How F1's cash crisis could help the sport
Here's a question for the petrolheads, procurement experts and financial controllers amongst you: how many dummy cameras do you think a Formula One team needs? That's dummy cameras - the pretend ones they attach during testing - not the real ones they are given by TV for the races.
Three (one for each car, including the spare)? Four (a spare one just in case)? Or perhaps six (a spare one for each car in case they all fall off during the same bumpy testing session)?
Well, one team made 49 last year. But then they spent £300m in total so they probably didn't notice they were doing it.
Much of that money went on squeezing a few more horsepower out of the internal combustion engine, an invention that is now comfortably a century old, a challenge that many of this country's finest engineers put their collective brains to in an effort that would have gone completely unnoticed by motorsport's many fans.
But the revelation that F1 teams can run up eye-watering bills is right up there with the Pope's religious leanings and what bears do in the woods in terms of shock value.
Frankly it would be more of a surprise if F1 wasn't a trailer-sized hole in somebody's pocket (three miles to the gallon, long weekends in Monaco, all that champagne). The key was who those pockets belonged to: sales-chasing car manufacturers, speed-freak billionaires and other assorted cash cows.
For many years, F1 was loud, proud and lumpy but it didn't matter because Ferrari had a waiting list for the 6,000 or so cars it produces a year, Honda and Toyota were hitting Detroit's "Big Three" where it hurts and once every few years an idea like anti-locking brakes or traction control would trickle down to the saloon classes.
And then the police arrived, the party broke up and somebody was presented with a bill for those two wind tunnels they built to find a few hundredths of a second on a twisty track. The reckoning, when it finally came, was fittingly rapid.
With rumours swirling of another manufacturer considering something similar, it was time for motorsport to cut up the credit cards and get a grip. Which, to be fair, they did. Or have at least started to do.
The cost-cutting measures revealed by motorsport's governing body, the FIA, and the F1 teams in Monte Carlo last week, represent a result for common sense and appear to have stopped the bleeding for now.
But what happens next is anybody's guess. The grid looks like being at least two cars light next season, sponsorship is going to be hard to come by for at least a year or two and the pressure on the carmakers' balance sheets is going to grow. After all, where is the magic of Ferrari when the classifieds tell you the value of a used 559 has just tanked?
But all of that does not have to bring about the end of F1, or motor racing in general. It just needs to bring about the end of a particularly reckless era for the sport's finances.
The basic proposition of publicity, research and development and occasionally decent racing remains intact. Well, that's what the BBC is banking on...but so, it seems, are BMW, Ferrari, Mercedes, Renault, Toyota and the myriad corporations that are still using F1's mobile billboards to sell their products.
Some insiders even think the economic downturn could be the saving of F1: less really could be more if the sport's decision-makers hold their nerve and push for further cost reductions.
By doing that they may just inject a little more human interest into what can, at times, become an engineering competition, tempt in new entrants to shake up the grid, and reduce F1's dependence on the sales figures of its main sponsors' road car divisions.
It was just over a year ago that David Richards, the boss of Prodrive, was forced to admit defeat in his attempt to lower the sport's barriers of entry.
His idea was to turn the clock back to the 1960s and 70s, when independent teams drove rings around the better resourced "works" teams of Ferrari and other "grandes marques".
The "garagistes" bought their engines and gear boxes off the shelf and built a car around them. This low-cost approach annoyed the bigger teams, who made everything themselves, but took nothing away from the spectacle.
Richards, who wanted to buy in the whole package, would get a better hearing for his "customer car" approach now and if there is any truth to paddock gossip Prodrive may get its chance to emulate the likes of Brabham and Lotus soon.
It will be a longer wait for a more aspiring entrant such as iSport International - which runs a successful team in the tier below F1, GP2 - but if F1's elite can be further persuaded of the virtues of cheaper racing the Norwich-based company is confident an independent outfit could make commercial and competitive sense.
Could we be on the verge of a return to the days when "privateers" like Lord Hesketh could put together a fast car on the cheap and find a dashing talent to drive it to victory, as James Hunt did at the 1975 Dutch Grand Prix?
Hesketh himself, isn't so sure. The life-long motorsport enthusiast and Conservative politician thinks that era has passed and the leading teams will emerge from their current cash-flow concerns even more powerful within F1.
Back when Hesketh Racing's teddy bear-badged cars were mixing it with the best they were doing it on an annual budget that equates to about £7m in today's money. Brabham, Lotus and Tyrell were on twice that, while Ferrari were on the equivalent of £50m, one sixth what they spend now. Hesketh Racing's staff was 25 - "we thought that was the Rolls Royce gold standard" he told me - and that included the truck drivers. Honda's headcount is more than 750.
For Hesketh, the only way to bring back the privateer era is to impose the "customer car" solution on F1, reducing costs and opening up competition at a stroke.
"We need original thoughts and big decisions, not these incremental changes. Engines must be made available to other teams at a sensible price," he said.
"There will be a lot of shouting about technology but if you want to look at technology go to the Farnborough Air Show!"
The good news for Hesketh, and F1, is there is still something that counts for more than money, talent.
"I remember the first time I saw Lewis Hamilton put two wheels on the dirt in Melbourne and it was the first time I'd seen an Englishman since James Hunt keep his foot on the accelerator," he said.
"I said to myself this guy can drive."
While there are still fans like Hesketh, watching talents like Hamilton, F1 should just about muddle through.