Formula 1 is “in a very fragile state” due to the coronavirus crisis and needs big changes to survive, said McLaren boss Zak Brown.
“It’s potentially devastating for the teams, and if [it is devastating] enough teams – which doesn’t necessarily mean more than two teams – so very threatening for F1 as a whole, “he said.
Cost reduction plans will be discussed at a meeting of F1 bosses on Monday.
But the teams are divided on the best way to protect the sport.
Brown, speaking in an exclusive interview with BBC Sport, believes that the budget cap of $ 175 million (£ 143 million), which is expected to take effect in 2021, must be significantly reduced, or the sport risks disaster potential.
“Can I see – through what’s going on in the world right now if we don’t tackle this situation very aggressively – two teams disappear? Yeah, “said Brown, CEO of McLaren Racing.
“In fact, I could see four teams disappear if it is not managed properly.
“And then, given the time it takes to build up an F1 team, and given the economic and health crisis in which we are currently, think that there would be people lined up to take over these teams as there always has been … I don’t think the timing could be worse from this point of view.
“So I think F1 is in a very fragile state at the moment. “
Why lower the budget ceiling?
F1 and the teams have already agreed to a series of changes to cut costs as the sport faces a significant drop in revenue following the cancellation of the races.
These include delaying until 2022 a major rule change that was to take effect in 2021, and forcing teams to use the same cars this year and next year.
Brown says all teams have now agreed to reduce the budget ceiling to $ 150 million (£ 122 million) in 2021, but he thinks it needs to go down further.
“You have everyone at $ 150 million, and the vast majority – including one of the big teams – are set to significantly exceed $ 150 million,” he said.
Brown would not name teams, but BBC Sport understands that the big team accepting a lower cap is Mercedes, while Ferrari and Red Bull are tough.
Brown has proposed a limit of $ 100 million (£ 81.5 million) and would be willing to compromise on $ 125 million (£ 102 million).
He believes that a lower cost cap – with the same exemptions as now, like driver salaries – would make the field more competitive by reducing the financial advantage of large teams and give better teams better chances of getting good results.
“If we don’t set a sufficiently aggressive budget ceiling and some people feel they need to recharge this year and have no chance of getting it back,” he said, “then they wonder: why are them in it?
“I don’t think anyone is participating in F1 just to make up the numbers. “
What is the opposite view?
Those arguing for keeping the budget ceiling at $ 150 million argue that many smaller teams are not even spending as much, so reducing it would not help them survive financially.
Red Bull team director Christian Horner told BBC Sport in an interview last week that the budget cap was “secondary” and that “lowering the cost of the race” was more important.
Brown argued, “In football, when everyone knows that Manchester United or Liverpool are going to win more often than not, every team has a chance to beat them, and in F1 it’s just not the case.
“And some teams put their sporting interests long before the greatest good and miss out on the fact that they really run the risk of compromising the sport – and then we will all lose.
“You could almost think they are uncomfortable having a fair fight with teams they may not have considered a competitor before, and they might be uncomfortable with have a fair fight because they were never actually part of one. “
“Sport in my mind is a chance for everyone to compete in a fair and fairly equitable way. It’s like a heavyweight boxer who only wants to fight middleweights. “
He described the reduction of the budget ceiling to $ 150 million as “rounding the edges” at a time when some companies “are adjusting half of their business, not 14 percent.”
The biggest teams also suspect that some of their rivals are using the current crisis as a rare opportunity to hinder the big teams.
There is also a divergence on what to do in the event of a regulatory delay. Brown is among those who want their entry into force in 2022, as currently agreed, but Horner is pushing for them to be delayed for another year until 2023.
Brown says he expects the meeting to be tense.
“There is a gap,” he says. “Not a 50-50 ditch. I would say it’s over 80-20. The reality is that you can survive with 80% (of the teams), but you cannot survive with 20. ”
What about McLaren’s leave?
Last week, McLaren became the first team to admit that it had put staff on leave in response to the lack of racing.
Brown said it was “the hardest decision I have had to make” but said McLaren had no choice even if they are one of the wealthiest teams outside of the three first.
“Although we are a well-funded racing team,” he said, “everyone has their limits – and when it comes to F1, it’s no secret that we are losing a lot of money and my shareholders want value creation from F1. So just letting the losses widen is not an option.
“I don’t have an unlimited checkbook, so that was the responsible thing to do, and frankly I’m disappointed but not surprised that a lot of teams haven’t already followed suit.
“I know some have done it, but others haven’t. And I think there is a real danger in F1 that we, as an industry, get our heads in the sand on matters and now is not the time to put our heads in the sand. “