Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Ferrari and FIA refusing to blink.........

Up until now, I'd thought that there was no way the FIA, under Max Mosley's or anybody else's leadership, would be so stupid as to allow the iconic Ferrari F1 team to walk away from the sport after almost 60 years.

Ferrari has given us so many thrills over those decades - although they are having their problems this year, with a car that just won't go fast enough along with some very bizarre decisions taken in the garages, it's only 2 years since they won the world championships and only 5 years since the magical partnership of Michael Schumacher's driving with Ross Brawn's design genius won the last of 5 consecutive world titles.

A dispute over new rules and specifically a £40 million budget cap which could allow a 2 tier Formula One structure for next year led to a threat last week by Ferrari not to enter the championship in 2010. Red Bull, Toyota and Renault have also muttered dark threats of pulling out.

As Lady Bracknell would say, losing one team could be considered unfortunate, but losing 40% of your current entrants would be taking carelessness to its extreme.

A meeting between the FIA and the Formula One Teams Association last Friday at least agreed that we wouldn't be subjected to the dogs' breakfast of a 2 tier Formula One, where some teams would accept the budget cap and get greater freedom while the high spenders would have greater technical restrictions. The very idea that competitors could start the same race under different rules makes Philip from the Apprentice's Pants Man seem like a brilliant idea.

Ferrari decided to take the FIA to Court in France, stating that they had not been allowed to use the veto they had been given the last time there was a thought that there might be a rival series set up. Today their legal moves were rejected partly because they hadn't used that veto when they had the chance. Just out of interest, does anyone know why not?

There's been a bit of unseemly bitching from Ferrari today. This very sniffily worded statement appeared on their website a while before the Court judgment was announced. The general gist, complete with implied gesture with the finger, is that they have seen Max's new best friends whom he wants to bring into the playground and, frankly, they are not fit to wipe Ferrari's boots and if he insists on letting them and their motorised skateboards into the paddock they'll go and find some higher quality pals to hang about with. It's quite an extraordinary outburst on a commercial website.

The war of words is not one sided, though - Bernie did call Ferrari idiots the other day in the Times. So far, so juvenile.

So what happens next? Well, conveniently, the entire Formula One world has arrived in Monaco for the best event of the year so hopefully somebody will bang some heads together and sort it before the deadline for applications for entry for next year a week on Friday.

Is there a possibility that Ross Brawn could help broker a solution that keeps everybody on board? He as a long and successful history with Ferrari although they did say that he was supremely arrogant in the court case over diffusers a few weeks ago. After his team's cracking start to the season, the FIA owes him for getting people interested again. He also seems pretty good at the people stuff and although he's more in favour of reducing technical regulation and encouraging creativity, surely he wouldn't want to see a much depleted F1 next year.

A clue about how this might be resolved come in the second statement of the day from Ferrari, and particularly in the words "while continuing the work of the past few months in moving forward methodically and gradually towards reducing costs." That says to me that a reducing budget cap over maybe 5 years might be the way forward.

Sure, that might keep some new teams out next year, but do we really need them at the moment given how exciting and gripping this season is turning out to be? The last few have been exciting too, with the championships being won at the last gasp.

To be honest, it's pretty clear that costs will have to come down anyway. In case nobody's noticed, there's a recession on and no company has a whole load of spare cash to go throwing at anything, least of all on seeing their logo whizzing round at 200 mph. The banks are all completely screwed too. I get annoyed every time I see a Williams with the RBS logo on it. I mean, am I as a taxpayer paying for that? There just isn't going to be the sponsorship there used to be so teams will have to cut their cloth accordingly.

We'll have to wait and see what comes out of the meeting of the Formula One Teams Association on Friday. It will be interesting to see how many of the teams Ferrari can carry with them - whether Red Bull, Renault and Toyota will stick with them. That will be one of the crucial determining factors.

I really don't think F1 would be the same without Ferrari - it would be like cream wtihout the strawberries. Ferrari fans are responsible for a significant part of the huge and lucrative global tv audience. There might well be two Italians racing in F1 (Trulli and Fisichella) but the heart of any self respecting Italian is first and foremost behind the team from Maranello. There is no way that any of the new bunch are going to attract the following that Ferrari has so Max and Bernie might well have lots of new friends that nobody wants to watch. It would be incredibly short sighted of them to let a team that has put billions into Formula One walk away. A few years ago they were willing to offer Ferrari the sun, moon and stars to stay - what's changed?

There does need to be a more representative way of governing the sport, though - no team should effectively have a veto - it just ain't fair and brings the whole thing into disrepute. It surely isn't beyond the wit of man to come up with a better system that doesn't depend on the dictatorial whims of Max and Bernie.

Let's hope that common sense prevails and that Mr Mosley and Co put the self destruct button away. I've been struck tonight by the number of people who've been saying that it'll all blow over who are now starting to worry that something cataclysmically bad is going to happen to the sport. Martin Brundle said in the Sunday Times two weeks ago that he'd never been so worried for his sport and I dared to doubt him, thought he was using a bit of poetic licence to build some drama. Now, I think I'll be watching every corner of Monaco this weekend just in case this is the last time we see it as we know it.

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