Formula 1 is in danger of not having any sprint events this year as a result of a stand-off over money, says McLaren boss Zak Brown.
F1 had an agreement in principle from the teams to increase the number of sprints from three to six in 2022.
But eight out of 10 teams need to agree on details to secure the sprints, and some are holding out for more money.
Brown said F1 “might not” find a way out of the impasse, adding: “That would be unfortunate.”
In a wide-ranging news conference Brown also:
- Addressed the controversy of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix
- Discussed Lewis Hamilton’s future
- Said he had heard the VW Group would enter F1 with Red Bull
What is the problem over the sprint races?
The sprint events were new last year. Held at the British, Italian and Brazilian Grands Prix, they introduced a short race on Saturdays in place of qualifying, which set the grid for the main event on Sunday.
F1 has shown the teams data that proves the sprint events increased audience figures and sponsorship income.
Last year a financial deal was agreed to provide the teams with a small payment to offset potential damage from more racing.
But Brown said the big teams were trying to take advantage of this by pushing for a larger than necessary increase in the budget cap, which is set at $140m (£103m) this year.
“A couple of teams, and one team in particular, wanted a $5m budget cap increase, which was just ridiculous,” Brown said.
“And no rational facts behind it. When you challenged them, they go to what if and could and you’ve got to anticipate. You sit there and go ‘This is just nonsense.'”
F1 rules dictate that for a change in the rules to be instigated in the calendar year of the championship, eight teams need to agree to it. So teams can hold F1 to ransom if they can get others to agree.
To agree to the sprint events for the 2023 season requires only five teams to agree, and Brown said F1 should vote that through first and then try to agree on this season.
“Maybe there can be a compromise raised and we raise it a little bit, and we start in 2022 or we skip 2022, and a couple of these teams should have to explain to the fans why there is no sprint races,” he said.
Brown said the row over sprint races was one example of a problem with F1 governance where the voting protocols are exploited by the big teams pressuring smaller outfits with whom they have links to vote in their favour.
Abu Dhabi ‘felt like a pantomime audition’
Brown said he had “a lot of confidence” in new FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem to resolve the controversy over the Abu Dhabi GP.
The FIA is conducting an inquiry into the events at the season finale, where race director Michael Masi failed to apply the rules correctly in a late safety-car period, resulting in the destiny of the world title changing hands from Hamilton to Max Verstappen.
Brown said: “We can be focused on Abu Dhabi but if we look at the last couple of years at the variety of incidents, Abu Dhabi is just one of them, and let’s not forget that the teams had a big say in how the sport is policed.”
He said Abu Dhabi “felt like a pantomime audition” as the Mercedes and Red Bull team bosses Toto Wolff and Christian Horner lobbied Masi for decisions to be made in their favour in conversations that were broadcast on television.
“It was probably good for TV that the mic was open,” Brown said. “But we see it created some habits that have created some decisions that maybe weren’t the right decisions.”
Brown said the FIA needs to be seen to have conducted a thorough inquiry that explained what happened and why, what went wrong and what it is doing to make sure it does not happen again.
“For those that might have a view of ‘the sport’s corrupt etc’, I don’t agree with that,” he said.
“Do I think potentially a different decision could have been made? Yes, probably. I want to wait to see what the FIA comes out with but I don’t think it was malicious and therefore I don’t think it’s corrupt.”
Hamilton is waiting to see how the FIA responds to the Abu Dhabi controversy before making a decision on whether to return to F1 this season, but Brown said he expects the seven-time champion to be on the grid.
“I’m sure he’s very angry,” Brown said. “But I think race-car drivers want to race and he’s a fighter and he will want to come back and win an eighth world title. I don’t think he’s ready to retire.”
But he said: “I don’t know Lewis that well. I wouldn’t be shocked if he stopped. I don’t think anyone should take for granted he’s coming back.
“We shouldn’t discount or not recognise his frustration and anger. And maybe he hasn’t made a decision and maybe what he’s doing is taking time to make his decision, because once it’s made, it’s made.
“So I don’t think we should rule it out or make light of it. I just think he still has a burning desire to race and that will ultimately drive his decision.
Will VW come to F1?
The Volkswagen Group is considering whether to make an F1 entry but Brown rejected claims that McLaren had agreed a deal with the German giant.
Instead, he said he believed VW’s Porsche brand would enter F1 in partnership with Red Bull.
“I’m hearing they are going to do something with Red Bull on the Porsche front,” Brown said.
He said McLaren had spoken to VAG about F1 but said the team were committed to engine supplier Mercedes until the end of the current power-unit regulations in 2025.
“They’ve spoken with a handful of people on the grid, and we had conversations,” Brown said. “But in the short term and medium term we are very happy where we are.
“So we are just going to wait and see are they going to come into the sport, because that’s not been definitively decided.
“If they do, we have a contract through this term and naturally we’re going to evaluate where we are and take a decision on what we do in 2026 in due course.”