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.