2009 simply a battle to survive for many Formula One teams
Portimao, Portugal - The mood has been sober during Formula One testing this week on the Portuguese Algarve with many of those involved in the sport more concerned about merely making it through the 2009 season than the upcoming battle for championship points.
"It's about surviving," said Renault team principal Favio Briatore candidly at the circuit in Portimao, where testing by five F1 teams continues until Thursday. "We have never had such a critical moment as this one."
Pressure on all teams has increased significantly since Honda's shock withdrawal from the sport late last year and with the global financial crisis apparently growing by the week, more and more teams are looking to the future with grave concern.
"We need a strong season to have a future," said Toyota team boss John Howett. "I don't know if a win is a necessity to ensure we continue but we certainly feel like we have to secure a race victory."
Howett has demanded that F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone hand over a greater share of the sport's marketing revenue to the teams but, as yet, to no avail.
Fear is stalking the F1 paddock like never before with many of those working in the sport concerned about their futures.
"We are really worried about our jobs," admitted one unnamed marketing manager while a mechanic confessed to already looking for alternative employment.
Despite the downbeat atmosphere and miserable weather in Portugal, Toyota driver Timo Glock said the mood in his team remained positive, saying that "of course it's a difficult time," before adding that everyone was motivated and prepared for the season-opening Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne on March 29.
F1 has agreed to major cutbacks for the 2009 season in an effort to save money. Teams have agreed to reduce their budgets by 30 per cent this year, a sum estimated at
1 billion euros (1.3 billion dollars).
As well as savings on the track, this year's presentations have been much more modest than in recent years with Toyota, for example, deciding on a virtual launch of its
2009 car on the internet.
Two-time world champion Fernando Alonso of Renault, meanwhile, criticised the ongoing raft of changes, saying the sport needed "continuity" if it was to retain its popularity.
"The spectators at home don't want to see 15 changes a season. That will only annoy them and drive them away," said the Spaniard.
Alonso said he regretted the demise of Honda but felt it could "lead to other teams being saved."
Briatore said Honda made mistakes in recent years and paid the ultimate price. (dpa)