Cast your mind back to the landscape of motorsport in a post-2008 financial crisis world. Where things were absolutely hopping in 2007, it was like the rug was pulled out from under the whole mess in 2008. Sponsors and teams jumped ship, whether out of an abundance of caution, an actual fear for the bottom line, or simply the perception of being seen frivolously spending while millions were out of work. If you’re a manufacturer, racing is an easy line item to cut. If you’re a sponsor, it’s even easier.
Post-2008 was rough with the departure of Honda, Super Aguri, Toyota, and BMW in quick succession from Formula One, Suzuki and Subaru left WRC, Peugeot ditched the WEC in the middle of a testing weekend after struggling through to 2011. Hell, even Dodge pulled out of NASCAR as it became a less favorable proposition in 2013. It was bleak.
FIA President, Jean Todt, is worried that the same thing might happen in a post-coronavirus impacted economy. Twelve years on, and we’re facing the same problem. While he doesn’t mention any specific teams or sponsors, in a recent discussion with the FIA’s proprietary magazine Auto, Todt expressed his fears.
“I don’t think that the priority now for a manufacturer is to secure continuity in motor racing. I’m sure some teams, suppliers and manufacturers may have to review their programs. They might be constrained to stop.
“I hope team owners and sponsors will keep the motivation. We must encourage them to feel they still like it and need it. On that, we have a responsibility. That’s why we should listen to everybody.
“We must be humble; even if we love motorsport, it is not essential for society. So we have to ensure that we make proper choices and wise decisions. In fact, what’s needed is a complete rethink of how we go motor racing.
“In fact, what’s needed is a complete rethink of how we go motor racing. We could talk of a ‘New Deal’ approach, like America had after the Great Depression”.
The world has been completely rocked by this global pandemic, the likes of which haven’t been seen for over 100 years. The World Health Organization wasn’t made aware of covid-19 until December 1st, and here we are just 6 months later with a quarter of a million dead and nearly 4 million infected with the virus.
The FIA is more than a simple sanctioning body, it is basically a government for global motorsport, and saying it needs to implement a “New Deal” is intriguing. Does this mean the FIA will pour resources into motorsport infrastructure investment all over the world to help alleviate the financial pain of regional racing clubs? What does a public works project in motorsport look like? Will Seb Vettel be out digging new drainage for the Kyalami circuit?
Formula One is already hurting in terms of manufacturer involvement. It’s got Mercedes, Honda, Ferrari, and Renault as its four powerplant suppliers, but new motorsport money has increasingly been transitioning to the Formula E paddock, which is seen as an investment in green. Which is more important right now? Fast or green?
The motorsport world, it could be argued, never really recovered from the 2008 financial crisis. WRC is down to just Ford, Toyota, and Hyundai. The World Endurance Championship currently counts just Toyota in its LMP1 class, and the GTE class is limited to Porsche, Ferrari, and Aston Martin. That championship is supposed to be replacing its top-flight class later this year with a new formula, but even that isn’t panning out. And that was before coronavirus went and completely fucked the world.
How many teams can survive the probable long-lasting economic recession that is on its way caused by a global pandemic? Hell, how many series can survive? Maybe Jean Todt is right to be concerned.