Mercedes motorsport head Toto Wolff has revealed that Formula One’s current dominant team has been approached by three other constructors over the possibility of acquiring so-called “customer cars”.
Formula One chief executive Bernie Ecclestone has offered to facilitate an arrangement where leading manufacturers supply cars to smaller teams at a fixed price, if competition rules can be amended.
Critics of the concept believe it will entrench a two-tier structure to F1, although those in favour would point to the financial struggles of teams such as Manor Marussia, Sauber, Lotus and Force India to demonstrate that teams already do not compete on a level financial footing and that something must be done to alleviate such pressures felt towards the back end of the grid.
Force India and Lotus use Mercedes power units but have said that they wish to continue making their own cars as the current rules outline. Nevertheless, Wolff, executive director of business at Mercedes, is in favour of a customer car model as a contingency for struggling teams.
“It's interesting they say that because three of them came to see me (on Friday) about whether we could supply customer cars to them,” Wolff said ahead of Sunday's Monaco Grand Prix, according to the Reuters news agency.
"I think we need to have a contingency plan in place and customer cars, or franchises, we have seen that in other sports, in Nascar, and it functions pretty well. So if the contingency is about supplying our cars to customer teams, hopefully current teams, then yes we will be looking very much into it.
"I think it is a good model. As a contingency plan it works, and if we can find a business case around it, we shouldn't rule it out."
There was no statement made on customer cars following a recent Strategy Group meeting between the top six F1 teams, the International Automobile Federation (FIA) and Ecclestone, although the concept was reported to have been discussed, while the F1 supremo appears to be broadly in favour.
"You make all the chassis the same and we do a deal with one of the engine suppliers. It should work," Ecclestone said. "We’ll supply two chassis complete by January 1 for $15m (€13.2m). We’ll pay. If it costs more we have to pay more, if it’s less that’s good for us. And they have to race. The lowest team gets $50m anyway, so they would have two cars, plus $35m.”