The demise of the Caterham F1 team has been taking place in recent days, with a very public slanging match over who owns what.
This occurred after an administrator was appointed for the Caterham Sports Ltd company, which provided various services for the franchise-holder, Malaysia-based 1MRT.
The administrator has since been throwing his weight around, refusing to allow the cars to leave the premises and locking out the staff. It is not clear whether the company in administration actually owns the cars or the factory, but the administrator is acting as though it does.
The bottom line is that Caterham will almost certainly not be seen in Texas next week for the United States Grand Prix. The team’s entry will not be written off immediately, however, as the various agreements that exist in F1 allow a team to miss three races in a single season if it cannot be avoided.
The franchise-holding company is still solvent so there is no reason for the rights and benefits to disappear immediately. However, if the franchise is to have any value at all, someone needs to submit an entry for next year in the next few weeks. It is unlikely that anyone will be a position to do that, or would be willing to pay the entry fees involved without being certain of being able to field a team.
If the team does not go to the last three races it gives up the chance to receive $90 million over the course of the next two seasons, which would be payable if the team could finish tenth in this year’s constructors' championship. To do that, Caterham would need to one tenth-place finish (as long as Sauber did not do the same or better).
A ninth place would move Caterham ahead of Marussia and up to ninth in the constructors' standings. This is not likely to happen, but in a race such as the Brazilian Grand Prix there is often a high attrition rate, so anything is possible.
In order for that to happen, however, it needs to be established who owns 1MRT and who owns the cars. It would then require the cars and a team to run them to be sent to Austin.
The closure of the team is obviously a disaster for the staff at Leafield and for the team’s suppliers, but it could end up being good news for the rest of the F1 world. While it is not good to lose a team, it does mean that only ten teams are left. As only ten teams are paid prize money, under the existing agreements, this means that no-one is going to miss out.
The prize fund is based on the performance of a team, with the amount of money on offer being somewhere between $100 million for the world champions to around $45 million to the tenth-placed team. There are additional bonuses for the three teams that have won the most number of races in the last four years, which are currently Red Bull, McLaren and Ferrari, but the Maranello team will soon drop out of that clique and be replaced by Mercedes.
If there is no 11th team then there is no longer any need for some of the back markers to try too hard. The money will come whether one finishes a minute behind the winner, or two laps down. While the racers would prefer to be fighting for success, this is a useful thing in the battle to survive.
This will be true in 2015 and 2016 because any new team needs to race for two years to be eligible for the various prize funds, which means that the top ten will continue to the same until the end of the 2017 season.