Toto Wolff has been vocal in the off-season. From speaking about Lewis Hamilton’s impending contract extension to the Force India rivalry between Perez and Ocon to even commending Formula E’s efforts, the Mercedes man has ensured that he has voiced his point of view on most topics.
I thought it was a case of excessive PR when Wolff commented that the ‘Alfa Romeo-Sauber’ alliance was a threat to Mercedes. But it also got me thinking about the title and the objective of this post. Firstly, why would an Alfa Romeo partnership with a lowly (currently) team like Sauber bother the dominating world champion team? Was it the technology exchange, the junior driver opportunity, the balance in politics, or was there something else not discussed in the public domain bothering Wolff and hence Mercedes? Secondly, if Mercedes wanted, they could explore similar partnerships with their customer teams – Force India and Williams.
Ferrari are reportedly in discussions with Haas F1 Team for a partnership with ‘Maserati’ and this could mean that apart from their works team, Ferrari could indirectly control two other teams on the current grid. IF Mercedes follow suit and end up partnering (a la Ferrari and Sauber style) with their customers, there’s a chance that Ferrari and Mercedes could control six teams, or basically 60% of the current grid.
IF this were to happen, Liberty Media will face a tough time negotiating contracts, payouts, rules and regulations for the future – mainly around the engines and team costs. In the political balance of Formula 1, the scales would be tilted towards Ferrari and Mercedes and maybe this is why there’s an increase in the posts about Ferrari and Mercedes’ friendship off-track. Again, Wolff praised Marchionne’s management style a few weeks ago and even distanced him from Ferrari’s failure to win titles in 2017.
It is public knowledge that the health of the minnows isn’t good and this is where Ferrari and Mercedes’ financial partnerships would be tempting for their customer teams. The cost of a few million dollars in partnership could yield a benefit of a few hundred million dollars for Ferrari and Mercedes, if this game plays out the way it could. Also, Liberty Media would then be vary of a Ferrari and / or Mercedes exit from the sport as it could lead to a destabilisation with at least six teams impacted; unless the new owners are able to still work on a payout model that would help the minnows build a long-term business rather than trudge along from season to season.
With all these possibilities, could Formula 1 be reduced to a Ferrari vs. Mercedes playground in the future? Yes, I mean on-track and off it. The worry long before the hybrid turbo regulations came into play was the possible shift of power and balance towards the manufacturer teams and that’s exactly what has happened. This adds to my previous conclusion that Ferrari and Mercedes are controlling the competitive quotient on the current grid and this could only get worse if they end up extending their ‘partnerships’ in the paddock. And also, Ferrari and Mercedes indirectly controlling Fernando Alonso’s fate in Formula 1!