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Formula 1 versus Premier League

Wednesday 12th February 2014

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It's good news that the F1 teams have finally been made to talk about budget caps. You can tell they are because Dieter Mateschitz has been moaning about it in the press. Don't expect progress any time soon, but at least it's back on the agenda.

Bernie Ecclestone likes to talk about F1 as being the most-watched sporting event after the Olympics and World Cups, but as the recent viewing figures revealed, Formula One with 450 million viewers doesn't get anywhere close to England's Premier League. And the reason why is because the teams are so unbalanced.

The Barclays Premier League is the most watched football league in the world, broadcasting to 212 territories with 80 different broadcasters. The TV audience for Premier League games over a season is 4.7billion* and the broadcasting deal for 2013-2016 will bring in a staggering £5.5 billion.

Is it any wonder that football clubs have been bought up by savvy US sports investors?

The reason that Premiership football is so attractive to television viewers is that the teams are relatively evenly matched. Any team can potentially beat any team on any given Saturday. Norwich can lose 7-0 away to Manchester City, but then hold them to a 0-0 draw at home, as they did last weekend. With neither Marussia or Caterham scoring a point since they got into the sport, the likelihood of an F1 'giantkilling' is not on the agenda.

Nobody can match Chelsea or Manchester City in the transfer market as they have rich backers, but even they are limited by European Football as to how much they can spend. Neither club can go on making a continual loss. If they win the league they'll pocket £100 million, but the team at the bottom that finishes 20th will still get £63 million.

F1 divides its money up so that the teams at the bottom get a fraction of what the winners get. And the winners are already funded at six or seven times the budgets of the smaller teams.

This means that the racing isn't so close, results are predictable and fans switch off. To continue the football analogy, in F1 there are four Premier League teams - Ferrari, Red Bull, McLaren and Mercedes.

There are three Championship sides - Lotus, Force India, Sauber. There are two League One sides - Toro Rosso and Williams (tipped for promotion), no League Two sides and two Conference sides - Caterham and Marussia.

That's like having a division made up of Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal - Blackpool, Sheffield Wednesday, Nottingham Forest - Walsall, Swindon - Barnet, Alfreton.

The diversity of the Premier League is the reason it is more popular than Spain's La Liga, or Italy's Serie A or the Bundesliga. Former Real Madrid, now Chelsea, manager Jose Mourinho moved to the Premier League for a much bigger challenge.

"In Spain you have two teams, Barcelona, Real Madrid, that is it," said the self-proclaimed 'Special One'.

Jean Todt has successfully steered F1 into a modern generation of efficient turbo engines. His next task is to pave the way for a radical overhaul of the way teams are funded and rewarded, so we have a less Dickensian grid of haves and have-nots.

With the Concorde Agreement (which determines commercial revenue split) in place until 2020 that's a depressingly long time away, but time enough to scale down the largest of operations.

By that time Bernie will be 89 and presumably the space reserved on the promenade at Eastbourne will be ready for him. Eddie Jordan loves droning on about how F1 owes so much to him for modernising the sport, but in reality, he has been holding it back for years. The objection to the new turbos on noise grounds is one reflection of the dinosaur thinking.

From a man who "doesn't do emails" it's hardly surprising .

Toto Wolff has already started to make noises about how Mercedes' relationship with McLaren is going to change during the course of their one and only season with the Mercedes 1.6 turbo.

Speaking to Autosport he said that it "wasn't an ideal situation" to have their 2015 competitors running the engine and that through the season the relationship was likely to change.

The fact that he's mentioning it at all is surely indicative of how good a start the Mercedes team has made to testing.

Had they been in the same situation as Red Bull, with just 21 laps run in Jerez, then Wolff would be begging McLaren for all the data they had and not mentioning the potential difficulties ahead.

This is likely to be one of the developing stories of 2014, the Mercedes - McLaren - Honda love triangle. Exactly which engine developments Mercedes give to their customer teams could be a very contentious point as the season progresses.

By Frank Hopkinson

*Figures from Barclays PL website

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