Formula One finds itself in a ‘very fragile state’ as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, which risks losing some of its 10 teams unless some big financial changes are swiftly made – according to McLaren boss Zak Brown.
The 2020-21 season has yet to start, with the outbreak forcing the Australian GP to be cancelled last month.
As well as the traditional opener in Melbourne, the showcase Monaco GP (May 24) has also been cancelled.
Six other race weekends on the calendar have been postponed so far, but that’s likely to increase in time too.
The sport has made some proactive changes, including postponing a planned major technical rule change from 2021 to 2022 while agreeing teams will use the same cars next year but Brown stressed more is needed.
During an exclusive interview with the BBC, the 48-year-old said: “Could I see – through what is going on right now in the world if we don’t tackle this situation head on very aggressively – two teams disappearing? Yeah. In fact, I could see four teams disappearing if this isn’t handled the right way.”
Brown said the economic and health situation meant it should not be assumed anyone would be lining up to take over any struggling teams.
“I don’t think the timing could be worse from that standpoint,” he added. “So I think F1 is in a very fragile state at the moment.”
Last week, McLaren became the first team to put staff on furlough while ratings agency Moody’s changed Formula One’s outlook to negative from positive.
Team bosses are to discuss cost-saving plans on a call today.
How can things be improved?
A $150m budget cap, still well above the spending levels of some smaller teams, will come into force next year but Brown indicated there was a push for it to be reduced further – possibly to $100m (£81.5m).
“You have everyone at $150m (£122m), and the strong majority – including one of the big teams – willing to come substantially under $150m,” he revealed.
Brown would not name teams, but BBC Sport understands the big team accepting of a lower cap are Mercedes, while Ferrari and Red Bull are resistant.
He believes a lower cost cap – with the same exemptions as now, such as driver salaries – would make the field more competitive by reducing the financial advantage of the big teams and give smaller sides a better chance of achieving good results.
“If we don’t make an aggressive enough budget cap and some people feel they have to top up this year and have no chance of getting it back,” he said, “then they ask themselves: Why are they in it?
“I don’t think anyone competes in F1 just to make up the numbers.”
There is also some discussion about a further postponement of the technical rule changes to 2023.