Friday, June 19, 2009

F1 - Teams outwit Mosley with new race series

Although I knew the F1 rebels (who actually comprise 80% of the current teams) were meeting last night, I reckoned that nothing much would happen after I went to bed at half past ten. How wrong could I be? After midnight, the Formula One Teams Association announced that Max Mosley, who has been trashing them all week rather than trying to bridge the gap between them, could basically go forth and multiply because they were going to form their own race series. Fed up at Mosley's dictatorial governance of the sport, they have decided to walk away and form their own championship. It may or may not be significant that Lola, who were in prime position to take one of the five places of the teams which had been given conditional entries for next year, withdrew its entry the other day. Whether that is because they wanted to join the FOTA series, or whether they'd just had enough of Max Mosley is yet to be seen.

The extent of Max Mosley's failures in his governance of Formula One cannot be over-emphasised. It's quite some achievement to get all of these teams working together. Only 2 months ago, they were at each others' throats over the issue of Brawn's, Red Bull's and Toyota's double diffuser which the others all wished they had invented. Now, they are together enough to jump ship as one. I can't think of a better analysis of the background to all of this than that provided here and here in the last few days by Doctorvee and would recommend that you read what he has to say.

I think the main reason I'm as passionately behind the FOTA cause as I am is because Ross Brawn is with them. The Lib Dems have St Vincent of Cable, F1 has St Ross of Brawn, it really is that simple! Ross has decades of experience in F1, both in huge organisations (Ferrari), as an employee in an independent team (Williams) and now as owner of his own team, so his perspective is unique. His office is hardly Hissy Fit Central, he's a master strategist and he will have reached his conclusion in a calm, rational and informed manner. As far as I'm concerned, his judgement is trustworthy and credible. I have a soft spot for Brawn as the architect behind the Schumacher success both literally in building him fabulous cars and in making the race day judgemnet calls on strategy. When Rubens Barrichello, who I liked at Ferrari (and for that matter, Jordan before, went to BAR Honda, a bit of my affection went with him and when Honda signed Ross Brawn a few years later, a huge chunk of the rest of it followed.

Five of the breakaway teams are taking a significant risk. For two of them, Brawn and McLaren, racing is their raison d'etre and the jobs of hundreds of people depend on them competing in a championship. They could have just crossed their fingers behind their backs, muttered under their breath and signed up for Mosley's championship but they didn't. You have to assume that they had good reason for not doing so.

I am annoyed that the BBC, whose F1 coverage has until now been perfect, have been portraying the dispute today. They have implied that it's only the FIA and Mosley that want to control costs. The teams have in fact put forward comprehensive proposals for cost reduction and Mosley has simply refused to listen or to compromise in any way.

The biggest sign that Mosley was never interested in finding a solution is his refusal to FOTA's request to move the deadline for unconditional entry from today until 1 July. The teams were bound to stick together as they are reported to have signed a bond at the beginnign of June for $50 million that they would not break ranks within 30 days. Mosley therefore knew that filing unconditional entries now, unless they all agreed, would be financially crippling for any team.

Sara and Charlotte, neither of whom are particularly F1 fans, have made worthwhile contributions on this today. I'm so caught up in it all that it's useful to have a different persective on it.

I'm actually glad, in a week where we have seen a series of destructive statements from the FIA and a sniffy we're not getting involved in this statement and counter statement lark from FOTA, that the teams have taken the initiative and done something positive. While I'd much rather see all the teams compete in F1 next year, I'm glad that FOTA walked away to hopefully form something better before Mosley publicly assassinated Formula 1 by throwing its stars out. It looks like FOTA, far from being 10 middle aged men in a room whinging, have actually managed to secure a coalition of drivers and sponsors to back them up.

It well may be that the FIA has the equivalent of men in grey suits who will talk sense into Mosley and a compromise will be reached, but at the moment, it looks like all the best teams are leaving to form their own series and F1 as we have known it up until now will be left with a couple of also rans and the equivalent of a few people pulled in off the street to make up the numbers. I had a horrible thought at one point that it was like when the SDP split, with the majority merging with the Liberal and the rest forming the continuing SDP. Whatever my political differences with David Owen, though, it would be far too harsh on him to compare him to Mosley.

It's not been lost on me either that the only mention the fans have had in all of this has been from the FOTA side. Ferrari mentioned fans on their website the other day and the FOTA statement specifically talked about lower priced tickets for their series. In the only real test of opinion, an internet poll on a fansite with over 2000 votes, FOTA's lead, at 83% to 7% was almost embarrassing.

No doubt there will be lots of drama to come. It's a pity that this will all overshadow the last Grand Prix at Silverstone - although, of course, it will surely have a slot on its calendar for the new series, so it may be au revoir rather than adieu on Sunday.

It'll be interesting to see what will happen with the tv rights - I can't imagine for a minute that broadcasting companies across the globe paid exorbitant sums to watch teams nobody had ever heard of while the likes of Ferrari and McLaren and all the famous drivers were elsewhere. I just hope it's all going to be available on easily accessible television. I already pay the infernal wickedness of Sky more than enough money for my basic package, thank you very much.

It's just being reported by the BBC that the FIA are going to resort to the courts, accusing FOTA in general and Ferrari in particular of breaking, amongst other things, competition law. We'll see how that pans out, but it's not what you'd call a constructive move. It's entirely predictable that the FIA react like this - Mosley is a bully and FOTA are well rid of his poisonous and dictatorial leadership.

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Anonymous said...

Ah brilliant, I've linked to this :)

lizw said...

I'm one of the apparent minority of fans who support the FIA on this one. I think the trade of a budget cap in return for fewer technical restrictions is exactly what the sport needs, and am hoping the FIA stick to their guns - I'm excited to see more new teams coming into the sport, including the likes of Lotus, who I think will make a real contribution. I won't miss Ferrari, but as a McLaren fan and a Brit, I'll be sorry to see McLaren and Brawn go with them.

Unknown said...

Liz, everyone wants to reduce costs - just not necessarily the Max Mosley way.

FOTA have comprehenaive proposals to do that and to encourage new teams.

Part of the reason Ross Brawn has stuck with FOTA was because he says that without their help, his team would not have made it onto the grid this year. They have plans in place to help the new teams who are coming in.

There are issues of how to police any restrictions as well. You can understand a commercial operator not wanting FIA accountants crawling over commercially sensitive information. FOTA had worked out an independent audit process which Mosley rejected.

FOTA has done its best to be constructive only to have Mosley show hostility and incredible arrogance at every turn.


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