F1: Haas debut points to customer cars future for F1

After a point-scoring debut for Haas F1, their continued success in 2016 will leave F1 with a dilemma over customer cars. MotorSportNotes examines the reasons why Formula 1 continues to fight against customer cars in the modern era.

Customer cars are a taboo subject. Many F1 purists stick their fingers in their ears at its very mention. The Haas F1 operation will deny that they are a customer team racing in Formula 1 however by sourcing power unit, gearbox, hybrid technology, cooling, aerodynamics, chassis design and more from other suppliers – chiefly Ferrari and Dallara – they are only a few screws away from a complete customer package. F1 needs to face up to the reality that the purist approach to the design and build of cars is no longer compatible with the sport in the modern era.

‘Customer’ components

Much of the ground work for customer cars is already completed, even before the arrival of Haas F1 in 2016. Smaller teams regularly utilise components, gearboxes, electronics and similar from the larger ‘F1-only’ teams like Williams and McLaren. Many components are items that teams are free to source from rival teams (as well as external suppliers) within the existing regulations.

In the short-term, expanding that option could provide a lifeline to smaller teams and with the underlying principle (and acceptance of it) already in place, it is hard to understand why so many are so stubbornly against allowing it to run to a natural conclusion – customer cars. For a debut team, a previous season Williams or Ferrari chassis run would almost certainly be more reliable and quicker than a new chassis designed from the ground up. We just need to consider the troubles experienced by the once mighty partnership of McLaren and Honda for a painful example.

Hass F1
Haas F1 – as close to a customer car as Formula 1 will allow… and doing well.

We don’t want new teams!

The hideous costs of setting up essential kit like wind-tunnels and simulators mean barriers to entry in to the sport are gargantuan. Haas have cleverly exploited the loopholes in the rules to be able to build their car in a modular fashion and avoid those barriers. Customer cars could go a long way to resolving that issue without compromising the quality of the new teams.

The complexity of the cars and hybrid power units themselves would dictate that only the best could enter – with Haas a perfect example of motor sport pedigree and high levels of professionalism. Irrespective of that, why would the sport not wish to allow good teams like Force India and Williams to take the fight more regularly to the top teams? Each year most struggle because so much of their budget and resource is sucked in to designing their own cars, and often the output is not that good anyway.

The fear of being embarrassed

F1’s leading teams may recoil from customer cars perpetually for two reasons: firstly because F1 is not their core business and secondly, because they might get shown up by their customers.

IMG_5570
Red Bull with Mercedes power was Christian Horner’s ambition but fears over upstaging the factory Mercedes team scuppered the deal.

Of course a smaller team could marry up a better chassis/engine combo (it looks like we will have to just imagine a Red Bull with Merc power) or engineer better solutions for a chassis, but realistically what are the chances? Fairly slim and at any rate, the top teams would likely dictate supply terms to customer teams to help reduce that risk.

For example, contract that a Ferrari chassis must always be mated to a Ferrari power unit and so on.F1 needs to adhere to the principles of advancing cutting edge technology and innovation but customer cars would not destroy it. The quicker F1’s purists accept that, and understand that F1 is now run commercially as entertainment first and sport second, the better.

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