Archive: Bernie Ecclestone

This week Ferrari caused a ripple when it published a provocative article on its blog, The Horse Whisperer. The final paragraph is worth quoting in full, not only because it makes an interesting point, but because it elegantly quotes Adam Smith. (Motorsport, economics and my home town of Kirkcaldy all in one little paragraph!)

This is the legacy of the holy war waged by the former FIA president. The cause in question was to allow smaller teams to get into Formula 1. This is the outcome: two teams will limp into the start of the championship, a third is being pushed into the ring by an invisible hand – you can be sure it is not the hand of Adam Smith – and, as for the fourth, well, you would do better to call on Missing Persons to locate it. In the meantime, we have lost two constructors along the way, in the shape of BMW and Toyota, while at Renault, there’s not much left other than the name. Was it all worth it?

As fans have watched the progress (and non-progress) of the new teams over winter, many will have been wondering just how much of a success the FIA’s initiative to introduce new teams have been. A lot of political turmoil was caused last year when the FIA all of a sudden decided that ten teams on the grid is not enough.

Never mind the fact that there were just ten teams on the grid for the majority of the past decade, and it was never viewed as a problem before. And never mind that it was Max Mosley who originally said that the existence of teams like Williams was not how he envisaged the future of Formula 1.

Just like that — to prove some kind of political point, or maybe just for a bit of a scrap — he changed his mind. New privateers were now essential for the future of the sport. Manufacturers were driven out, to the point where basically only Mercedes are left (and Ferrari remain, but clearly unhappy with the way the sport is run).

Quantity over quality?

Formula 1 2010 brings yet another radical new look to the sport. There is no doubt that the greatly shaken-up grid has generated a large amount of interest. But there is a distinctly different style to the grid. This brings us to ask: is the new way better than the old way?

In recent years, the emphasis has been on the quality of the participants. Yes, there were relatively few entrants. Costs were sky-high. But viewers were guaranteed to be watching the best of the best.

It is probably no exaggeration to say that the 20 drivers in F1 were among the 25-or-so most capable people for the job. Pay drivers, who have been a fixture of motorsport since its earliest days, had all but vanished. Even the very worst of recent F1 drivers — the likes of Romain Grosjean or Nelsinho Piquet — would put drivers like Jean-Denis Délétraz or Ricardo Rosset in the shade.

I am all for new and privateer teams coming into F1. But it should be a proper process, and not rushed and contrived like the situation this year.

Although the history of the F1 Rejects — the remarkable drivers who ploughed on with their F1 careers despite not ever having a hope of achieving anything — is long and proud, the pinnacle of motorsport ought to be the pinnacle of motorsport. Right now, F1 is going through a process of artificial watering down. This is thanks to the FIA.

The FIA’s fundamental misunderstanding of motorsport

I have been genuinely worried by the FIA in recent years. They seem to have genuinely no idea what makes motorsport great. Witness the continued decline of the World Rally Championship. While it is currently undergoing a slight boost thanks to Kimi Räikkönen, it is otherwise a shadow of its former self. Meanwhile, the relatively new Intercontinental Rally Challenge, just a few years old and more or less invented by a television company, continues to gain admirers.

IRC is attracting attention because it gives the fans what they want. Meanwhile, the FIA continue to do mad things with the WRC, such as messing around with the calendar unnecessarily.

Up until recently, the idea that the FIA were totally clueless was just a hunch of mine. Sure, it has appeared that way for a long time. But maybe they saw the bigger picture. Perhaps the crazy “world engine” concept — whereby Formula 1, World Rally and World Touring cars would all share the same engine — really was needed in order to save the environment.

Well, no. It simply derives from a fundamental misunderstanding about what makes motorsport exciting to so many people.

The January edition of the excellent Motor Sport magazine podcast contained a truly shocking revelation that I’m surprised more hasn’t been made of. I urge you to listen to it. The relevant section is 35 minutes and 50 seconds in.

Motorsport journalist Nigel Roebuck recounts a meeting with Max Mosley:

He did actually say at one point — and he meant it, he wasn’t being facetious — we were talking about the spectators and he said, “Would they miss the noise, Nigel, do you think?”

I couldn’t believe he was asking the question. I said, “Max, the noise is half of it.”

And then he said, “I always find when I’m watching the race on television, the engine noise is such a distraction. I can’t hear what the commentator’s saying sometimes.”

And he wasn’t being facetious. It did strike me then — it does worry me. You know, “you and Bernie are the most powerful people in motor racing, and you’re not actually sure of the answer to that question. In which case, you’ve missed the point entirely.”

Thanks to the FIA’s recent moves, we are now in a situation where Formula 1 is no longer the elite sport that it was. I have recently been asked if the 107% rule — whereby excessively slow cars are weeded out during qualifying — is still in force. It hasn’t been for years, but it’s telling that some people haven’t even noticed that the rule was ditched long ago, but are now interested to find out if it still exists.

For the past few years, it didn’t matter whether the 107% rule existed or not. Every team was capable of producing a competitive car. Not this year.

Incidentally, the quotes from Max Mosley and Bernie Ecclestone about the introduction of the 107% rule are very interesting in relation to their recent policy of encouraging more small teams, regardless of their quality:

Max Mosley: “Any small team which is properly organised will be able to get within the the 107 per cent margin.”

Bernie Ecclestone: “Formula 1 is the best. And we don’t need anything in it that isn’t the best.”

This article marks the return of Formula 1 to this website, as I have decided to (partially) close down vee8. For those of you who would rather not read the F1-related articles, you may like to subscribe to the F1-free RSS feed.

To break this process in gently, I have decided to make the first post a light-hearted look at what might happen in the 2010 Formula 1 season.

The season will be the most exciting ever, but the title of the DVD will make it sound like a wet Wednesday

Formula 1 Season Review 2009 coverIn 2006, Fernando Alonso took his second World Championship in scintillating style that went down to the wire. The title of the official Formula 1 season review DVD was “Once Again”, making it sound like your drunk uncle has just wet himself for the umpteenth time.

In 2007, after a tense season-long battle between McLaren team-mates Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton, Kimi Räikkönen amazed the world by snatching the title from both of them in the final race of the season, overcoming a 17 point deficit with two races to go. The DVD was called “Kimi made it at last”, as though he had just come home late from a heavy night.

In 2008 Lewis Hamilton took the Championship in heart attack-inducing style on the last corner of the last lap of the last race. The DVD was called “Luck does not come into it”, which I still haven’t worked out the meaning of.

And the DVD really sold the 2009 season well by calling it “Not in a hurry…”, as if Jenson Button did not have a record-breaking winning streak at the start of the season.

Even if the Championship showdown is host to the first ever alien visit to this planet and is settled with a massive 200mph laser gun fight involving seventeen drivers from the planet Q’txxp’he, it wouldn’t surprise me if the DVD was given some madly dull title like, “I’d rather be watching paint dry”, “Isn’t Corrie on the other side?”, or “I’d stick with watching lawn bowls if I were you”.

Confectionery diffuser face-off

2009 was the year of the Double Decker diffusers. The 2010 pre-season testing period has seen a similar curiosity surrounding the rear end of F1 cars, with teams being notably coy about showing off their behinds.

The concept has now moved way beyond Double Decker diffusers. Among the new types of diffuser will be Red Bull’s Drifter diffuser, McLaren’s Mars Bar diffuser, Toro Rosso’s Curly Wurly diffuser and USF1’s Snickers diffuser. However, once again, Ross Brawn will find the upper hand when he reveals Mercedes’s Boost diffuser.

FOM will fail to improve television coverage

Although Bernie Ecclestone’s FOM is supposedly covering the world’s most technologically advanced sport, the television pictures will still resemble a smudgy YouTube video. Bernie Ecclestone will insist that there is no need for HD coverage because, “my IT guy told me he swears by his old CRT television”.

Demonstration of FOM's coverage

Despite the decision to give HD the cold shoulder, FOM will stick with their existing on-screen graphics, which are so small that they are actually bloody impossible to read on any 4:3 display. They may be declaring the start of World War III on those captions for all I know.

Intense McLaren Championship rivalry

The title will come down to the wire in Abu Dhabi, with the main protagonists being McLaren team mates Hamilton and Button.

Towards the end of the race, John Button will think he has the upper hand by unleashing his killer move – undoing the last button on his shirt. Little will he anticipate that Anthony Hamilton will win the Championship by staring even more intensely.

Michael Schumacher will be the world’s most superstitious man

Following on from the revelation that Michael Schumacher has a mad superstition for odd numbers, the German will reveal a litany of hitherto unknown superstitions. Among these will be an insistence that his team mate runs with an inferior set-up because “it makes me feel a bit better about my car”.

He will also reveal that he has a special form of OCD that means he just has to brake-test any drivers that are behind him, and cannot stop himself from driving straight into anyone who has just overtaken him. He also has a strong superstition for getting to choose his own parking space, and will park his Mercedes car in Race Control, where he can literally control the race by tampering with the timing system.

No-one will think to point any of this out, because nothing is allowed to get in the way of Princess Michelle’s Fairy Tale Comeback.

Cosmopolitan Valencia will continue grid boy tradition

Valencia’s tradition of having grid boys in addition to grid girls at the European Grand Prix will continue. Coincidentally, Flavio Briatore will make his F1 comeback at the very same race.

New teams to struggle

Zavvi Racing

New teams will be unable to shake off speculation surrounding their ability to see out the season. While the early focus will be on USF1 and Campos, the spotlight will soon switch to Virgin Racing.

Suspicions will be raised mid-season when the Virgin team mysteriously re-brands with a green livery and makes a formal application to change its name to ‘Zavvi’. A few months later, the team will run out of money and close down, but not before a special fixtures and fittings sale where fans will have the opportunity to buy the screws that once held the car together.

The bearded beggar who appears at races is not homeless

Having made a tactical error by trying to get a drive at Mercedes only for some seven time World Champion or other to get in the way, Nick Heidfeld will begin the 2010 season without a job. He will resort to sleeping on the floor in the paddock and begging.

If you see a suspicious-looking bearded man in the paddock, it is probably Mr Heidfeld, the world’s greatest ever second place finisher. Although he might speak as though he is slightly drunk, he is not homeless and is perfectly harmless.

The end of this season has not been a particularly healthy one for Formula 1. Two major names have left, and another has had an emergency meeting to consider if it should leave too.

First of all, the sole tyre supplier, Bridgestone, has announced that it will quit F1 at the end of 2011 when its current contract ends. This came as a shock. With the spotlight on car manufacturers, it doesn’t seem to have entered anyone’s mind that a company such as Bridgestone, which has been so incredibly loyal to the sport, would consider upping sticks.

I can remember a time when Bridgestone were not in F1, but only just. When I started watching Formula 1 in the mid-1990s, Goodyear was the sole tyre supplier. But Bridgestone entered in 1997, beginning the “tyre war”. When Goodyear left soon afterwards, it was not long until Michelin came in to begin an even fiercer tyre war.

I wasn’t a big fan of the tyre war. Mostly, one tyre was a major advantage over the other, so we were essentially left with two championships — a Bridgestone championship and a Michelin championship. Considering Bridgestone practically tailor-made their tyres to suit Ferrari, this essentially made Ferrari a shoo-in for the championship every year. That was until the 2005 regulations — which banned mid-race tyre changes — handed the advantage to Michelin in a big way.

2005 was the year when the tyre war well and truly jumped the shark. In the quest for the competitive edge, both companies had made their tyres softer and softer. The resurfaced banking at Indianapolis bit, Michelins exploded all over the shop and we were left with a farcical race in which only the six Bridgestone-shod cars competed.

On the back of the problems, the FIA decided that a sole company should supply the tyres for all the teams. The problem with this was that it had the potential to severely reduce the amount of exposure that tyre company got. With no tyre war to talk about, people might not talk about tyres. For this reason, Michelin refused to have any further part in F1.

The upshot was that Bridgestone and the FIA colluded to concoct the maddest new rules and gimmicks in order to contrive some interest in the tyres. One has to paint green lines all over the tyre in a crass attempt to pretend they care about the environment. Of course, the green on the tyres clashes with teams’ liveries, making the scheme not only nonsensical, but also damn ugly.

Teams are also forced to use a sub-optimal tyre compound at some point during the race. While this may have superficially “spiced up” the action, it is artificial. Drivers are critical of it, and Fernando Alonso even said that he would rather race with wet tyres on a dry circuit.

Moreover, there is a sense that Bridgestone may have deliberately made their tyres behave strangely in an attempt to get drivers and teams discussing tyres with the media. Nick Heidfeld has said that the tyres could be “ten times better”. Joe Saward expanded:

The Bridgestones react differently on each car and finding the tricks that make them work is not easy. Some drivers can do it at some tracks and not at others. Even World Championship challenger Jenson Button has struggled with this…

Bridgestone seems to have concluded that it is better to have people talking about the tyres rather than not talking about them – even if a lot of the references are negative.

I rejoiced when it was announced that a “control” tyre was to be brought in. But it has brought the wrong sort of control. I am not too sure that the current dark behaviour is an improvement over the honest competition of the tyre war.

If you have reached the stage where your marketing strategy is to have people make negative comments about your product, it probably is time to call it a day.

In many ways, Bridgestone get a huge amount of brand exposure through their involvement in F1. As noted in this week’s podcast, you simply cannot watch a Grand Prix without learning that Bridgestone supply the tyres. Yet, after thirteen seasons (fifteen by the time they leave), the marginal returns to their investment must surely have diminished to almost zero. And As Keith at F1 Fanatic has pointed out, their costs are set to soar as they now have to supply twelve or thirteen teams rather than ten.

Nonetheless, it is a shock and a surprise that Bridgestone, a company that has stuck with F1 through thick and thin since 1997, has so abruptly pulled the plug. Now the FIA and Bernie Ecclestone will have a big headache trying to find someone to take Bridgestone’s place. With bridges burned with Goodyear and Michelin, and Pirelli uninterested, options seem thin on the ground.

This the accompanying article to my contribution to this week’s edition of The Pod Delusion. Here you can find videos and links if you want to delve further into the topic.

As you may guess from the title, this article is about motorsport. I do not normally write about motorsport on this website. That is reserved for my motorsport website, vee8. However, I have published it here as it is designed to be of interest to people who do not like motorsport.

You can listen to the full podcast below.

My name is Duncan, and I am a motorsport fan. Is it a bad thing? Am I evil? Do I need to join Petrolheads Anonymous?

This year’s Formula 1 World Championship is coming to an end. The Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championships have been wrapped up by Jenson Button and Brawn-Mercedes respectively, and now we have one last race to enjoy before the sport takes a break for the winter.

This has not been an easy year to be an F1 fan. In terms of newsworthy stories, it’s the sport that keeps on giving. But even by F1’s standards, it has been an extraordinary year for scandals.

Bear in mind that in previous years Formula 1 has brought extraordinary enough stories. There was, for instance, the so-called “spying” scandal which led to the sport’s governing body, the FIA, handing the McLaren team a fine of ONE HUNDRED MEELION DOLLARS. Then there was the “German prisoner” sex scandal involving the FIA’s President Max Mosley.

This year cranked up the scandal ever-further. Even in the first race, a major scandal blew up when Lewis Hamilton and his McLaren team were caught lying to the race stewards.

It also emerged this year that the Renault team had colluded with its driver Nelsinho Piquet to deliberately crash his car to hand an advantage to his team mate Fernando Alonso in last year’s Singapore Grand Prix. This endangered the life of Piquet and of other drivers and spectators.

In the past year, two major manufacturers — Honda and BMW — have pulled out of the sport, with persistent rumours surrounding the commitment of the other manufacturers. Moreover, almost all of the teams threatened to break away from F1 to set up a rival championship, in protest at the way the sport is governed by Max Mosley and the FIA.

The governance of the sport may change this week, as Max Mosley is stepping down as FIA President. The election to replace him is taking place today, on Friday. This actually may have more widespread implications than many realise.

Even though during last year’s sex scandal Max Mosley was persistently described by the media as “F1 boss”, the job of FIA President goes much further than that. The FIA has significant sway over road safety issues and effectively represents car users on the world stage. If you are a member of the AA, the RAC or even the Camping and Caravanning Club, you are represented by the FIA.

Clearly, this year there has been a lot going on in the world of motorsport. While cynics point out that, for the sport’s commercial boss Bernie Ecclestone, any publicity is good publicity, this all served to further discredit a sport which isn’t exactly the most popular among some. Formula 1 is seen by many as a sport which is dangerous, environmentally unfriendly, the personification of greed — and perhaps even sexist.

No doubt there is an element of truth to some of these accusations. So, how does this sit with me? I am a massive fan of motorsport, but I have liberal political views and a concern for the environment. Do I lack principles? Is F1 a guilty pleasure for me?

I actually see no reason why it should be. Some motorsport fans are unapologetic about their passion, and they see no reason to dress it up as anything but an extravagant bit of fun. But I see motorsport as a positive force that has a lot to contribute to the world.

Yes, Formula 1 is dangerous. This year, one driver, Felipe Massa, had an horrific accident when he was struck on the head while travelling at 170mph by a spring as heavy as a bag of sugar which had fallen off another car and was bouncing around on the circuit. He was lucky to have suffered no long term damage. The spring destroyed his helmet, but if it had hit him at another point he could have lost his sight or even died.

Sadly, one Formula Two driver was not so lucky. Henry Surtees was killed when he was struck on the head by a tyre which was bouncing around on the circuit after it had detached from another car in another accident.

While a ticket to a grand prix states in large letters, “motor sport is dangerous”, such accidents are mercifully rare in top-line motorsport these days. Major injuries are rare, and the last fatality in Formula 1 was in 1994. Believe it or not, more than 2½ times as many people have died while competing in the Great North Run than have died in F1 since 1981, when the Great North Run began.

But this year’s events in motorsport show that complacency should never set in, which is why improvements in safety are always being pushed forward. Perhaps the real scandal though is that, despite the increasingly safe environment that professional racing drivers face, 1.3 million people still die on the world’s roads every year.

F1 technology can play a major role in reducing the number of accidents on public roads, and already has done. In 2007, one F1 driver, Robert Kubica, survived a 75g impact with nothing more than light concussion. The materials that make an F1 car so safe are exotic and expensive, meaning that the opportunities to help make road cars safer using F1 research are a bit limited.

But electronics such as ABS and traction control are commonplace on today’s road cars. Such technologies unquestionably save lives all the time, and their development was helped by early applications in racing cars.

The money that flows through F1, and the high-stakes nature of the competition, make it a great test bed for important technologies that improve our daily lives. F1 is an R&D powerhouse.

There is currently an exhibition in the Science Museum in London called Fast Forward, which showcases twenty instances of F1 technology improving the lives of others.

Included on display are high-tech tyre pressure indicators which alert drivers to a developing puncture before it becomes dangerous. Then there are F1 materials being used to help protect troops in Afghanistan from bullets and explosions. Slip-resistant boots based on F1 tyre technology for people who work in slippery environments, thereby reducing injuries in the workplace, are also on display.

A bit more down to earth is the gadget that can stop your central heating system from becoming clogged up with rust and sludge, thereby reducing energy consumption in the home. Hospitals have even analysed mechanics’ behaviour and procedures during pitstops in order to improve the speed and accuracy of medical teams.

But how about the environmental impact of this gas-guzzling sport? I must say that my view is that rather too much is made of this. That is not to say that Formula 1 does not a significant environmental impact — it does. But emissions from the F1 cars themselves are actually a drop in the ocean. The racing itself does little environmental damage.

What is really damaging is all the travelling that teams, the media and fans must do in order to attend the races. The good news on this front is that F1 is carbon neutral, and has been since 1997. The FIA Foundation, the charity arm of the FIA, has taken into account not only emissions from the F1 cars and the travel of the teams, but also the transport of the fans that attend the races.

But any activity that involves being somewhere requires travel. F1 is a global sport, so there is a lot of global travel involved. But otherwise the sport actually seems rather restrained. In just 17-or-so races, a World Champion driver emerges.

Compare this to another competition, say the English Premier League in football. To come up with a mere national league-winning club, 380 football matches must be played, with all the travel this entails too. In comparison, F1 looks positively restrained.

Maybe that is an apples-and-oranges comparsion. It is just as well, then, that F1 technology also looks set to pave the way towards a green future. Formula 1 has the potential to help greatly reduce energy consumption. Refuelling during races will be banned from next year, shifting the balance more towards fuel consumption rather than raw power.

Another major initiative is the Kinetic Energy Recovery System, or kers, which the FIA finally legalised for this season. Kers is a system which harvests the kinetic energy that is dissipated under braking and would otherwise be wasted, and re-deploys that energy into the powertrain.

This technology has had a rather troubled birth in F1. The systems have been too expensive for teams to develop in the current economic climate, and it looks as though kers may take a back seat for a few years. There is also scepticism over whether kers as it is applied in F1 is actually relevant to road cars.

But one team, Williams, is adamant that its flywheel system will find a large variety of applications in the real world. The team says that its energy recovery system could improve road cars, vehicles used in mining, rail systems and “anything that moves”.

(For more on this, I highly recommend the recording of a Q&A with the Technical Director of Williams, Sam Michael. I was lucky enough to be invited along to the Williams F1 factory earlier this year along with a number of other web journalists and bloggers. The excellent Brits on Pole website has fantastic coverage of the visit.)

Plans continue to gather pace on this front. On Wednesday, the FIA outlined its plans for a green future of F1 (PDF). This includes a plan to make motorsport a competition based more on efficiency than raw power, and a stronger focus on energy recovery technologies.

The FIA also plans to introduce its own carbon neutral scheme, including offsetting its regulatory presence. It may also make carbon offsetting a condition of involvement in a championship.

So there you have it. Motorsport is a force for good in the world. Not bad for something that is hugely enjoyable. My halo is in tact.

With the most recent revelations about the allegations surrounding Renault, all is becoming clear. It is just another one of Max Mosley’s power games — his parting shot, if you will. Having dispensed with enemy number one, Ron Dennis, earlier on in the year, Mosley has moved on to target number two: Flavio Briatore.

This is the inescapable conclusion one reaches when digesting the fact that Pat Symonds has been offered immunity if he “tells the truth” or, perhaps more accurately, in return for landing Flav in the shit whether it’s true or not. The scheme seems particularly odd given that most of the evidence thus far appears to implicate only Nelsinho Piquet and Pat Symonds for concocting any scheme that may have existed.

Even Piquet himself in his statement to the FIA seems reticent to directly accuse Flavio Briatore of concocting a conspiracy. Piquet only talks about Briatore’s presence in a meeting in which Symonds and Piquet discuss the crash strategy:

The proposal to deliberately cause an accident was made to me shortly before the race took place, when I was summoned by Mr. Briatore and Mr. Symonds in Mr. Briatore’s office. Mr. Symonds, in the presence of Mr. Briatore, asked me if I would be willing to sacrifice my race for the team by “causing a safety car”.

Instead, Nelsinho Piquet’s ire for Briatore is based on the fact that Briatore was reluctant to renew his contract. Boo hoo! Martin Brundle isn’t terribly impressed with that line of reasoning:

His rationale is that his contractual option hadn’t been taken the previous month so he was stressed and wanted to please the team. Try waiting the whole winter to sign a race-by-race contract days before the first grand prix of the season — that’s stress, but still not enough to crash a car intentionally.

I must agree with this. Normally, I would think that the normal course of action for a driver trying to renew his contract would be to improve his performances, not go around deliberately crashing.

For me, the only smoking gun we have seen so far is the reluctance of Pat Symonds to answer some of the questions the FIA investigators asked him. He was very reticent to discuss any plans he may have made with Piquet, while at the same time the idea was discussed. Symonds says it was Piquet who came up with the idea, while Piquet alleges that Symonds went as far as to specify on which lap and corner Piquet should crash.

Other evidence is inconclusive. The telemetry, which reveals that Piquet instinctively lifted but later applied full throttle while his rear wheels were spinning during the crash, is described by Symonds as “very unusual data”. But Piquet was no stranger to crashing. Meanwhile, the pit wall communications reveal little interesting, apart from an anxiety on the part of Piquet to know which lap he was on, and the fact that the team was concerned about Piquet’s condition following the crash.

So the evidence so far is that Piquet claims to have deliberately caused a crash. Symonds has acknowledged that a discussion took place, but refuses to talk any more about it. So where does Briatore fit in with all this?

We are now in the ludicrous situation where the two people who appear to be implicated the most have been offered immunity. Of those accused, that leaves just Briatore, against whom there appears to be very little evidence. It is surely not a coincidence that Max Mosley sees Flavio Briatore as an enemy.

There are other interesting aspects about the FIA’s behaviour over this scandal. Despite Max Mosley’s claim that he is greatly concerned about the leaks, The Times‘s Ed Gorman reveals that all of these leaks have come from the FIA! That newspaper would know — it is a common leaking outlet for both Max Mosley and Bernie Ecclestone.

Surely, Ed Gorman suggests, it is no coincidence that this entire scandal has overshadowed Ari Vatanen’s campaign to become FIA President. Mosley has made no secret of the fact that he would prefer his ally Jean Todt to replace him in the role, plumbing even his already-extraordinarily low depths to endorse Todt on FIA letterhead.

Vatanen has struggled to make headway in the media against the weight of the Mosley/Todt machine and recently his efforts to have his voice heard have been drowned out by leaks on the Renault case, widely thought to be from the FIA, and by strategically placed FIA announcements on the scandal.

I have to confess that I am not convinced by Ari Vatanen. To me, he seems like a failed MEP who is seeking attention and looking for a new purpose in life. His campaign has seemed ill-prepared in comparison to Jean Todt who has clearly been waiting to fill this role for a very long time. But what Todt has going against him is his anti-sporting record while at Peugeot and Ferrari, and the fact that his campaign has been unfairly advantaged by the FIA, which appears to be corrupt from tip to toe.

This is all turning out to be very convenient for the Mosley–Todt camp. Mosley has spent much of the past year trying to edge the manufacturers out of F1 (mere years after he lambasted the Williams-style model which he now apparently thinks is the life and soul of the sport!). He is clearly not good friends with Briatore, and is doing his very best to bring Briatore down. Very interesting that this comes mere months after he successfully brought Ron Dennis down, as though Mosley realised that this year was his last chance to do it. The Todt advantage is the icing on the cake.

I really am sick of the FIA. If an actual government behaved like this, there would be riots on the streets.

Who is the most controversial man in F1? Is it Bernie Ecclestone with his bizarre comments about Hitler and Jewish black female drivers? Is it Max Mosley with his political posturing and Nazi German prisoner themed sex orgies? Nope — it’s Michael Schumacher.

When it was announced that Michael Schumacher was preparing to replace Felipe Massa at Ferrari while the Brazilian convalesces, the great ideological gulf among F1 fans suddenly re-emerged. I can’t remember seeing such strong reactions on any issue about any subject, let alone F1.

For some people, Michael Schumacher might as well be Jesus. You could produce video evidence of him killing a kitten and he would still be the greatest man on earth. Anyone who says otherwise doesn’t appreciate genius when they see it?

For others, there is nothing that can redeem Michael Schumacher. He is a serial cheat whose team-mates were all hamstrung and whose seven World Drivers’ Championships are among the least deserving ever awarded. You must surely see that he is the most evil man on earth?

My view is slightly more nuanced. He was a bit of both. His record speaks for itself, and he must take credit especially for his ability to build a team around him. But I hated the way he went about racing.

The Edge of Greatness cover Incidentally, for a fair-minded assessment of Michael Schumacher, I highly recommend James Allen’s book, The Edge of Greatness. I always thought James Allen as a commentator was too biased in favour of Schumacher, but his book displays a very measured and nuanced assessment of his qualities as a driver, and his failings as a sportsperson.

I must come straight out and say that I have never been a fan of Michael Schumacher. Never. And for me, his talent was tainted by his tendency to bend the rules whenever he had the slightest opportunity.

I don’t even rate him much as a racer. For me, his wheel-to-wheel skills were rather poor, and he disguised this by being overly aggressive. That was why he often panicked under pressure, such as at Jerez in 1997. If he found himself in the midfield, he sometimes had very clumsy races indeed — his botched move on Takuma Sato at Suzuka in 2003 springs to mind.

Schumacher was famous for relying on Ross Brawn strategies to “overtake in the pitlane” rather than try to make a genuine overtaking move. I highly doubt that Schumacher would have won as many Championships if refuelling wasn’t legal. I won’t lie: 2000–2004 were my least favourite years of watching F1 since I first fell in love with the sport in the mid-1990s.

Since Schumacher left F1 I do feel as though I have started to enjoy F1 a lot more. Even though some of the drivers are not perfect in terms of their adherence to the rules or their spirit of fair competition, it feels a lot less like a dark cloud such as Rascassegate will come rumbling over the hills at any moment.

Now, of course, he is back in F1 and it has changed again. It amuses me greatly that even weeks before his first grand prix back is due to start, he already sought ways to cheat, to unfairly gain an advantage over his competitors. It says it all about him in one action.

Williams are not my favourite team either, but they were totally right to block this blatant infringement of the rules. Just a couple of weeks before, Toro Rosso’s new driver Jaime Alguersuari was refused a similar request, and he did a perfectly adequate job. Quite why a supposedly great 7 times World Champion needs to practice so much is not clear to me.

Ferrari’s enormously arrogant statement in retaliation against the blocked request sums up why I can’t stand the team so much. Apparently they think the red rule should still exist. What happened to that spirit of cooperation they were supposedly so keen on? I guess now that the Concorde Agreement is signed, cordial relations are not so important any more.

It is clear that the testing rules need amending. I have been saying so for a long time now. But until a new set of rules are agreed upon, everyone needs to adhere to them, otherwise you may as well just rip the rulebook up (some would argue Ferrari have ripped up the rulebook and written their own anyway).

This is all a sign that Michael Schumacher does not intend to simply go through the motions. I had wondered quite what was in this comeback for Schumacher. I saw easily why Ferrari were interested. But what could possibly have motivated Schumacher?

After all, he potentially has so much to lose. With his wife and kids — and we know his wife is concerned because he says he has made an “arrangement” with her that health is the top priority — he surely doesn’t want to be doing something so dangerous. He cannot possibly need the money, and he certainly doesn’t have anything else to prove (unless he wants somehow to prove that he can be a good sportsperson, but that opportunity has already been shot).

He also risks being embarrassed because of his waning ability. At 40, he is the oldest driver to compete in F1 since Nigel Mansell in 1995, and let us not forget that Mansell’s last period as an F1 driver was not exactly a roaring success. And after two and a half years out of competitive grand prix racing, there is every chance that he will be rusty during his forthcoming races.

But now we know what motivates him — it is his sheer, ruthless competitiveness. He may have initially agreed out of “loyalty” to Ferrari, but once he’s a driver again he is up to the same old tricks, looking for the slightest advantage wherever it may come from.

Of course, many would say that this is what sets him apart from everyone else.

A deal has been struck between Max Mosley, Fota and Bernie Ecclestone, and the threat of a breakaway series has been averted. I think there were a lot of people out there who quite liked the idea of a breakaway series. Indeed, given the choice between Max Mosley’s rotten vision and a Fota-run series, I would have gone for the Fota series every time.

But a split would have been a calamitous situation. The new series, despite having all the big names and probably some decent circuits, would still have taken some time to find its feet. Plus, I couldn’t help but wonder if the Fota series would have got good television coverage. Don’t forget that for the vast majority of fans, television is the only way we can consume the sport that we love, so this is an essential element.

In a lot of ways, the roots of the current problem in Formula 1 lie with Bernie Ecclestone. Or, to be more precise, CVC. They are the ones who suck the money out of the sport in order to pay the interest on their debts. That is why F1 ends up visiting sterile circuits with minuscule crowds — because those governments will pay huge sums of money for the privilege of holding an F1 race. That is probably also the reason for the fervour over cost cutting. If the teams spend less, Bernie can get away with giving the teams less of the sport’s revenues, and giving CVC more of them.

But despite that problem with CVC, I can’t find it in myself to be too angry with Bernie Ecclestone. In truth, he has done a great job of promoting the sport, and F1 may never have appealed to me were it not for Bernie’s efforts. Sure, there are a lot of areas where he can improve, particularly on the dire online offering.

But under Bernie Ecclestone, the television coverage of Formula 1 has been revolutionised. He got his fingers burnt with the adventurous F1 Digital+ endeavour. But while those innovatory days may be no more (and it is notable that F1 is still not broadcast in HD), today’s FOM-produced World Feed (used for all races except Monaco and Japan) is based on many of those innovations and television coverage has improved immeasurably over the past fifteen or so years.

We seldom have to deal with relatively amateurish efforts from the host broadcasters. Just compare these two videos of the same incident as it unfolded live. One is from the FOM F1 Digital+ World Feed, and the other was from the host broadcaster. (To view them side-by-side ‘as live’, start the second video when the first video reaches 17 seconds.)

The difference in quality is massive. F1 Digital+ caught the accident live so viewers knew immediately what happened. This was no coincidence. It happened because a system of sensors around the circuit could detect when cars were running close together, and coverage automatically switched to those cars in the expectation of some kind of incident unfolding. Later, replays from multiple angles enhanced the viewer’s understanding of the incident.

Meanwhile, the host broadcaster cut to Ralf Schumacher climbing out of his car ten seconds after the incident originally started. And it was a long time until viewers found out that the accident also involved Jacques Villeneuve — and there was only one angle of the incident. Note also how Martin Brundle had to rely on the superior coverage which he could see outside his commentary box window to tell viewers that Villeneuve was unhurt.

The Australian host broadcasters were not dummies. They just did the best job they could with the resources they had at their disposal. “Bernievision” was only good because of heavy investment and years of experimentation.

Bernie’s television operation was pretty impressive even in 2001, though not all of the innovations remain in today’s coverage. But it is thanks to Bernie Ecclestone that today’s coverage is more like the first video than the second one. A Fota-run championship would not have had such a slick operation going from day one, and the fans would have been worse off for it.

(For more on the amazing “Bernievision”, check out these decade-old articles on Inside Bakersville and Inside the F1 digital television centre.)

Then there is the question of whether it would have had any coverage at all. The BBC would have been scared off, and television executives would have been confused. They want the World Championship, whether or not an alternative series is better in the eyes of the fans. Take, for instance, the Intercontinental Rally Challenge, which I hear is better than the FIA’s World Rally Championship. Not that I’d know, because the former is ghettoised on Eurosport while the FIA’s weak WRC gets terrestrial coverage.

No matter if it has all the current teams and good circuits — signing up to show a new series is a risk which television executives wouldn’t want to take. The prospect of the best F1 series being on some pay channel and having no terrestrial coverage was a real one. That aspect of the breakaway scared me.

On the other hand, the proposed breakaway presented the opportunity to create a great new version of Formula 1, unshackled from the financial needs of CVC or the warped politics of Max Mosley. Fota had some crazy ideas, but they carried out market research and were far more receptive to the views of fans than the FIA have ever been.

I particularly liked the idea that the new series could have been particularly focussed on attracting an American audience. The FIA Formula 1 Championship has dumped on US fans time and again, and today there is no race in North America even though it is a major market for the manufacturers.

There would also have been a careful look at ticket prices and the fees circuits have to pay to hold an F1 race. No-one (apart from Bernie apparently) likes to arrive at sterile circuits with a dozen people in the grandstand. It comes across on television too, whether or not FOM’s cameramen are instructed to avoid shots of empty grandstands.

I could feel the atmosphere of the passionate British crowd on the television. The difference could hardly be more stark from the previous race at Turkey, where the crowd was around 10% of the size. And Silverstone is a circuit that Bernie wants to move away from.

Even the little things that are wrong with F1 could have had the magnifying glass applied to them. Such as, why can’t a driver keep the same number for his whole career. In other categories such as Nascar or MotoGP, a driver’s number becomes part of his legend, every bit as important as, say, his helmet design. Even in the history of Formula 1, the number 27 car is almost synonymous with Gilles Villeneuve. Imagine the marketing potential too. But in the clinical world of Formula 1, driver numbers are determined by the positions of last year’s Constructors’ Championship.

In short, the breakaway could have been a great opportunity to fix everything that is broken with F1. I doubt the breakaway would have been a true ‘split’, and it probably wouldn’t have had the same consequences as the Cart / IRL split. It was pretty clear from the fact that the FIA never released a finalised 2010 entry list that the FIA didn’t have a 2010 F1 Championship to speak of, and Fota’s would have been the only show in town.

That, I think, is why the deal must be seen as a victory for Fota. It has turned out to be a powerful organisation that did after all have the ability to at last stand up to Max Mosley’s dictatorial authority.

There is a part of me that suspects that the FIA as an organisation simply isn’t fit for the purpose of overseeing motorsports. We will eventually see how things develop with Max Mosley’s successor. I think today is just the starting point though, and we will see some more loose ends being tied up in the coming months. There will be power struggles there too, I am sure.

It looks like these negotiations will in fact be handled by Michel Boeri. That in itself is interesting because he is the promoter of the Monaco Grand Prix. It was reported that he would take the Monaco GP with him to the Fota camp if the breakaway went ahead.

What we need now, most of all, is someone in charge of the FIA who is not a glorified politician, constantly interfering. I remember Maurice Hamilton making the point once that everyone knows who Max Mosley is, and many people can tell you that Jean-Marie Balestre was his predecessor. But not many can tell you who Balestre’s predecessor was (for you history buffs, on the Fisa side it was Pierre Ugeux, and in the FIA it was Paul Metternich). Yet the sport still ran.

It sounds like from now on there will be more checks and balances in place, with the F1 Commission being given more of a say from now on. No doubt Fota will continue to play its role too, and I think it would be best for everyone if Williams and Force India re-joined and USF1, Campos and Manor all joined too. That way the teams, who create the sport, can have a say in its governance too.

Speaking of the new teams, I think as we sit here today, with much of the damage repaired, the biggest shame of this episode is that two capable teams have been denied a place on the entry list as a result of Max Mosley’s petty politicking. I think many of us can’t wait to see Prodrive finally get a chance to enter F1, and Lola were a promising prospect too.

No doubt the FIA actually had a tough choice to make, as according to Joe Saward at least the Manor Grand Prix team is actually a seriously strong prospect. With costs set to be cut and a more stable future for F1 promised, and with that troublesome Max fellow out of the way, at least we know there are capable teams that are ready to fill any potential gaps that appear.

This week there has also been an avalanche of anti-Fota copy emanating from the FIA’s press desk. These have all been very carefully worded in order to try and present Fota in as bad a light as possible. However, a close reading of the situation reveals that it is in fact the FIA who are being stubborn here.

Take, for instance, this press release which criticises Fota representatives for not being “prepared to discuss regulation at all”. However, in the following paragraph, the FIA concedes that Fota did bring proposals to the table — just that they weren’t to the FIA’s liking.

the FOTA financial proposals were discussed but it became clear that these would not be capable of limiting the expenditure of a team which had the resources to outspend its competitors.

In other words, because Fota do not want a budget cap (and that surely cannot be news to Max), the FIA are not prepared to countenance any of Fota’s suggestions. That does not seem to me to be Fota who are being inflexible. It is the FIA slamming the door shut on anything that is not a budget cap.

The following day, the FIA released this diatribe which was supposed to outline why Fota were such bad, bad people. But once again it demonstrates the arrogance of the FIA, who appear to be in cloud cuckoo land over what makes the sport attractive to fans:

The FIA and FOM have together spent decades building the FIA Formula One World Championship into the most watched motor sport competition in history.

Axis of Oversteer’s post is bang on:

This statement, which essentially blames di Montezemolo for the whole current mess, is set on the premise that the whole of Formula1’s success is based, in it’s entirety, on the FIA’s work. Apparently the reason people watch sports is not for the stars or the teams, it’s because of the rules. Brilliant!

The FIA goes on to describe Fota as being an organisation “made up of participants who come and go as it suits them”. That seems like quite an odd way to describe an organisation with the stature of Ferrari which is the only participant in any shape to have been involved in Formula 1 from the very start.

The FIA, on the other hand, always delegated the regulation of Formula 1 to Fisa, an organisation which was merged into the FIA by Max Mosley only in 1993. Mosley then set upon moulding it into his dictatorship. Foca (the precursor to FOM) only gained commercial rights to the sport in 1981. Interesting to note that Max and Bernie managed to find their way to positions of power in the governance of the sport following a war in which they both acted as representatives of the teams arguing against the governing body.

The Fisa-Foca war was a complex matter. But I think it’s fair to say that “to take over the regulation of Formula One from the FIA” is something that Max Mosley succeeded in doing, “and to expropriate the commercial rights for itself” is what Bernie Ecclestone once did. Strange that “These are not objectives which the FIA can accept” once the boot is on the other foot.

The FIA reject the notion that the governance structures need changed. But they have an odd way of showing it. One paragraph they talk about how important it is that Formula 1 has a “strong and impartial regulator”. Then in literally the next paragraph, they keep a straight face while admitting that Ferrari have been “officially (as well as unofficially)” represented on the WMSC since 1981. This is the “impartiality” of the FIA that is so important?

According to the FIA, the “Background” of the current political war is based on the fact that Honda pulled out of Formula 1 in 2008. This, apparently, was a bad thing, as it showed that teams could exit F1 at a moment’s notice. Quite why this should be a surprise to Max Mosley stumps me, because no fewer than 23 teams — easily enough to fill two healthy sets of grids — have left the sport since Max Mosley became President of the FIA in 1993 (I may have missed some out — this is just the quick count I did).

  • Arrows
  • BAR
  • Benetton
  • Footwork
  • Forti
  • Honda
  • Jaguar
  • Jordan
  • Larrousse
  • Ligier
  • Lola
  • Lotus
  • Midland
  • Minardi
  • Pacific
  • Prost
  • Sauber
  • Scuderia Italia
  • Simtek
  • Spyker
  • Stewart
  • Super Aguri
  • Tyrrell

Apparently, Max Mosley didn’t notice all of this. Quite why the Honda scenario made him sit up unlike all the others is a mystery to me.

It is even more odd when you consider that the transition from Honda to Brawn has been a massive success. Unlike some of the above teams — which sometimes embarrassingly went to the wall mid-season, leaving gaps on the grid — the sale of the Honda team was a relatively successful pull-out. Yes, it was messy over the winter. But the Brawn team is reaping the rewards, and it’s a great story for F1. Yet, for Max Mosley, it’s a major problem.

There is also, in this statement, a tacit admission that a budget cap system in a single-tier Championship cannot result in a grid full of the best cars that perform to the standard that fans have come to expect from Formula 1:

…the World Motor Sport Council (WMSC) decision of 17 March… introduced a voluntary financial regulation and technical freedoms for the capped teams to enable their cars to achieve Formula One levels of performance.

When the two-tier system was scrapped (as the FIA insist it has been), they decided to retain the budget cap and ditch the technical freedoms. Therefore, in the FIA’s own words, the “pinnacle of motor sport” will no longer contain cars which are “able to achieve Formula One levels of performance”.

Claims that the budget cap would damage the DNA of Formula 1 are rejected by the FIA, who say that the budget cap is a good idea because it evens the playing field. “Isn’t Formula One above all about competition?” I would agree that Formula 1 is about competition. And the budget cap idea is completely antithetical to the principle of meritocratic championship. A budget cap doesn’t “even the playing field”. It rigs the playing field in favour of teams who would not otherwise be in F1 on merit.

There is also no mention of the fact that the one credible new team on the FIA’s entry list, USF1, declared its intention to enter the sport long before the budget cap proposals were announced. USF1 is totally indifferent towards the budget cap, and has dropped a hint that it entered as a non-cost-capped team. It also seems as though the smallest of the current teams, Force India (which split off from Fota for legal reasons), is not interested in the cost cap either.

The FIA claims that “Left to their own devices, at least half the existing teams would have adopted those [budget cap] rules.” This neatly sidesteps the fact that left to their own devices, all of the current Fota teams joined Fota and remain members of Fota as I write.

The FIA says that its actions have been motivated by the need for “new entrants needed to know urgently if they had a place in the Championship.” That is completely contradicted by the way they have treated teams such as Lola like political pawns. Indeed, Lola have decided to withdraw its F1 entry, so incensed were they at the FIA’s behaviour. In the process, Lola have dropped a heavy hint that they will join any potential Fota-led breakaway series (more about that theory can be read on Will Buxton’s blog and at

So, what do we want? Top-level grand prix racing? Or Max Mosley’s Formula None?

My previous post was a more-or-less immediate reaction to the FIA’s 2010 entry list. I have allowed the dust to settle (sort of) over the weekend and see what the fallout was, and I now have some further thoughts.

Of the 25-or-so teams that are angling for some sort of F1 slot next season, only a maximum of five will be happy with the situation as things stand. It goes without saying that the three new teams that have been guaranteed a slot — USF1, Campos and Manor — will be delighted. Williams will also be content, having been the first of the Fota teams to jump ship.

Despite saying friendly words about Fota’s cause, Frank Williams has made it clear that being part of a championship with “FIA” in the title is of paramount importance to his team. Williams have been close to the FIA for years, having been the second team to sign a deal with the FIA to leave GPWC in 2005. Williams are also grateful for the FIA’s stance on customer cars, which mysteriously changed at some point during the past couple of years (much to the frustration of Red Bull). Williams have also designed the cars for Max Mosley’s vanity project, Formula Two. Moreover, Williams CEO Adam Parr is said to have a close relationship with Max Mosley.

Force India are also committed to the FIA’s side, but they seem to be a lot more grudging about it than Williams are. Vijay Mallya cites vague commercial reasons for his decision to jump ship from Fota. Many have noted that Force India must race in 2010 at all costs because it exists only to race, whereas the manufacturers exist to sell road cars. But Vijay Mallya won’t exactly starve to death if he exits F1. He is in F1 to showcase his other businesses, just as the manufacturers are. Sure, Force India F1 Team would cease to exist, but so to would Renault F1 Team if Renault pulled out, and just as Honda Racing F1 Team ceased to be when Honda pulled out. The cases seem identical to me.

Meanwhile, those aspiring new teams who have not been placed on the entry list have been left with a bitter taste in their mouths. It seems pretty clear now that Max Mosley is banking on some of the existing teams not being around by next season. There is no way that Prodrive and Lola would have been refused a slot otherwise. They — along with other teams — have instead been placed on a “reserve list”, a queue of teams waiting for a slot to become vacant.

You get the sense that Prodrive and Lola are not to keen on being used as political pawns like this. They wanted a fuss-free entry into the 2010 season, but obviously forgot that this involves dealing with the FIA and its vindictive style of operating.

Lola in particular have been spitting feathers. They aren’t keen on being messed around, and are considering pulling the plug on their F1 project before the FIA get another chance to play games with them. Furthermore, Lola boss Martin Birrane has criticised the standard of the three new entries, saying: “one of three that has been chosen is worthy in my view. They will have a proper car. The other two – who knows?”

That sentiment was very closely echoed by Epsilon Euskadi’s Joan Villadelprat who also turned his nose up at the FIA’s vision of F1 2010-style: “I’m a bit surprised because I thought we were fighting against Aston Martin, and Lola, and companies with a pedigree, if you will.” The implication, of course, being that the new teams that have been guaranteed a slot do not have a pedigree.

The FIA may think that new teams will be enticed by a budget cap. But given these grumbles about the standard of the teams currently set to take part this season, they were rather expecting to be competing against the big names with world-famous brands like Ferrari and Aston Martin (manufacturer brands), not a couple of F3 teams.

Another entrant, which is said to be strong by those in the know, has gone as far as to explicitly state that the new teams have been used as pawns. N.Technology’s Mauro Spisz said: “The applications have been used by the Federation as pawns to move in the fight against the teams… We are victims of their war.”

Moreover, N.Technology appear to have been victims of the FIA’s well-known gross mismanagement, alleging that their application was not properly processed, with documents being lost. This would not be a major surprise. The FIA is well-known for being an incompetent organisation. Most famously, it once inadvertently revealed sensitive information about Ferrari and McLaren’s cars due to its own techno-incompetence.

If these strong teams are to enter F1, existing teams must leave. The FIA is banking on it. At the current rate, that actually seems like a fair assumption — though probably only because Mosley himself seems intent on driving them out.

In fairness, people talk a lot about the rumours that both Renault and Toyota are on the brink of exiting F1 anyway. From time to time, it is also said (even by Mario Theissen himself) that BMW may pull out. These three teams are probably the most disposable to F1, and I find it very interesting that it is these three very manufacturers whom the FIA cite in one of its press releases today (I will cover today’s developments in more detail in a separate article). All of these teams are peripheral players in this year’s Championship, and none has a particularly strong pedigree. But to lose all three in one year would be careless.

Renault have won the Championship twice in recent years, but it would not be unlike them to leave the sport. Indeed, with the famously motorsport-phobic Carlos Ghosn in charge of Renault, in a way it’s a surprise that they have not pulled out before.

I could easily imagine the Renault team surviving in one form or another though without the political crisis. The team’s history can be traced back to 1981, when it was Toleman. It became Benetton in 1986 before being bought by Renault in 2000. In this sense, the team has one of the richest histories in the sport, which stretches to half of Formula 1’s history.

For much of the team’s life, the team has rather successfully been run by Flavio Briatore. It is not outside the realms of possibility that, should Renault decide to pull the plug, Briatore could buy the team in an emergency measure and run it as a privateer entry, Brawn-style. But given his acrimonious relationship with the FIA (which is ironic given that he works with Bernie Ecclestone on other business endeavours), that now seems like a distant possibility.

Of the five teams with asterisks next to them on the entry list, McLaren and Brawn are the ones that the FIA cannot afford to lose. McLaren must be kept on board because of their history in the sport, which is rivalled by no-one’s except Ferrari’s. Meanwhile, to lose Brawn — who will almost certainly be World Champions this year — would be a major disaster for the FIA, and would only serve to underline the point that the new teams cannot compete with the best in F1 on merit.

In a way, then, McLaren and Brawn hold the aces. Interestingly, both are a strange kind of beast that is neither privateer nor manufacturer. This gives them a different perspective to the Renault / Toyota / BMW triumvirate — but it also distances them from being enticed by gimmicky budget cap proposals. Brawn could be seen as a full privateer from next season onwards. But the FIA must keep Mercedes happy to keep McLaren on side. Interestingly, Mercedes also plays a major role in Brawn’s success.

Therefore, as much as it (apparently) wants to drive the manufacturers out of the sport, Mercedes is ostensibly the one company which the FIA can’t afford to mess around. But, McLaren-Mercedes has been successfully neutered by the umpteenth high-profile hauling over the coals by the FIA. The FIA therefore have the whip hand, and Mercedes may be happier to defer to the FIA’s will than it otherwise would have been. Funny how it works out like that, isn’t it?

By now, it is abundantly clear that last week’s publication of the entry list was not designed to clear up the situation. Every single line in that publication was designed to wind someone up. It’s the way Max Mosley does his business: personality politics, vindictiveness and grandstanding. He clearly gets a thrill out of putting people in painful situations.

This morning the FIA has published the entry list for the 2010 Formula 1 season. It was widely anticipated to be a huge news story, and the entry list certainly raises a lot of questions.

The first thing to note is that all ten currently existing teams are on the list in some form or another. Five of the Fota-aligned teams are at the bottom of the list and have asterisks next to their entries. Conditions are still attached to their entries, so their participation in the 2010 season depends on how talks between Fota and the FIA proceed.

There is a deadline of 19 June for the situation to be resolved. That will no doubt be another big news day as the FIA will have a few extra teams up its sleeve ready to take the place should any Fota teams pull out.

Provocatively, the FIA has entered three of the Fota teams — Ferrari, Red Bull and Toro Rosso — and listed them as unconditional entries. These three teams all signed agreements with the FIA and FOM back in 2005 — the last time a breakaway was on the cards. Ferrari feel that its agreements with the FIA have been broken already, therefore it does not have an obligation to enter in 2010. Ferrari have reiterated that they have no intention of participating in the 2010 season unless its conditions are met.

Meanwhile, Red Bull feel that the FIA has reneged on its assurances that customer cars would be allowed. This is a matter upon which Red Bull’s agreement was apparently based. Red Bull have made clear that they have no intention of taking part as either Red Bull or Toro Rosso as things stand.

No matter what contracts have been signed by whom, you do have to wonder exactly how the FIA intends on forcing teams to participate when they have absolutely no intention of doing so. What is to stop Ferrari or Red Bull from competing half-heartedly in protest, sending out underdeveloped cars and a small team who are uninterested in taking part and fail to qualify, or retire after lap 1?

It wouldn’t exactly do much good for Formula 1’s image. I guess the FIA are banking that such a stunt would be bad for the image of Ferrari and Red Bull too, which would put them off doing it.

The most uncontroversial element of the entry list is the inclusion of Williams and Force India. Both teams were recently “expelled” from Fota as they felt obliged to submit unconditional entries due to previous commercial agreements.

The three new teams are USF1, Campos and Manor. This is a surprise to me. I — and I think most others — expected the three teams to be USF1, Prodrive and Lola.

USF1 were always going to be a dead cert. They had announced that they would enter the 2010 season even before there was a suggestion of a budget cap being in place. Indeed, the team has shrugged its shoulders over the idea of a budget cap. It is perfectly content to participate without a budget cap, which rather undermines Max Mosley’s contention that no new teams will enter without a budget cap.

Campos will probably be a solid operation. The team will be headed up by former Formula 1 driver Adrián Campos, who has been a successful team manager in lower formulae. The original Campos Motorsport won the first three seasons of the precursor to World Series by Renault, winning the championship with Fernando Alonso in 1999. In later years, Campos concentrated on GP2 and became one of the best teams on the grid, winning the 2008 Teams’ Championship. Adrián Campos sold that team which is now known as Addax.

Manor is an alliance between Manor Motorsport and Nick Wirth, two solid names. Nick Wirth was a major force behind Simtek. When the team collapsed, he went on to work at Benetton.

Manor Motorsport has a strong pedigree in lower formulae, having run successful British Formula Renault, British Formula 3 and F3 Euroseries operations. Its Formula Renault team is probably most famous for having run Kimi Räikkönen in the year before the Finn took the unbelievable leap all the way up to a full F1 race drive. It also housed Lewis Hamilton when he won the British Formula Renault championship.

All three of these new teams are pencilled in to run with Cosworth engines, although James Allen believes that USF1 is considering switching to Toyota. The use of Cosworth engines is no surprise. Max Mosley’s threatened standardised engine was the Cosworth lump, and their engine which was used by Williams in 2006 is more-or-less up to date with the current regulations.

I find it highly surprising that Prodrive have not been given the nod. The last time the FIA invited new teams to enter F1, Prodrive was the team that succeeded in gaining the place. However, when the FIA decided to ban customer cars, Prodrive were unable to take that slot which has remained vacant ever since. David Richards knows what he is doing, and had a long-term aim to bring the Aston Martin brand to F1. It seemed to be everything the FIA was wanting, but seemingly that is not the case.

Lola also must have felt pretty confident about getting an entry. Although their last foray into F1 in 1997 was an unmitigated disaster, there were commercial reasons behind it and there was no reason to suggest that they would repeat the mistake. Lola is a classic name which fans of motorsport recognise. And unlike ghostly entries using the names “Brabham”, “March” and “Lotus”, this classic name is the real deal.

It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if Prodrive and Lola are options for the FIA to fall back on in case talks with Fota fail. The ever-present threat that a manufacturer may pull out without warning is also there.

Another notable aspect of the entry is that Red Bull, Toro Rosso and Brawn are all currently without engine deals. But with the manufacturers threatening to jump ship, it probably doesn’t mean much anyway. But it does add further credibility to the idea that Red Bull is angling for Mercedes engines for next season.