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Pat Symonds on Customer Cars

Renault’s engineering director, Pat Symonds, has added his voice to those expressing doubts about the idea of customer cars in F1. Like Mario Theissen of BMW, he feels that the legalizing of customer cars in 2008 will create a situation where there are only six manufacturers running two teams each and that the championship could be manipulated as a result.

Pat

Pat Symonds

But just a cotton-picking minute there – that’s two representatives of the manufacturers who fear that their companies will exploit the new rule to favor one driver, thereby winning the championship. Apart from the fact that this is unlikely since, if one manufacturer does it, they all will and that will cancel out any advantage they might have gained, why is it the potential manipulators who are suggesting such a scenario? I hear no complaints from the small teams who apparently face such a dismal future as the pawns of the big guys.

It seems to me that there is more going on here than meets the eye. The potential for devious tactics is not the real reason for the manufacturers’ doubts – that is just an excuse to justify their objection to the rule change. We must look elsewhere to find the motivation of the manufacturers, methinks.

Is it possible that they have looked at the history of F1 and fear the inventiveness, speed of reaction and dedication of small teams? To supply a chassis and engine to a customer team and then find that their customer has devised a tweak that makes their version of the car quicker would be unbearably embarrassing for a manufacturer. It is not beyond possibility.

So let us say that the big boss takes a walk down the pitlane and instructs his customers that, from now on, they must let the supplier’s lead driver win or the supply of chassis and engines will dry up. Well, we all know how leaky F1 teams are – it would not be long before the news made its way to the press and the resulting row would be far more embarrassing to the manufacturer than losing an occasional race to its own products. The Norberto Fontana revelation of last year may have been squashed very quickly by Peter Sauber but doubts linger in many minds, I’m sure.

The argument doesn’t float. In reality, the manufacturers don’t want their task of winning to be made even more difficult by the addition of small teams with competitive cars. It is hard enough already to beat the other manufacturers without having to consider the challenge of customer teams as well.

The suggested collusion by manufacturers raises another possibility that has not been mentioned. If they are prepared to stoop to such underhand dealing, what is to prevent them getting together and deciding to share out the championship between them? It would ensure that no manufacturer enjoys a long period of domination and hogs all the publicity as a result; if they take it in turns to win and get the marketing benefits, everyone is happy and avoids the possibility of never winning, something that they must all dread.

The fact is that the presence of small teams in F1 actually makes the possibilities for collusion much less. They would not be a part of any share-out of the spoils and will ruin any such attempt merely by competing to the best of their ability. And the customer car rule is the one remaining lifeline to such teams – without it they will be consigned to a Minardi-like existence, scrimping and scraping to get enough money together to continue for one more season.

So I’m sorry, Pat, but I just don’t believe you. You have one thing right, however:

“If you say that in 2008 you can do it (run customer cars), then does it really matter about things being pushed forward a year,” he said. “Many other rules have been pushed forward a year, is it really a big deal?

“On that basis, you would say it is a storm in a teacup. But it is easy for me to say that from a Renault perspective. If I was Spyker, I would not be at all happy about it. Rules are rules.”

Spyker may be complaining about the Toro Rosso and Super Aguri cars for the coming season but I haven’t heard that Colin Kolles objects to the 2008 rule change. Maybe that’s because he knows that Spyker haven’t the resources to compete with the really big manufacturers and might have to buy in a customer chassis themselves in future. They are already buying engines, after all.

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