Why Formula One Constructors’ Championships Are Superior

Exploded F1 car, Mercedes World

As Formula One continues to surge as one of the most in-demand sports in the world, it’s important for new fans to understand it better, and that’s a big reason why I restarted The Avant Ivy. With that said, one of the biggest points of confusion for some has been why there are two championships, and how they work. One is the Constructors’ Championship and the other is the Formula One World Driver’s Championship, which is earned by individual drivers on track.

The Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (or FIA) is a Paris, France-based organization that acts as the governing body for most auto-racing entities. Formula One is the highest classification of single-seater cars under the FIA, and the Constructors’ Championship is presented to a Formula One team that has earned the most points given by the FIA in that season, regardless of the driver. Moreover, the Drivers’ World Championship and the Constructors’ Championship aren’t mutually exclusive to each other. For example, in the 2021 season, Red Bull’s Max Verstappen won his first championship, but Mercedes won the Constructors’ Championship. Meaning, Verstappen had the most points as a driver and Mercedes had the most points for their cars.

But what–exactly–is a Constructor?

In its most simplified terms, Constructors are the teams. Taking this a step further, they’re the manufacturers that develop the cars, and are responsible for creating the chassis and engines. In Formula One, teams “construct” their cars, as opposed to being delivered pre-packaged cars built by the FIA with instructions on how to maintain them throughout the season. The construction component really tests team engineers and mechanics, which is why budget management is so critical.

In conjunction to financial backing, it takes tremendous grit and talent to become a Formula One driver, and the same can be said for all of the talent on the grid, in the garages, and back in the factories, too. Some of these jobs entail technicians, engineers, mechanics, coordinators, marketing, craft services, etc. Some teams have a few hundreds employees, but as an example of why budget matters, Mercedes has 1,500–which includes 950 full-time employees who keep their Brackley facility going 24-hours a day, seven days a week. When a team earns a Constructors’ Championship, every single person from the team boss down to the janitors plays a critical role in achieving it.

The various roles within a team will be for another article. But considering the many things that can go wrong during the racing calendar, these men and women make incredible sacrifices to achieve automotive greatness. If racing drivers had to be their own data analysts and get into the wind tunnels to assess drag and downforce, or get muscle memory from changing a front left tire, they would’t have enough hours in the day to train and memorize the tracks. So when their drivers secure pole or the front row during qualifying, or win a race and hoist that trophy and magnums of champagne, that’s the work and celebration of hundreds of people and thousands of man hours.

The acknowledgment of the constructors goes back to 1958, and the first team championship in Formula One was called the International Cup for Formula One Manufacturers. In its 64-year history, there have been 170 chassis constructors, of which, just 15 have won the title. Ferrari holds the record for 16, followed by Williams at nine, and Mercedes at eight–which were all consecutive from 2014-2021. Mercedes currently holds the streak for consecutive titles, but this was when budgets were unlimited, so it’s anyone’s guess as to when this will be broken again.

Every Constructors’ Championship except for one have been won by works teams. These are racing teams that are factory-backed by either a vehicle manufacturer (such as Mercedes or Ferrari), or by a driver who is factory-backed by a vehicle manufacturer.

You might be wondering, “How is Red Bull a work’s team?” Red Bull was considered a “customer” team from 2007-2010, meaning the car was designed and built by a third party and sold to or leased to the customer team. In the 2011 season, Red Bull entered into a full-works partnership with car manufacturer, Renault, which lasted for 12 years. Red Bull is now also considered a Formula One engine provider called Red Bull Powertrains, even though the engine is Honda’s intellectual property. Because of this, throughout the ’22 season, Honda is responsible for assembling the Red Bull power unit and providing support, but Red Bull Powertrains will be taking over these aspects starting in 2023.

Most new Formula One fans will remember the drama between Red Bull team boss Christian Horner and Renault from Netflix’s “Drive to Survive.” When Red Bull made the move to Honda official, team boss Christian Horner said, “This […] signals the start of a new phase in Aston Martin Red Bull Racing’s efforts to compete, not just for grand prix wins, but for what is always our goals — championship titles.” Horner was impressed by Honda’s commitment to Formula One and “by the scope of their ambition, which matches our own.” In short, As a work’s team, Red Bull felt their goals to win championships–both via world titles and Constructors’ championships–weren’t aligning with Renault, despite it being one of the most prominent engine providers in Formula One.

These are some of the tough decisions constructors have to make. And while it might seem dramatic, when you’re spending north of $140 million every season on top of nine months of almost consecutive travel, decisions will always be determined and motivated by results.

For those who are wondering what happened to Renault, they reorganized and are now Alpine, which is most identifiable with Le Mans. Thankfully Renault’s rebrand has found success in Formula One with experienced drivers in Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon.

Traditionally, fans find drivers to be the most identifiable and they gravitate towards them because of their personality traits. For others (such as Mercedes or Aston Martin fans or owners), the car manufacturer itself drives fans’ support. And if you’re a sponsor or a fan of one, your loyalty typically follows the driver. This puts a tremendous amount of focus on the drivers, which is why team operations and obligations are often overlooked. You rarely see journalists like Sky Sports’ Natalie Pinkham pluck pit crew members off the grid and ask them things when a team boss is available. This could be due to a number of contractual reasons, but it does contribute to ancillary staffers being ghosts on the grid–even though they’re in plain sight.

The irony is that they’re the most important people on and off the grid.

Another thing to consider is that driver and boss salaries aren’t included in the Constructors’ budget cap. For example, the current cap is $140 million, but Max Verstappen has a contract that pays him $53.3 million-per-year and Horner is paid $10 million annually. If those two salaries impacted the budget, Red Bull would have just $76.7 million to work with. Currently, teams are sparring over how to handle inflation issues later in the 2022 season, but it’s hard to see where Verstappen would be able to finish the season if Red Bull didn’t have the money to pay its operations and development bills.

I wrote a previous article on why Formula One has to expand the cap to combat inflation. But a comment suggested that another way to mitigate this issue could be to have an inflation clause baked into the cap agreement, giving teams discretion and flexibility in the event of economic issues. Formula One has already had to weather furlough storms in the past, so it should be exploring every option possible to ensure the sport as competitive as possible– especially as F1 continues to become more and more profitable.

This profit is driven–in part–to Formula One experiences, so F1 president and CEO Stefano Domenicali has to prioritize the constructors’ segment to encourage the competitive driving we saw at the end of race in Silverstone this year. You can have an entire pre-race pit lane full of celebrities and world-class DJ’s playing post-race parties, but you wouldn’t have any of that if it weren’t for the work that goes on in the garages.

While a lot of the focus is on the drivers, I hope this article explains why constructors are the backbone of the sport, and why that success of the drivers hinges on how effective Formula One constructors are.

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