Archive: Fisa

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 GrandPrix.com: 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 Grandprix.com).

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