A FORMULA One (F1) season without Ferrari would probably be like the English Premier League (EPL) without Manchester United.
Comparing Ferrari to the Red Devils would probably be like comparing apples with oranges, but the outcome would inevitably be the same if either one pulled out of their respective sport – a large irreplaceable void, and one that would certainly be felt by both fans and non-supporters alike.
While MU’s position of remaining in the EPL is as solid as their chances of winning this year’s premier league title, the situation with Ferrari is quite different.
Last month, F1’s governing body, the International Automobile Federation (FIA) announced that it was implementing an optional budget cap of £40mil for the 2010 season, with teams choosing to take up the budget cap being allowed greater technical freedom, together with unlimited testing.
On the other hand, teams choosing not to take up the budget cap may spend freely, but would have technical and testing constraints.
Ferrari, one of the more financially sound teams in the multi-billion-dollar sport, did not sit well with the decision, claiming that the move seemed to alienate the big-spending manufacturer-backed teams.
President Luca di Montezemolo called the move “fundamentally unfair and perhaps even biased” and “liable to create a two-tier hierarchy within the top flight,” and has threatened to pull out of F1 because of the new rules.
FIA president Max Mosley hit back, saying that “the sport could survive without Ferrari.”
F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone was quick to react to the brewing feud between Mosley and the Italian racing team, playing down the issue by saying that he didn’t think “Max really meant what he said,” according to a report by Reuters.
“He was just having a go at Luca a little bit. F1 is Ferrari and Ferrari is F1. It’s just a marriage made in heaven, one of those super things that work well,” Ecclestone was quoted as saying.
FIA’s reasons for the rule are obvious – to help sustain the sport through the world recession, make it more affordable and encourage new teams to take part.
It would also make competition more evenly balanced between the richer teams and the not so rich ones.
Such a move to reduce dominance by richer competitors in a sport is not new.
In North America, a “luxury tax” is imposed to prevent Major League Baseball teams with high incomes from signing almost all of the more talented players and hence, destroying the competitive balance necessary for a sport to maintain fan interest.
The money derived from the “tax” is then divided among the teams that play in the smaller markets to allow them to have more revenue to devote towards the contracts of high quality players.
The FIA has also increased the maximum number of competing cars to 26 from 24 for 2010, with Aston Martin and even Hyundai already in contention for a slot next year, according to reports.
But even with new faces and fresh blood, it just wouldn’t be the same without a powerhouse like Ferrari headlining the show.
The Maranello-based team is F1’s longest serving and arguably most loyal entrant, being the only team to have competed in every season since the official inception of the world championship in 1950.
Arguably, it has one of the biggest (if not the biggest) fan bases in the world.
Of the 600 million people who watched each race in 2008, Italy was the leading television market in Europe with nearly 38 million viewers.
A race without Ferrari would certainly have an impact on parties that rely on F1 to make money. International track operators, countries that depend on the sport to boost tourism and its commercial rights holder, Formula One Management, will surely sustain huge losses.
For the team sponsors, it would mean losing out on an opportunity to advertise their brands in front of over half a billion viewers per race.
A fan on a foreign motorsport forum summed it up best when he said “for Ferrari to leave F1 is to rip the very heart and soul of it.”
Millions would concur.
·Eugene Mahalingam is a journalist with StarBiz. He knows that if Ferrari leaves F1, his mum, along with millions of diehards, would be very disappointed.