One of the most highly charged and controversial lingering issues on the F1 agenda – namely whether major teams should be permitted to sell so-called ‘customer cars’ – to the smaller independent entrants – will be high on the agenda of this week’s Formula Commission meeting which is scheduled to take place in Geneva on Thursday.
It has long been a central tenet of the F1 business that any competitor wanting to compete in the world championship should design and build their own car, even though that has been diluted somewhat by Red Bull supplying technology to their associates at Scuderia Torro Rosso and McLaren providing collaboration to both the Force India and Virgin outfits.
However, back in the 1970s independent ‘customer cars’ were a regular feature of the F1 landscape – Frank Williams, for example, reinventing his team in 1977 with a private March 761 chassis – and some top teams would like them to reappear.
Williams fielded a customer March chassis in 1977
It is understood that topics included on the agenda in Geneva include discussing the precise definition of a ‘constructor’ along with a debate about whether the placement of staff at other teams could give rise to an illegal sharing of ‘confidential intellectual property.’
McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh insisted, however, that the scope of the partnerships between McLaren Applied Technologies and the Force India and Virgin Racing teams were totally within the terms of the Concorde Agreement.
"I am very comfortable that we comply," he said, when asked by Autosport about the situation. "When we went into the first contract, the schedule of works and the contract was shared with the FIA and with FOM, and we also at that time wrote to the teams and explained what we were doing, and why it was compliant. And we have kept with what we said we were doing at that point.
"With Marussia [Virgin], we wrote to FOM and the FIA. Inevitably it is a competitive environment and I think we have seen Force India as a competitive team, so I suspect that raises people's concerns maybe. I didn't personally put it on the agenda [for the F1 Commission] so I cannot tell you the motivation behind it."
Ferrari has made no secret of its desire to expand customer relationships to full-blown customer cars in the future, but Whitmarsh made it very clear that McLaren was against such a move. Under the terms of the current Concorde Agreement a maximum 12 teams are permitted to compete, but if customer cars were permitted there is a feeling that there would be mounting pressure to expand the number of competitors on the grid.
Established teams which have paid their dues by establishing themselves as constructors after a hard slog may feel alarmed at any such change in the rules of engagement.