Archive: Politics

This week, I have decided to make another attempt at reading more books. I read stuff all the time, but almost all of it is on the web. A few hundred words at a time. Lots of breadth but not much depth.

I have never done much in the way of reading books. Fiction is not for me, so novels are more-or-less out of the question. However, I do enjoy reading non-fiction books. But I somehow never get the time to read them.

Time is the scarcest resource imaginable, and I have a tendency to build these backlogs. Not too long ago I wrote about the huge number of podcasts that are stuck in my backlog (I am just about getting that under control). I also have a small pile of CDs that I bought several months ago and still haven’t listened to, and a slightly smaller pile of DVDs from before Christmas that I still haven’t watched.

The unread books shelf But books are the big daddy of my backlog. I have special shelf just for unread books! Currently, 15 books sit there. Some of them I must have got almost a decade ago.

I think they are perhaps the wrong books. How tempted am I to ever reopen the ten-year-old book about US radio stations that I started but didn’t finish? How about the two political books that I started but never finished? Or the two books about economics that I started but got bored of?

In the summer of 2006, between my second and third years at university, I went on a big drive to read economics books. I had begun to realise that I was struggling at economics, and decided to spend the summer reading less academic, more accessible economics book in an attempt to soak up some of the subject and hopefully become a better economist in third year.

I happened to read a blog post by Greg Mankiw called Summer reading list, which seemed to fit the bill perfectly. After a bit of research, I selected five books from the list and ordered them. Sadly, it took me a year to read one of them. I finished another of them last year. I started one of them this year but gave up, and two others sit on the shelf virtually unopened. (I finished Freakonomics very quickly, but I think I bought that afterwards.)

My lack of talent in economics became clearer in third year, when I performed abysmally. My motivation plummeted. I later bought the Penguin History of Economics, which was on the reading list for the History of Economic Thought course that I took. This, also, has been started but not finished.

For a while, my main plan was to get through these economics books, and the other books in my backlog, before buying any others. But having not done any reading for several months, I had to recognise that this wasn’t a good plan.

Before I completed my degree, I had already more-or-less made the decision not to pursue economics further. I was lucky enough to somehow get a 2:1, but mostly due to the politics courses and my dissertation. It was clear to me that I just wasn’t cut out for economics, even though I planned to maintain an interest in it.

But there was no point in pretending I was going to start reading these books. So I have decided to buy more books on different subjects and start reading them. Last week I acquired seven new books — six that I had bought, and one surprise gift. It’s a mixture of stuff — some about writing and editing, a humour book, some motorsport books that I will probably blast through, and… an economics book.

Well, I figured that since I liked Freakonomics so much, I would probably actually read Superfreakonomics. Wish me luck. I will keep my LibraryThing thing updated.

Up until yesterday, it had been a good year for F1. The spotlight has been on the racetrack rather than the stewards’ room. It had even reached the stage where some people — including me — were asking if the stewards were being too lenient. Overall, it seems as though the reign of Jean Todt is much less of a nanny state.

Unfortunately, yesterday in Monaco that changed — and for a typical reason. The rules were simply badly-worded and too ambiguous. And that left plenty of room for two interpretations of the situation.

It is not often you will find me on the side of Michael Schumacher — especially since, the longer he continues being average, the more I can say “I told you so“. But I sympathise with him and the Mercedes team in this instance.

What is the new rule for?

The confusion arises from the introduction of a “Safety Car line” for the first time this year. This means that drivers can start overtaking more or less as soon as the Safety Car peels in, rather than having to wait until passing the start line.

I think this has been a slightly under-advertised rule change. I first learnt about it during the Chinese Grand Prix when cars were passing each other into the final corner of the lap during a race restart. So the explanation for the introduction of the Safety Car line is unclear to me.

I assume the idea is just to get the race back under way again as quickly as possible. In that case the idea gets my approval, even though I liked the idea that there was skill involved in timing your restart perfectly for the start / finish line. I remember particularly Fernando Alonso really showing up Jenson Button at a restart during the 2006 Australian Grand Prix — still one of my favourite Alonso moments.

What a good idea, too, it would have been if this rule had been brought in as a result of last year’s Australian Grand Prix finishing behind the Safety Car. Allowing the drivers to race towards the finish line, rather than form an orderly queue towards it, would be a good way of maintaining the excitement of a motor race until the end, rather than allowing it to fizzle out like Australia 2009.

It seems as though article 40.13 is specifically designed to prohibit this though. I would be interested to learn of the rationale for this. It seems to me that it would be a particularly good idea to use a device like the Safety Car line only on the final lap — not on every lap except the final lap!

The return of Formula None

I keep coming back to the concept of Formula None. This is the curious phenomenon whereby the powers-that-be in F1 decide to outlaw anything that comes dangerously close to becoming motor racing.

Michael Schumacher’s move on Fernando Alonso was an incredible piece of opportunistic driving. It brought an exciting twist to the final lap. Then again, it becomes less special when you realise that Alonso wasn’t even thinking that he would have to defend.

I do find it a shame that, in a race which saw no position changes whatsoever in the final 48 laps, the one successful overtaking manoeuvre has been deemed to be illegal — and for slightly unclear reasons.

Differing interpretations of article 40.13

The contentious rule, Article 40.13 of the Sporting Regulations, reads as follows:

If the race ends whilst the safety car is deployed it will enter the pit lane at the end of the last lap and the cars will take the chequered flag as normal without overtaking.

Looking at the wording of this rule, it is in fact little surprise that it has caused confusion, since it is so badly worded. For one thing, it talks about something that should happen before the end of the race if a particular state is true at the end of the race.

You may safely assume that a race will end under “Safety Car deployed” conditions if the Safety Car is on track for the final lap. But you nevertheless need time-travel skills from the top drawer in order to carry out the instructions in the sequence that the FIA regulations request.

I admit that is a pedantic point. The real issue is in the definition of “Safety Car deployed”. It is clear now that the rules say that Safety Car conditions effectively end when your car passes the Safety Car line on the lap in which the Safety Car enters the pits. For some reason — unexplained — this is seemingly different on the final lap.

We must now turn to whether — theoretically — the 79th lap of this 78 lap race would have seen the Safety Car continue on the track rather than peel into the pits. This is key to understanding whether or not the race finished under Safety Car conditions.

It seems to me as though a message on the timing screens declaring that the Safety Car will pit in this lap, that could seal the deal. However, this may just be a procedural message, notifying teams and television viewers that the Safety Car will pit, even though Safety Car conditions will not technically end.

Perhaps, then, the “Track clear” message will underline the idea that our theoretical 79th lap would run under green flag conditions, and not Safety Car conditions.

If after that there was a shred of doubt, turn your eyes to the marshal posts, where you see a marshal merrily waving a green flag, just next to a big green flashing light (which is operated by Race Control). Surely a green flag always, always, means “racing”.

To me, it is absurd to throw out green flags, and yet prohibit overtaking. Even from a safety point of view, it is contradictory to what drivers are surely always told. Green means you can race safely; yellows mean you must slow down and not overtake. Apparently now green means “cruise to the finish line and don’t overtake — but only if you’re on the last lap, otherwise you can race safely.”

Are the green flags just for show? Surely if the intention of article 40.13 is to prevent racing in the last few hundred yards of a race just after the Safety Car has pulled in to the pits, the flag should still be yellow.

Yellow flags waving for the Safety Car finish in Australia last year

Looking back to that last Safety Car finish in Australia last year, you can clearly see marshals holding out “SC” boards and waving yellow flags as Jenson Button cruises his way towards the finish line. So why has the procedure been confusingly changed this season?

The decision was far from clear-cut

In many senses then, Mercedes and Michael Schumacher has a pretty strong case for claiming that racing conditions — “green flag” conditions — had resumed.

It seems as though their interpretation of the rule was unique. Certainly, Fernando Alonso had been told by Ferrari not to race. Lewis Hamilton was so surprised at Schumacher’s move that he went on the radio to enquire about it.

According to Andrew Benson:

This interpretation was shared by all the team managers bar that of Mercedes – I understand that upon seeing Schumacher’s move every single one of them got in touch with race director Charlie Whiting to say it was not allowed.

But the teams appear to sympathise with the Mercedes team’s point regarding green flags, with Jonathan Legard reporting that Mercedes have “support from other teams” on this issue, and that the procedure may be reviewed.

Some have tried to suggest that the rule is clear. In fact, it is not clear at all, particularly when the procedure — to throw out false green flags — is so confusing.

The fact that it took the stewards approximately two and a half hours to announce their decision denotes that the decision was far from clear-cut. It seems as though there has been a major cock-up in the FIA’s implementation of this new Safety Car system. As they might say in the areas surrounding Jean Todt’s office in Place de la Concorde, plus ça change…


(Image nicked from Alexj2002 at Digital Spy and the short guy in the white shirt.)

On top of the exits of Bridgestone and Toyota came news that Renault had held an emergency board meeting to discuss their future in Formula 1. According to Andrew Benson at the BBC:

The French car company was considering whether to remain in the sport with its own team, switch to simply being an engine supplier or quit altogether.

Were Renault to pull out, it would conclude the removal of all of the major manufacturer teams in F1. Honda, BMW and Toyota have all gone in the past year. Renault are now seriously considering leaving.

In terms of manufacturer involvement, that would leave engine suppliers Mercedes-Benz and Ferrari. Both Mercedes and Ferrari are as close to being permanent fixtures as it comes in F1. Mercedes have been involved in F1 uninterrupted since 1993. With their increased involvement in Brawn, they look set to stick around. Ferrari have been in F1 since the beginning in 1950 and were they to leave it would be the end of F1. As such, you can more-or-less exclude both Mercedes and Ferrari from the list of manufacturers at risk of leaving F1.

I have to admit that I am wary of what Renault might do. I always suspected that Renault would be the first manufacturer to leave, certainly since Carlos Ghosn took over there. Now they are effectively the last one remaining. That is a surprise. Does it make it more likely for them to stay in the long run? Or is this the opportunity to join the queue of companies leaving the sport without looking a bit silly like Honda did?

There are more questions. Was Max Mosley right all along to push forward with his anti-manufacturer proposals? His justification was that manufacturers might leave with no warning, so it was wise to slash costs, freeze engines and neuter the sport in all sorts of ways. Now that manufacturers are leaving in droves, it looks like he may have been right.

The alternative possibility is that the changes he has forced through, along with the screeds of bad publicity it caused, have fundamentally made the sport less attractive. The manufacturers could well have preferred a breakaway than live with the FIA’s vision. But the FIA’s vision is what we’ve got. Ferrari certainly have their own views.

The thing is, manufacturers are always fickle. They always have been, and always will be. They will leave at the drop of a hat if it no longer forms part of their marketing strategy. Motorsport is not their core business. At the end of the day, if they won’t sell on Monday, why should they bother trying to win on Sunday?

But it was Max Mosley who originally moulded F1 into a sport dominated by manufacturers. He said that teams like Williams were not his vision of F1′s future. Now Williams is the model of the sort of team that will occupy around half of the grid next year.

In a sense, you can see this current phase as the F1 equivalent of a market correction. The bubble has burst. But while it seems painful now, this process paves the way for a more stable situation.

Throughout its history, Formula 1 has had a healthy mixture of manufacturer involvement and privateer passion. In recent years, the scales had tipped a bit too far towards the manufacturers, which drowned out the privateers to an almost dangerous extent.

F1 had become the plaything of manufacturers and multi-trillionaires. Let us not forget that alongside the likes of Honda and Toyota, businessmen such as Dietrich Mateschitz and Vijay Mallya — who have more money than they know what to do with — have bankrolled F1 teams to success. You will notice that, ignoring the ‘For Sale’ sign outside Toro Rosso (which isn’t very prominent), these teams have remained in F1, unlike the manufacturers.

They are a bit more like privateers in the traditional sense. They don’t want to sell cars, though they may want to sell drinks. But in a way they are in F1 because they are attracted to it as a sport, just as people like Frank Williams and Ken Tyrrell were. Manufacturers just do it because they feel like they should.

Next year there might be too few manufacturers. For there to be just three companies supplying engines would be a situation almost as unsustainable as what has happened up to this year. Cosworth may be crossing their fingers though. Their business model might work if they supply more teams.

But I can see Renault playing a happy role as an engine supplier, even if the Renault F1 team is put up for sale. I am certain that there would be a lot of interest from serious people wanting to buy the team. Despite the turmoil of this year’s scandal, and the fact that the team has gone off the boil for the past few years, this is a team that has the facilities and the capabilities to win World Championships.

I would be upset to see Renault leave the sport. I have a bit of a soft spot for them. Toyota were cold and clinical, on top of being comically bad considering their budgets.

Honda were always a bit of a fairweather presence. They took over BAR more-or-less because there was no-one else to do it after tobacco companies left the sport. Then they set up Super Aguri because they were scared to sack Takuma Sato properly. While many were attracted to Super Aguri for their pluck and while struggling at the back in difficult circumstances, it should never be forgotten that Super Aguri was always a crass and expensive publicity stunt.

Renault, though, have real heritage. They have a history in the shape of their involvement in the sport in the 1970s and 1980s. And the current incarnation of the team has been notably successful, mostly for being the one team that has been able to put up a sustained fight against Ferrari in this decade by beating the Scuderia two years in a row.

Here’s hoping that Renault don’t decide to depart. I am especially hopeful for Robert Kubica, a hugely talented driver who after being put through the wringer at BMW this year does not need this again. But, unlike the other teams, I have a feeling that the future of the Enstone-based squad will be perfectly safe no matter who owns it.

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.

This season never ceases to amaze me. The racing hasn’t always been the best, but the outcomes have seldom been predictable. At first, the utter dominance of Brawn, and Button in particular, was unbelievable. They were unstoppable, and it took longer for the other teams to catch up.

Then when the other teams caught up, it looked like Red Bull had the pound seats. But in fact the whole thing unravelled for Red Bull and we instead saw a run of six different drivers winning six different races. That hasn’t happened since 1985.

Throughout that period, Button had underperformed. And despite maintaining his Houdini-like grip on the Championship lead, he appeared on the back foot. He faced questions over how he was handling the pressure of fighting for the Championship, and lost his cool when asked a direct question about it by Ed Gorman of The Times.

He turned up at Monza apparently reinvigorated. It is said that he changed his approach. Instead of worrying about defending the Championship, he was thinking of it was a five race championship in which he had a 16 point head-start. His tail is now up again, and this weekend he was part of a great Brawn revival.

I have to confess that I didn’t predict Brawn doing well at Monza. After all, at Spa-Francorchaps, a circuit with similar characteristics, Brawn were stuck firmly in the midfield. But I guess the hard braking zones, coupled with the awesome power of the Mercedes engine, played straight into their hands.

It was a disciplined approach from Brawn, who shunned headline-grabbing table-topping throughout the weekend. They instead went for a one-stop strategy, which left them occupying row 3 of the grid, but played into their hands massively during the race.

The only problem for Jenson Button was the fact that it was Rubens Barrichello who won the race. But despite having his best race since Turkey, Button has only lost two points from his lead — which is more-or-less the same sort of drop he has had from most of the past six races.

At the same time, Red Bull had yet another disastrous weekend. Mark Webber’s race was over after a first-lap tangle with Robert Kubica through the tight Roggia chicane. Meanwhile, Vettel lacked pace and could only score one point. The chance of a Red Bull driver winning the Championship has significantly diminished. Vettel has a 26 point deficit with only four races to go.

However, the most noteworthy part of the race was probably when Lewis Hamilton crashed on the final lap while he was running in third. The odd thing about it is that there is no immediately apparent reason for the crash. It seems that Hamilton just pushed a bit too hard. He was certainly pushing very hard all race, but you have to wonder why he thought he had a chance of catching Button with so little of the race remaining.

Some people like the fact that Hamilton is an aggressive driver, and I agree that it is more fun to watch than a more conservative driver who might settle for third. But this kind of needless mistake is something that Hamilton is particularly prone to, and it is what, for me, stops him from being a truly great driver. He needs the maturity to realise when is the right time to be aggressive rather than the simple “always push hard” approach.

You look at a race weekend like this and it is no surprise that Mercedes appears to want to back Brawn rather than McLaren in future. The Mercedes engine was clearly the class of the field, and McLaren had the perfect opportunity to make it work for them.

Fuel-corrected, Heikki Kovalainen was fast enough to be on pole position. But he had a horrendous first lap, getting swallowed up by car after car, and losing four places when he really should have gained places because of his kers. Looking at his strategy, many tipped Kovalainen to win. But he looked very average during the race and could only finish 6th.

It further cements my view that Kovalainen is a driver who is simply unable to win. His one career victory was inherited after Massa’s engine blew. Fair enough, but he can’t race his way to the front. His underwhelming performance at Monza this year is very reminiscent of last year’s Italian Grand Prix. That was another one that Kovalainen should have won, but he was unable to challenge Sebastian Vettel in the Toro Rosso.

Oh, McLaren. If they’re not getting themselves embroiled in political scandals as a result of their overly complicated interpretations of the rules, they are messing up their strategy or making some awful error in the pitlane. As for their drivers, one is too aggressive for his own good and makes high-profile mistakes, while the other one is too slow to ever be in a position to make mistakes.

It’s interesting to compare McLaren’s driver line-up with Brawn’s. The Brawn pair have both been written off in the past, yet this year they are the class of the field. Meanwhile, McLaren’s highly-rated drivers of moderate experience end up looking like the Chuckle Brothers in comparison. It seems like Mercedes’s shift in focus towards Brawn can’t come soon enough.

The other Mercedes-powered team, Force India, continued its good form from Spa-Francorchamps. I suppose on reflection Force India may have cause to be disappointed. On the back of Fisichella’s scintillating performance in Belgium, Sutil’s 4th place looks relatively subdued. Meanwhile, Liuzzi’s retirement with transmission failure while he was looking set for a solid result must count as a missed opportunity.

Mind you, how impressive was Liuzzi this weekend? Liuzzi is a star of the future of the past, having once been tipped for a drive at Ferrari while he impressed the world in F3000. But he ended up getting swallowed and spat out by the Red Bull driver development juggernaut, where he was messed about by the management.

But it should be remembered that Liuzzi held his own against Sebastian Vettel while at Toro Rosso. The talent is there but has been wasted over the years. His performance at Monza surely cements his future at Force India or perhaps even a better team.

Up until now, I have refrained from writing about the latest scandal to envelop F1 — allegations that Nelsinho Piquet’s crash at last year’s Singapore Grand Prix was engineered in order to fix the race so that Alonso could win. Now that Renault have been summoned to an extraordinary meeting of the WMSC (sound familiar?), it seems as though there is some substance to the allegations. At least there is enough of a suspicion that the FIA feels the need to take the situation very seriously.

Suspicion about the result has hung around since immediately after the race. Fernando Alonso’s strategy was unusual, though by no means unheard of. He was filled very light at the beginning so that he could pit a few laps before everyone else and hope for a Safety Car within those few laps to make up the places. How convenient, it was widely noted, that the Safety Car Alonso badly needed was brought out as a result of his team mate Piquet slinging his car into the wall.

Up until this week, though, I had always suspected that if there was any conspiracy on Renault’s part, it was to tell Piquet in the heat of the moment to push hard in the hope that he might crash. The way the situation is framed now, it seems as though the allegation is that the whole thing was premeditated. The thinking appears to be that the plan was formulated by Renault personnel and discussed with Piquet before the race began.

If these allegations are true, they should be taken very seriously indeed. It would surely be the biggest scandal ever to have hit Formula 1 (and that is saying something). This is no little sex game. It is not mere pilfering of intellectual property. The concern here isn’t even just about race fixing, though that is a serious charge in itself.

When you talk about deliberately crashing a car, that is a major safety issue. First of all there is the safety of the driver who is being asked to crash a car into a wall. Despite the high safety standards for drivers today, it is obvious to see how this plan could have had terrible consequences.

Then there is the safety of other drivers. Even though Piquet’s crash happened when there were no other drivers near him, this is not really the point. (Update: Actually, looking at the replay, there are other drivers near him, and indeed he is overtaken while the crash is still happening.) His crash left debris spread across the track. A driver could easily pick up a puncture and end up in his own serious accident.

This year we have also had bad experiences of debris causing serious injury to Felipe Massa and the death of Henry Surtees. In Hungary, the spring from Rubens Barrichello’s car was bouncing around for four seconds until it hit Massa’s helmet with disastrous consequences. How would anyone setting out to deliberately crash their car know that there won’t be any knock-on effects to the safety of other drivers?

That is before we even consider the safety of the spectators. In the video we can see that they are actually sitting very close to Piquet’s accident right next to the circuit. If shards of debris made their way into the crowd, we could be looking at injuries there too.

Comparisons with rugby union’s “bloodgate” scandal understate the nature of these allegations. Piquet’s crash could have involved real blood.

Yes, motorsport is dangerous. Everyone knows that. But everyone takes part under the assumption that safety comes first, and that no-one is deliberately setting out to cause danger. Let us be clear. If it is true that Piquet was instructed to deliberately crash the car, we could easily be looking at manslaughter charges rather than just race fixing charges.

That is why I find it so difficult to believe that the Renault team or anyone else involved in motorsport would actually consider concocting such a scheme. The allegations against Renault are very serious and as such there needs to be cast-iron evidence if any action is to be taken.

It seems unbelievable that Renault would leave behind any trace of their plan in the form of, for instance, their radio transmissions (although that didn’t stop McLaren from inexplicably trying to pretend they didn’t exist back in Australia this year). A secret code phrase is not inconceivable though.

I can easily envisage such a code phrase being something like “Fernando has been in for his stop”. It is, after all, not unusual for a driver to be told how his team mate is doing, and that simple piece of information would have told Piquet all he needed to know. I imagine the FIA will be studying the radio recordings of the Singapore race and other races to see if there is anything unusual at all about the Singapore transmissions in the run-up to Piquet’s crash.

Then comes the question of where exactly the new evidence has come from. The assumption seems to be that it has come from camp Piquet (either Jr or Sr). It is easy to see what Piquet’s agenda might be. The clear mission just now is to discredit Flavio Briatore — that is clear from Piquet’s incredible statement after he was sacked by Renault.

One thing makes me doubt that Piquet is the whistleblower is that this whole thing would show him up to be the sort of dummy would go along with such a dangerous scheme for his own short-term gain. If the allegations are true, Piquet is just as liable as the Renault team. If he thinks he will save his career by blowing the whistle, he really is a few marbles short.

The only way this calculation can work is that Piquet thought that his career was ruined anyway (which I suppose is likely), and he has nothing to lose and at least can bring Briatore down with him. Otherwise, Piquet’s only hope will be that he is looked upon favourably for being the whistleblower. But I think anyone who is happy to deliberately crash their car in a premeditated scheme ought to be set for a lengthy racing ban.

Amid all this, it is worth asking the question: is Renault the sort of team that would do this sort of thing. A certain constituency would say that it is in the nature of competitive drivers and teams to exploit loopholes in the regulations, and that creative interpretations of the rulebook are to be expected and, in some cases, celebrated.

The Benetton / Renault team which has been run by Flavio Briatore for most of the past twenty years has certainly seen its fair share of scandals over the years. This was particularly the case while Michael Schumacher was driving for them. In 1994 it seemed as though Benetton were never far away from trouble.

But the team has been reticent in pushing the regulations in recent years, probably having learnt its lesson from previous controversies. That was particularly noticeable when Renault stuck to the spirit of the engine freeze principle, while every other engine manufacturer upgraded their engine in the guise of improving reliability.

There was a smaller spygate-style scandal when team members were found to be in possession of McLaren intellectual property. But overall, the picture is mixed. Most of the team’s biggest examples of cheating happened fifteen years ago. As such, it is difficult to say if Renault is the sort of team that would willingly manipulate events in the manner which is alleged.

The FIA will want to consider the facts of the incident in question though. Or will they? It is interesting to consider if this might be Max Mosley’s parting shot. Given the political shenanigans from earlier this year, it is probably fair to say that Flavio Briatore is not Max Mosley’s favourite person. Is this another invention of (or inflation by) the FIA, as with the Stepneygate issue of two years ago?

Some people will always suspect the FIA’s motives, particularly why Max Mosley is in charge. Checkpoint 10 goes as far as to “blame the rules” for Renault’s alleged actions. I agree to an extent. The FIA’s rulebook is famously convoluted, and it was the ridiculous Safety Car rules that led to this situation in the first place. I draw the line at saying that such actions should be “commended” though — as I say, there could have been far more serious implications than mere race-fixing.

Joe Saward has a good overview which I would highly recommend reading.

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.

The other big news of yesterday was the sudden withdrawal of BMW from Formula 1. This season will be their last.

It can’t be called a complete shock. It had become very fashionable in F1 circles to say something like, “I am sure one or two or all of BMW, Renault and Toyota will pull out of F1 this season.” But the rumours were particularly centred on Renault and Toyota, and BMW were probably widely considered to be the team out of those three with the most stable future.

That made BMW’s exit a shock. In a way, though, it is not a surprise. It was well known that when BMW bought the Sauber team back in 2005, they set themselves very ambitious targets that were to be met within a matter of a few years. This was the basis for the team’s famously methodical (although too-clinical-for-some) gradual, targets-based approach.

So while it may seem a bit of an over-reaction for BMW to pull out so suddenly, it’s worth remembering that this was the year when they were supposed to be fighting for the championship (or regular wins, as the target appeared to become more recently). Instead they have one of the slowest cars in the field. Worse still, unlike with Honda in 2008, BMW fully expected to be fighting for the championship. They thought they had a great car.

Instead, 2009 has been a complete disaster for them. They put too much faith in their kers, a device which they thought would give them an advantage but proved to be anything but. Over the winter they were the only team favouring kers, but it turns out that Mercedes have a much better one while BMW’s is so useless that they will never use it again.

Now it seems as though the teams have agreed among themselves not to use kers for next season. Such technologies appeared to be a major motivation for BMW’s involvement in Formula 1. It was certainly an aspect they played up in their marketing.

Unfortunately, the way the FIA introduced kers to Formula 1 was a complete botch-job. Kers has been left with a seriously bad reputation, even though McLaren-Mercedes have now managed to make it work for them. Whatever happens to kers in the short term, it will be around for the long term. That was certainly the view of Williams Technical Director Sam Michael when he spoke to bloggers last week.

Perhaps as a result of focusing on kers, BMW’s F1.09 car is not up to the job. It must count as one of the biggest disappointments of the season. Even though Ferrari and McLaren also started the season poorly, those teams have fought their way back to the front. Meanwhile, BMW only seem to have fallen further away from the front as the season has progressed.

During the Hungarian GP weekend, Mario Theissen claimed that BMW had found the cause of the problems that had struck their car and that they would soon see an improvement in performance. The BBC’s commentators, Jonathan Legard and Martin Brundle, were both sceptical as they commented on BMW during the race. Legard said that if they think they’ve got a handle on the problem, they’ve got the wrong handle. Meanwhile, Brundle said that BMW’s statements about their performance sounded like PR-speak.

It is highly unlike BMW, and especially Mario Theissen, to make positive statements if they cannot back it up with evidence. Yet that was what they appeared to do when they said they knew what their problems were, while still qualifying 16th and 19th in a grid of twenty cars.

It wasn’t the only uncharacteristic behaviour from BMW over the weekend. Robert Kubica’s team radio transmissions on Friday have become famous for exhibiting the Pole’s grumpy and fussy attitude. He constantly complains about his car, even when it is setting fast times. Yet during practice in Hungary he actually sounded happy about his car. It was very unusual indeed.

Could it be that the BMW Sauber F1 team knew what was coming? Perhaps their statements about how good their car was becoming were a last-ditch attempt to convince the bosses that an improvement in fortunes was imminent. Obviously it convinced no-one.

Nevertheless, the BMW board deny that their exit from F1 is a kneejerk reaction to this season’s poor performances, with Klaus Draeger saying it was nothing to do with “our current performance or the general economic situation.” But it was obviously on his mind, as he saw fit to mention that, “It only took us three years to establish ourselves as a top team with the BMW Sauber F1 Team. Unfortunately, we were unable to meet expectations in the current season.”

It would be odd, however, for BMW to pull out on the basis of one disappointing season. BMW’s first season on 2006 was a solid start, and with the first car to be fully developed under BMW’s management they firmly established themselves as “best of the rest” behind Ferrari and McLaren. They remained so in 2008, bagging an impressive win in Canada along the way. Before the BMW partnership, Sauber were never so competitive.

Obviously, the fact that the FIA is asking all teams to commit to Formula 1 until 2012 by signing the Concorde Agreement imminently was a crunch moment. We have all seen how a year, or even a few months, is a very long time in the volatile worlds of both F1 politics and the car manufacturing industry. It should be no surprise that, without a crystal ball, a company should be unwilling to make promises it is unsure it will be able to make. You almost sense that this was a deliberate ploy by the FIA to get a high-profile scalp, a theory made all the more likely by the FIA’s highly undignified “I-told-you-so” press release.

As has been widely noted, BMW’s press release is itself written largely in corporate jargon that seeks to hide the real reasons for BMW’s exit. My reading is that they would rather focus on motor sports where they can develop technology, particularly technology which is more road relevant. The political issues surrounding kers will therefore have not helped persuade BMW to stay.

It is not as though BMW wants to distance itself from the FIA either. It has pledged to stay in WTCC, which is an even worse example of FIA mismanagement.

But clearly talk of cost cutting or budget capping or resource restriction, whatever it’s called these days, is not the vision of F1 BMW had for the future. It was prepared to negotiate until the end. But come crunch time, with the Concorde Agreement sitting on the table waiting for the signature, BMW obviously found that the settlement was not what they wanted.

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?

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.