Business of Sport: The true cost of running a Formula One team

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Financially, the wheels have come off: Caterham are on the brink of disappearing.

The grids for the Brazilian and United States Grands Prix were notable for the absence of the Caterham and Marussia teams.

The two surviving outfits from the influx of new blood in 2010 both went into administration before Marussia folded completely with the loss of 200 jobs last Friday.

Meanwhile, Caterham’s future existence in the sport is looking increasingly precarious as it seeks £2.35 million via crowdfunding to make it to the final race of the season in Abu Dhabi.

Formula 1 has a history of eating up and spitting out teams – over the course of its 64-year history 121 different marques have been and gone, Ferrari the sole survivors from the opening championship in 1950.

F1 is an expensive business – even more so in the volatile financial markets of recent years – so attaining any sort of longevity in the sport is no mean feat.

The sport is also a financial minefield, with a myriad of different payments, budgets and a somewhat secretive nature among the many teams.

Dieter Rencken is an accredited F1 business journalist, who annually dissects F1’s team spends in the weekly British magazine Autosport.

He said: “Bernie Ecclestone  (right) likes to keep it secretive. He sends faxes with the letterhead Mister E and makes a point it’s pronounced mystery. There’s always been an air of mystery and there’s been some very, very serious attempts to keep the lid on exposure.

“CVC Commercial Partners [F1’s major shareholders] don’t want people to know what they’ve made, lost or turned over. They just want that for their investors.”

Of those entered in the 2014 World Championship, Ferrari are top of the pile in budgetary terms with a spend of about $420m compared to the lowest spenders Caterham, who boast a relatively paltry sum, well comparatively at least, of $95m.

That Caterham and Marussia should be struggling so much this year is baffling in some respects in the knowledge that the commercial rights holder group, effectively owned by Jersey-based Delta Topco, is expected to have an operating profit of about $1.8 billion at the end of this season.

So how is that influx of money, which comes a variety of sources ranging from television rights to payouts from the individual grands prix, distributed? It’s via a ludicrously complex process.

Of that $1.8 billion pot of cash, 63 per cent goes to the teams through a variety of streams. The top 10 teams get a payout of $40m – hence Caterham and Marussia’s constant battle to avoid 11th spot for which a relatively paltry $10m is on offer.

In addition to that $40m for each of the top 10, there are further scaled payouts based on performance ranging from Red Bull getting $75m for winning the constructors’ championship in top spot to about $15m for Caterham sneaking 10th place. There is then a further bonus of $150m shared out among the top three in the contructors’ championship, plus historical payouts to a trio of teams with a rich history in the sport: Williams, Mercedes and Ferrari.

For Mercedes and Williams, that equates to $30m, for Ferrari, it is believed to be in the region of $90m and that is merely for making it to the start line for the first race of the season, such is Ferrari’s influence in the sport.

In addition, there is further income from sponsors and F1 business title Formula Money estimates for 2014, the average team budget is $236.6m, a hike of 29 per cent from $182.9m in 2010, much of that down to the cost of the new hybrid engines this season.

The budget each team has obviously varies massively and also the manner in which they choose to spend it also differs. But working on the average, according to Formula Money’s figures, $63 million is spent on research and development: $25m of that on wind tunnel testing, $15m on track testing and the remainder on Research and Development. According to Rencken, trying to make the figures exact on R&D for the big manufacturers is very complex. 

“Take Mercedes across the whole company (including road cars) for example who in Stuttgart have a budget of about $5 billion for R&D. How much of that is spent directly on F1 and how much on other projects that have got nothing to do with it? That’s the big question.”

Mercedes is complex  in that it has two strands to its F1 operation: the racing team and High Performance Powertrains, the engine-building side of F1, which has a spend of about £140m this season but something like half of that cost is met by supplying engines to other teams on the grid such as McLaren, Force India and Williams.

Another big spend is on production, estimated this season on a typical team at $57m: a third of that on manufacturing, $28m on a custom engine supply (admittedly not applicable to every single team) and the remainder on other key components such as gearboxes, tyres and electronics.

A marginally bigger spend is on salaries. Again that can vary massively but the average is about $65m, $20m of which is on drivers, $40m on team members and $5m on directors.

In the case of drivers, that can vary monstrously. For example, Fernando Alonso is thought to be F1’s highest earner on $40m this season, while Kevin Magnussen is believed to be on a salary in the region of a few hundred thousand. Then there is the matter of pay drivers, Marcus Ericsson is thought to have sealed his hop from Caterham to Sauber next year on the promise of $15m in sponsor backing.

And the final big section of spending for any team – on average $55m – is on operations: $20m on transport, travel and accommodation for the 19 grands prix on the calendar, $15m on entertaining, $7m on freight, $5m on IT, $3m on factories and utilities, $3m on professional services and $2m on fuel. 

The question is whether the level of spend can be sustainable with teams currently falling by the wayside and others warning they could follow suit.

According to Formula Money editor Christian Sylt: “How big a crisis is this? I don’t see the situation as particularly significant. F1 has survived far worse in recent history with the pull-outs of Toyota, BMW and Renault.”

Lotus boss Gerard Lopez argues, though, that things need to change in the manner in which money in the sport is spent.

“The distribution model of revenues is completely wrong,” he said. “The ones that have more, get more and as a result want more and want to spend more and so on, and the ones that have less, get less. When you’ve got teams that get $160-170 for showing up something is entirely wrong.”

The cost cap originally suggested in 2010 quickly fell by the wayside and teams look set to continue to spend and spend big to stay at the front or simply survive in the sport.

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Organisers predict record ticket sales for Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

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Thrilling finale: The drivers' championship will go down to the wire in Abu Dhabi.

As the F1 championship heads into its final showdown at the Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, organisers are warning that the remaining tickets are likely to sell out within days due to incredible demand from racing fans.

Less than 2,500 tickets are so far unsold.

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This weekend’s Brazilian Grand Prix, which saw an exciting battle between the two Mercedes’ drivers, set the scene for the climax of the season in Abu Dhabi.

Nico Rosberg, who went into the weekend’s racing in Brazil twenty-four points behind championship leader Lewis Hamilton, took first place to narrow the gap between him and his teammate to seventeen points.

The next and final stop is Abu Dhabi, where it is anticipated the race will be witnessed by a record crowd in the UAE capital on November 23.

“Anyone hoping to come and join us for this historic moment in Abu Dhabi should act quickly to ensure they don’t miss out on their chance to buy a ticket,” said Al Tareq Al Ameri, CEO of Yas Marina Circuit.

“With the driver’s championship coming down to Yas Marina Circuit, demand is at its peak. People have been aware that we have had the largest ticket allocation ever for the event in Abu Dhabi this year, with a total capacity of 60,000. But with less than two weeks to go we’re down to fewer than 2,500 tickets.

In addition to the motorsport action, Abu Dhabi F1 tickets for all sections guarantee the holder entry to concerts by superstar DJ Armin Van Buuren, R&B giant Pharrell Williams and Britsh rock legends The Who.

Egyptian movie star Tamer Hosny, celebrity singer and award-winning Lebanese actress Carole Samaha, Emirati singer Faiz Al Saeed, and Palestinian Mohammed Assaf of ‘Arab Idol’ fame have also been confirmed to entertain race-goers at the Du Arena on 20th November.

For more ticket details, visit: http://www.yasmarinacircuit.com.

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F1 anaylsis: Mental strength key as Rosberg & Hamilton set for Yas Marina showdown

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Going to the wire: Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg on the podium in Brazil after the German outdrove his team-mate and championship leader to take the title race to a thrilling finale in Abu Dhabi.

Formula One’s power brokers long ago hatched a plan for the championship to be decided at the final race of the season.

And it will come down to just that in Abu Dhabi in two weekends time with Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg battling it out at Yas Marina for the drivers’ championship.

The merits of the rights and wrongs of the double points in Abu Dhabi will continue to be debated for the next two weeks and possibly in the aftermath too, depending on how things evolve at the season finale.

But what matters is that the championship is alive and kicking, made all the more mouth-watering by Nico Rosberg’s dominance throughout the Brazilian Grand Prix weekend.

In the end, he crossed the line barely a second-and-a-half ahead of his team-mate but Rosberg topped every session as he needed to at a circuit he has never really mastered.

The cynics will argue that Hamilton opted against taking any risks and settled for a safe second but the manner in which the Brit has driven this season and in seasons past that is not really his way.

That he stayed ahead is huge for Rosberg personally and the entire championship. Even when Rosberg’s been in the ascendancy in recent weeks, Hamilton has still found a way to scythe his way past and into the lead or force an error from his rival. Not this time.

There is no denying that he has struggled with the pressure of leading the championship and appears to be infinitely more at ease in the role of hunter.

He needs to repeat his Interlagos mantra of driving with nothing to lose in Abu Dhabi. Right now, he takes all the mental momentum into that final race, and Hamilton, never the greatest of poker players, cut a slightly deflated figure on the podium baffled that for once in a straight fight he was beaten by the better man.

Pressure is the key word in the ensuing days. There is no denying that both drivers would be deserving champions. Both are quick and together they have combined to create some pulsating spectacles.

How the sport’s kingmakers would dearly love them to still be going wheel to wheel on the final lap of the final race of the season.

The mathematical permutations of those double points, which remains a farce immaterial of the result, throw up all manner of possible outcomes.

Barring reliability issues, one can reasonably safely guarantee that the two Mercedes drivers will be comfortably ahead of the chasing pack – the third-placed man in Brazil, Felipe Massa, was another 40 seconds behind Hamilton.

However, Hamilton goes into the race knowing that if Rosberg wins then he cannot afford to finish anywhere other than second, and such pressure can play tricks on the mind, even for Britain’s most successful racer in history.

Then comes the whole issue of reliability. Should Hamilton crash out or be forced to retire with reliability issues, Rosberg merely needs to finish in the top five.

Usually, such a spot would give him just 10 points but in Abu Dhabi that would be double and sufficient to overhaul the 17-point gap in the title race. But Rosberg knows he probably has to go for broke in his quest to be world champion for the first time in his career.

History, though, is on Hamilton’s side. He has twice been on the Abu Dhabi podium and was victorious in 2011, while Rosberg has enjoyed a best finish of fourth place at the circuit.

Plus there is the matter that Hamilton has been there and done it, winning the 2008 title when the pressure mounted. Both the heart and head say that he will win and he has been the better racer over the course of the grands prix this season.

That’s to take nothing away from Rosberg, who was given no chance in a straight head-to-head with his team-mate by many on the eve of the season.

Sure, he does not quite thrill with his driving style like Hamilton does, the Briton oozing an edginess on and off track that appeals to the fans.

But the German’s level of consistency is impressive. Ok, there are not the Hamilton-esque fireworks but he can be quick lap after lap after lap.

Both drivers, race organisers and fans alike are licking their lips in anticipation of another decider at Yas Marina. How will it end? Only time will tell.

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