/Lars Baron

“It is the teams who have been using the broadcasting of radio messages to the race director to try to influence penalties and race outcomes, to the point where an over-excited team principal plays to the gallery and pressurises race officials. This has not been edifying for F1.”

Can the problem be solved?

There’s an old saying, ‘If you give someone an inch, they will take a mile’ and that’s exactly what’s happening in F1.

It’s going to be incredibly difficult for Liberty Media or the FIA to reverse this situation to get a stranglehold on the teams.

Liberty Media will want to keep all 10 teams happy, but it simply won’t be possible. With just three manufacturers involved in the sport, F1 are weary of the the possibility of teams leaving the championship.

F1 are also keen to get Porsche and/or Audi on board in 2026, so the impossible balancing act of keeping multiple parties content whilst trying to implement their own values has become a massive headache.

In a perfect world, Liberty Media and the FIA would come up with a set of sporting and technical regulations, which the teams can take or leave.

That said, F1 is and will never be as simple as that. Money, performance and egos will always get in the way so this ongoing power struggle is likely to be here to stay.

Nigel Chiu
Nigel Chiu is an NCTJ-qualified journalist who worked at Total-Motorsport for 18 months until May 2023. He has been following F1 since 2007 and hasn’t missed a Grand Prix weekend since. Nigel’s worked with several motorsport websites, plus Eurosport and subsequently went on to work with Sky Sports F1 where he travels to multiple F1 races each season.
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