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OPINION: Time for the FIA to address Formula One’s cash-flow problem

13:37 07 November 2014

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton holds up an oversized, mock Brazilian passport given to him by TV comedians during a press conference in Sao Paulo - ahead of this weekend

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton holds up an oversized, mock Brazilian passport given to him by TV comedians during a press conference in Sao Paulo - ahead of this weekend's Brazilian Grand Prix.

After a thrilling United States Grand Prix at Austin, the one thing that stood out most was the fact there were only 18 cars on the grid.

With both Caterham and Marussia missing after going into administration, the whole weekend had a different feel from recent years. Qualifying was changed to suit an 18-car grid, making the early stages less exciting – there was no real interest in whether one of the new teams would be able to make it through to the next round.

Also with various reports of a boycott threat from Force India, Sauber and Lotus over their disappointment at the smaller teams not having the financial backing and support of the FIA, there was also a fear of a repeat of what happened at the 2005 US Grand Prix – when only six cars started the race. Fortunately this did not happen.

For Marussia, this is just another event in a series of what can be considered bad luck or bad management of the sport by the FIA. With Jules Bianchi still is hospital in a critical but stable condition after his crash in Suzuka and the team now in administration, the cost is highest for them.

Looking back at the Monaco Grand Prix, Bianchi managed to secure the team its first points in Formula One and currently Marussia sit ninth in the constructor’s championship after Sauber failed to take advantage in Austin.

With two races left it will be touch and go whether Sauber can take advantage of Marussia’s absence. If Marussia can hold on to ninth, it will attract not only interest from a new buyer but more sponsorship. And there is hope they will continue to be on the grid for next season.

For Caterham however I am less hopeful. In my opinion Caterham’s demise has come from their previous owner Tony Fernandes preferring to put money elsewhere. After Fernandes bought Queens Park Rangers Football Club in 2011, his interest in Formula One seemed to wane as he concentrated on putting finances into them – we all know how much money they’ve spent on players!

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Earlier this season he sold the team claiming that “F1 hasn’t worked”. Unfortunately in the world of F1 you need commitment – amongst other things – to succeed. As we’ve seen from Toyota in the past, entering as a new team and expecting immediate success doesn’t happen.

The bittersweet reality of F1 is that to succeed you need money – and to get money, you need to succeed.

Equality of funding from the FIA is something that must and will be looked into, to avoid any further teams dropping out.

Amazing Austin

Despite the missing cars, the weekend did not disappoint. It was a great watch and mesmerising from the first practise session through to the end. Something that can’t be said about a lot of other grand prix.

During practice Lewis Hamilton seemed to have a slight edge over his team-mate and title rival Nico Rosberg. But as soon as it came to qualifying, for whatever reason his advantage was gone as Rosberg seemed to have the better of him. Whether that was down to track evolution or Rosberg playing mind games, I can only guess – but it made thrilling watching.

All of a sudden Hamilton had gone from dominating to struggling to keep pace with his team-mate, blaming brakes locking up and car setup issues.

Come the race, I feared what was going to happen at the first corner. Would Hamilton try a gung-ho move – much like Rosberg did in Sochi at the previous grand prix? Would he get a poor start from the dirty side of the grid?

But in reality he concentrated on what he had to do and didn’t let his team-mate get in his head.

Throughout the race Hamilton drove what I would consider one of his best drives ever – not for brave overtaking manoeuvres, but for how mature it was.

He kept pace with his team-mate while limiting his tyre and fuel usage. He was patient, driving flawlessly behind Rosberg, waiting for the perfect time to make his move.

When it came to it, his overtake on Rosberg was a brilliant late lunge up the inside. But possibly the most important thing about his drive was the slight tweak of front wing he added in the pit stop just before. This enabled him to have the extra front grip and build a small lead, while Rosberg was left to complain of understeer.

Hamilton’s driving skill was not the only action on display; there were battles throughout the field. Lotus pairing Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado were going for some rare points, along with Jean-Eric Vergne fighting to get a drive for next year.

Jenson Button and team-mate Kevin Magnussen both had a good fight with Fernando Alonso, as well as both Williams fighting with Daniel Ricciardo for valuable points towards the constructors’ standings.

There was so much action during the race, at times I didn’t know where to look!

My personal highlight though was probably the last lap. Even though Hamilton had crossed the line and celebrated victory, the race continued down the field as Sebastian Vettel had his late charge into the points, while Maldonado and Vergne were also fighting for position.

The amount of actual racing we’ve seen in Austin – rather than the dull ‘follow the leader’ races we often see at other tracks – cements its place as one of the better circuits on the calendar and one to always look forward to.

Also – and I never thought I would say this – but credit has to go to Pastor Maldonado. Yes you did read that correctly. Not only did he score his first championship points of the season, but he also didn’t crash. How long that will continue for though is anyone’s guess.

After the race when the top three drivers entered the pre-podium room you could overhear Rosberg chatting to a member of the Mercedes team – and judging by his body language and tone, he was not happy.

It sounded like Rosberg was questioning his team’s decisions during the race. With double points to come in the last race, the championship is still wide open. If Rosberg begins to question his team’s decisions now, it will give Hamilton the boost to continue his fine form and secure his second championship.

Onwards to Interlagos

The next grand prix in Brazil is just a week after Austin, and the circuit at Interlagos has always been a personal favourite.

The elevation changes, the number of fans in the stands and the unique weather systems that pop up all add to the action and entertainment.

With such a short time between the US and Brazil races I’m expecting a lively weekend and with the chance of rain, this could be a decisive race in the championship.

In the famous word’s of Murray Walker, “Anything happens in grand prix racing, and it usually does”.

Richard Baxter is a member of the EDPF1 Podcast crew. You can follow Richard Baxter on Twitter @Bax_kid

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