Roland’s View: Should the slowest Supercars teams be dumped?

Should Supercars’ slowest teams make way for Super2 entrants? Image: Ross Gibb Photography.

In recent months my friend Peter Adderton has made much of the fact that he’d like to enter his own team in the Supercars Championship but doesn’t want to have to buy an existing one to do so. Without reopening all the arguments, one point that Peter has made is that there are a number of under performers who continue to run around in the rear half of the field year after year.

He maintains that there should be the opportunity to replace them with talents more worthy of being there – and remember that talent has to be assessed in terms of team as well as driver.

As I understand it, Peter believes that the franchise system (the Teams Racing Charter or TRC) protects underperformers from natural selection. If that is indeed his position, he’s correct. And it’s no different to Formula 1. However, as we’ll see, this system also helps protect the category from economic storms.

Let’s look further afield and into the world of soccer where you can see that the most developed league system in the universe is that which exists in English football. There’s a franchise system of sorts there that extends down through five levels of professional leagues (from the English Premier League at the top to the National League) and then further through several more levels that are regionally divided.

But the major point for us about this soccer system is that there is a very clearly defined relegation and promotion structure. It’s a real meritocracy. For sure money helps, but then that’s the case in any sport. Take the case of a very famous club, Leeds United (known to many Aussies as the club where Harry Kewell and Mark Viduka both played). Leeds fell out of the Premier League in 2004, slipped down two divisions before finally making it back into the EPL in 2021.

It is important to note that this is all on the back of a league structure that was first set up almost 150 years ago. The EPL teams do earn huge dollars (and many of them spend it all and more!) but the bottom three performing clubs get thrown out each year come what may, because the system underpinning it allows for a pyramid with more clubs ready, willing and able to win promotion from the tier below all the way down to local level.

Meanwhile, in F1 there is no relegation/promotion system but there is a reward system in place in terms of the share of (media, sanction fees etc) revenue from F1 that flows to each team based on annual finishing positions in the Constructors Championship. The lower a team finishes, the less it receives the following year. Hence some of the team principal movements in recent weeks – finish last and you’re going to be fortunate if you keep your job for long. And rightly so.

But F1 doesn’t have a relegation/promotion system even though it has (under the same ownership) two more tiers (F2 and F3) that could potentially provide a structure to facilitate this. For sure those formulae do clearly provide drivers, team managers (Christian Horner, Frederic Vasseur for instance), engineers etc. but no team has stepped up to F1 since Stewart GP in 1997.

The reason for this is primarily the size of the gulf between an F1 team and an F2 team and the structure (dollars) needed to make the step.

Which brings us back to Supercars.

We also have the second tier available to us from which to potentially promote teams. But we also have a huge gulf (albeit not as big as F1/F2) between the main series and Super2. The calendar size, the number of people and, of course, the dollars needed all differ massively. If Supercars was to relegate the bottom performing team, then who’s to say that the top performing team in Super2 wants to (or is in any position to) step up to take its place?

And then wind the clock back a few years for both F1 and Supercars.

There were grid slots available in F1 after the demise of Caterham and Manor, but only Haas stepped up. Andretti, by way of example, might be keen to enter today but they weren’t there when times were tougher and they would have been welcomed with open arms.

The same goes for Supercars. At the end of 2014 for instance, there were RECs (as the TRC was known then) handed back to Supercars with no takers. Without the television deal (and resulting uplift in revenue) that was due to kick in for the 2015 season plus a recut of the distribution percentages between the teams and the other Supercars shareholders, there would have been more teams stepping away regardless of the potential loss of the value of the REC.

And thereby hangs the problem. A relegation/promotion system only works if there’s a multi-tier structure in place that has participants competing within it who are ready, willing and able to step up (or down) as demanded by that system.

Moreover, it’s simply unreasonable to expect Supercar teams to give the surety expected by the fans, the broadcasters, the promoters, that they’ll turn up each and every time to race (regardless of damage, for instance, from the previous round) without also having the surety themselves that the system gives them a guaranteed entry. Every team has millions of dollars invested in the infrastructure needed to go racing and put on a show.

The alternative is to go back to the pre-Supercars era and allow entries on a first up, best dressed basis. The system that used to see 16 cars on the grid at Symmons Plains, for instance, back in the 1990s (including several no hopers).

That would be impossible to sell to promoters or a broadcast partner for any real dollar value. That’s the difference between the Supercars offering and the ARG one. Night and Day.

The F1 and Supercars systems ultimately prevail because they have worked pretty well in tiding the respective categories through the bad times as well as the good. Supercars grid sizes, since 1997, have never slipped under 24 despite the ravages of the Global Financial Crisis, the lousy TV deal done by management for 2013/14 and the other humps in the road over the last 25 years. And much of that is down to that franchise system.

I hope that helps explain to those fans who are interested the background and reasons why these systems exist.

But there is still light at the end of the tunnel for Peter and any other would-be team owners. There’s little doubt that running at or near the back of the field is very hard to maintain indefinitely from both commercial and personnel points of view. Be patient, don’t advertise the fact that you seem almost desperate to compete, and wait for the weakest animal in the herd to stumble. Then quietly offer them a lifeline … in fact, as Peter Xiberras did 12 months ago.

Last week’s Roland’s View: Australia’s other Great Race

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