Saturday, May 16, 2009

Ferrari, FIA and Formula One still at loggerheads

Bernie Ecclestone calling Ferrari idiots in today's Times seems to fly in the face of Max Mosley's protestations that the meeting between Formula One and FIA chiefs and the teams which took place at Heathrow yesterday was friendly.

Ferrari have started legal proceedings in France for an injunction against the FIA's imposition of new rules for next season, which led to Ecclestone's outburst.

James Allan has provided us with a much better explanation than I can give of what happens next which raises a couple of issues.

The meeting yesterday apparently agreed that there wouldn't be a two tier F1 next year, with some teams operating under the budget cap with greater technical freedom and others free to continue as at present with greater constraints. To me it seems very weird that you could have two cars starting the same race operating under two different sets of rules. That was a nonsense and it has to go.

However, if that is the case, surely that strengthens Ferrari's hand in their legal case which is based on the FIA has not let them have the contractual veto given to them when the FIA needed to keep them onside in 2005. The FIA's defence is that the two sets of rules allowed Ferrari to operate as it had been. Although that defence is flimsy if it is then seen to be giving competitive advantage to other teams.

I find it just as extraordinary as the 2 tier rules that one team was allowed to have such a term in their contract with the FIA. If the Electoral Commission suddenly decided to give a right of veto over new rules to the Labour Party, I'd go nuts, and rightly so. Why on earth did the other teams let that one slide by?

There surely has to be a better way of managing change and governing the sport than the shenanigans that many fans are looking at in despair. It's time for the willy waving to stop and some proper grown up decisions to be made.

I don't know what the solution is - I expect some compromise can be reached on the budget cap, perhaps starting higher and reducing over, say 5 years. The other issue is how that budget cap should be enforced. I can imagine that teams will not want FIA apparatchiks crawling over their commerically sensitive information. Do they need some arms length body to do it all? Or should there be a system like election expense returns here where they file certain information and it's up to the other teams to challenge if they think the limit has been breached? To make that work, they'd have to be able to keep some info confidential, but the major issue is verifying the amount of money spent and not what it's spent on. There would have to be dire consequences for teams going over the limit or trying to cheat the system, though to make it credible, and there would have to be the threat of completely independent auditing if challenges were raised.

In my opinion it would be an abomination if the FIA stood by and watched half the current teams walk away from the sport. Ok, nobody is ever indispensable, but to sever a 60 year connection with Ferrari would be particularly indefensible. They need to think more of the fans who go to the circuits and the millions who watch on television.

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