Ex-Formula 1 driver Marc Surer in an interview with F1-Insider.com. This is what the TV expert says about the current situation in Formula 1.
Mr. Surer, how has the corona pandemic affected your business?
Marc Surer (68): I was hired by Swiss television for ten races in which I should explain Formula 1 as an expert on site. That means I’ve already lost half of it. Now I have to wait and see if I can catch this up again – for example through future analysis from the studio.
Red Bull took matters into its own hands and presented a concept under which races can be driven. Preparations are now underway for the first two races of the season in Spielberg at the beginning of July. How do you rate the commitment of the Austrians?
Definitely positive and with a clear announcement for Formula 1. Red Bull boss Dietrich Mateschitz even has to spend a lot of money for this, because without viewers, Red Bull as the organizer lacks important income. I am impressed.
How deep has Corona plunged Formula 1 into the crisis?
Let’s put it this way: Although the promoter Liberty lacks spectators on the track, the fact that the cars drive helps in case of the television and sponsors revenue. But you have to the small teams now to save them from possible bankruptcy. Liberty has to do something about that.
Which teams do you mean?
Haas on top. Gene Haas doesn’t need Formula 1, he does it out of pure passion. But only up to a certain limit. If he can no longer afford it, he will pull the plug. Then I add Williams and the former Sauber team, which is now called Alfa Romeo, but still has the same owners. I even see Red Bull’s “B” team Alpha Tauri at risk, because Didi Mateschitz will definitely not continue if the team writes only red numbers. McLaren, Renault and Racing Point – which will start as Aston Martin factory team next year – I see them in the midfield of financial strength. There’s no need to worry too much about the three big Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari.
What does Formula 1 have to do to be well positioned after the crisis?
The budget cap is extremely important and easy to control. If you want new teams, you have to make Formula 1 financially palatable and not ask them to develop their own car for tens of millions, for which you need a sinfully expensive wind tunnel. The Haas model is a good concept. They buy all parts from Ferrari that are permitted by the regulations. For example, you don’t have to develop a steering wheel yourself and save much money. But I would go even further: Why not allow, for example, to buy a Mercedes from last year and then use it? A new team would not be able to win with it, but it would be well positioned for relatively little money.
What balance of power can we expect for the start of the season?
It will be similar to the Barcelona winter test. Mercedes and Red Bull were best, while Ferrari was a bit behind. The problem is that since then, no important data has been obtained to improve the car. A simulator, as good as it may be, simply cannot replace the tests on track. At Ferrari, there is another problem: For the first time, they built a car that follows the concept of Red Bull designer Adrian Newey. They lose speed on the straight, but are faster in the corners due to more downforce. Such an extreme new concept takes a lot of time and experience on the track to understand it properly. They will need some races for that.
How do you see the future of Sebastian Vettel?
It would be ideal in my view, if he switched to Mercedes. I don’t see a big future for him at Ferrari. Yes, it would look like an escape from Charles Leclerc, but if he took the title for Mercedes, it would be quickly forgotten. For Mercedes, a commitment from Vettel would also be worthwhile if successful. Because then they could finally market a German world champion. The last one, Nico Rosberg, resigned immediately after winning the title.
Wouldn’t Lewis Hamilton stand in Vettel’s way at Mercedes?
I don’t think so. I have the impression that Lewis will throw in the towel and will stop if he wins the next title. Lately he’s been just been too critical about the appearance and the whole environment of Formula 1. That’s why I got this impression.
Who are the drivers who, in your opinion, that shape F1 and are therefore important for the fans?
I see four superstars that are all about: Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel, Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc. The others are more or less just followers and have to queue up behind.
As a former head of motorsport at BMW, you know very well what makes automobile companies tick. In the current situation and with the environmentally-oriented world, can Mercedes and Co. still afford Formula 1 financially and in terms of image?
In terms of image definitely. With their hybrid engines, they show how innovative and future-oriented they are. The electric motors are charged while driving, so they are way ahead of the times. If the bio fuel comes, it will be perfect.