In the off-season, with not much going on, F1 finance provides plenty of debate. In its most basic form, the subject can be split two ways: Do you cut costs in order to have the smaller teams survive? Or should F1 be challenging technical pinnacle without fiscal restraint?
It’s an interesting question that comes on a weekend when motor sport lost Dan Gurney, a legend who understood racing, having been there and done it from every angle in any formula worthy of the name.
From the simple and stunningly effective ‘Gurney Flap’ (a small lip added to wings that generates downforce for minimal additional drag) to creating cars that won at tracks as diverse as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the original Spa-Francorchamps, Gurney was a true disciple of creative automotive engineering.
That victory in Belgium would be the only championship win for the Eagle T1G which, with its deep monocoque, beak nose and stunning finish, is arguably one of the most beautiful F1 cars ever made. It was the embodiment of the man himself, a fearless racer who liked to push the technical boundaries. If he had an idea, he would run with it.
Building his own F1 car was a classic example. In association with former Lotus designer Len Terry, Gurney commissioned the T1G at the time of a change to the 3-litre formula in 1966. Originally standing for All American Racers, the name AAR was modified to Anglo-American Racers in defence to a liaison with the 3-litre Eagle-Weslake V12 built by Weslake & Co on the south coast of England.
The V12 engine was not race worthy until 1967, Gurney having made do with an off-the-shelf 4-cylinder Climax that gave a beautifully balanced - but slow - race car, albeit one that Dan put on the (three-car wide) front row at Brands Hatch for the 1966 British Grand Prix.
The long-awaited increase in power from the V12 was offset by the car being overweight, Gurney eventually replacing aluminium skins with magnesium and substituting titanium for steel components on the new chassis, while some of Weslake’s engine castings were switched to magnesium.
All of this cost money and Gurney found himself short of it, particularly when a major oil sponsor pulled out and the V12 proved unreliable, so much so that Gurney parted company with Weslake and took the engine in house. But AAR were already too far behind in terms of development and Anglo American Racers as such was wound up for 1969, Gurney then focussing on what would be a hugely successful Indycar campaign.
Towards the end of 1968, Gurney had raced for McLaren in F1 and gained first-hand experience of the Ford-Cosworth DFV. There were subsequent thoughts of running the Ford V8 in an Eagle but, by then, the team’s financial decline was too advanced.
And that prompts an interesting scenario. On seeing the immediate success of the DFV on its debut in the back of a Lotus in June 1967, Gurney could have joined Brabham, McLaren and Tyrrell in the queue of customers at Cosworth. But that was not his way.
Had there been some form of cost cap, however, Gurney would have had little choice. On the other hand, applying strict financial control in what is supposed to be the most advanced level of motor sport would have made no sense to such an intuitive genius.
The same basic argument applies today. The difference is that Gurney would have been the first to understand the not so subtle distinction between sensible economy and the scandalous profligacy accepted as normal by today’s well-heeled teams.
£200,000 (US$275,000) for a single stupid front wing, anyone?