The FIA-Fota face-off

The Formula 1 news has been dominated by political activity of late. I have struggled to bring myself to write about it, but today’s events seem like a good stage to provide an overview of where things stand.

This business with Ferrari taking the FIA to court over a veto is very interesting. Ostensibly the loss of the court case is bad news for Ferrari, but in fact their point has been proven. The court did confirm that Ferrari do have such a veto — just that they have failed to play their card correctly.

What this has conveniently done, though, is proved the point that the FIA simply are not to be trusted in this sort of situation. This technical veto — along with a host of financial and sporting perks — was given to Ferrari as a reward for jumping into bed with the FIA the last time the governing body’s power was put into question. GPWC (later GPMA) was an alliance of some of F1’s biggest names. It was essentially a bargaining tool for the teams not unlike today’s Fota. Ferrari was a major player in it — until the FIA lured them away with bribes. With Ferrari gone, GPMA was toothless and little was heard of it ever again.

This time, Ferrari aren’t for turning. The threat to the FIA’s power is therefore much greater this time round. So the FIA has preoccupied itself with looking for ways to either break up or undermine Fota. That is why they have this sudden obsession with new teams, even though there have been vacancies on the grid for over ten years. I seriously doubt we’d be hearing about how vital it is to attract new teams were it not for Fota. By doing whatever they can to bring in new teams, the FIA can ensure that there will no longer be unanimity among the teams.

After all, the FIA does not really have much else going for it. Participants, fans, media commentators and other onlookers have all completely lost faith in the FIA as it brings in ever-dafter regulations that lack any cohesion. For just one example, they will constantly bang on about cost cutting, then force teams to incur further costs by radically changing the regulations periodically.

Moreover, the FIA constantly fail to meet their own regulations, such as when earlier this year they attempted to change the sporting regulations within days of the season starting without first consulting the teams. Nor can the FIA administrate the sport in an even-handed way, as has been patently demonstrated by countless unfathomable stewards’ decisions over the past few seasons. The FIA is also wholly inadequate at formulating or policing the technical regulations, as is apparent with the completely botched introduction of kers and their inability to simply tell anyone if the double deck diffuser was legal.

Earlier this year Fota put forward a measured set of proposals that were based on actual market research which was conducted in an open and transparent manner. By contrast, Max Mosley just plucks new rules out of his freshly spanked arse. The FIA changes the regulations willy-nilly, out of the blue, for no apparent reason, without consulting anyone. The views of the teams, drivers, fans and the wider industry all count for nothing as far as the FIA is concerned.

This is the nub of the matter really. As has now become clear, the budget cap controversy was merely a conduit for a larger battle to begin — a battle over the governance of the sport. Do we want Formula 1 to continue to be driven into the ground by a frustrated politician who has no interest in consulting the people who really matter to the sport? Or would we prefer a future where fans and teams have a say, and where regulation changes can be measured and predictable? Well, I know whose side I’m on.

While people may scoff at the apparent arrogance of Ferrari’s recent statements, they do have a point. As readers will know, I am no Ferrari fan. But there is no doubt that this brand carries a lot of history, a lot of status, a lot of respect, a hell of a lot of fans and money by the bucket load. Arguably, the Ferrari brand is much more famous than the Formula 1 brand.

So Ferrari’s point about the calibre of the supposed new teams is bang on in my view. Make no mistake, the vast majority of these are teams that under normal circumstances would not be able to even consider entering F1, with an F1-standard car at an F1-standard budget. It is feasible only with the FIA promising to skew the rules in their favour — just as they skewed the rules in Ferrari’s favour back in 2005. This sort of crap has no place in a “sport” in the 21st century.

Privateer teams may be romantic, and I would love to see decent private teams to be able to compete at an F1 standard on merit, just as Brawn and Williams do today. But F1 is supposed to be the pinnacle of motorsport. And though some of the proposed new teams are accomplished enough at certain levels, few if any could claim to be on the cusp of being at F1 standard in normal circumstances.

As Joe Saward put it, it beggars belief that Max Mosley would think that it would be worth trading names like Ferrari, Toyota, Renault, BMW and potentially Mercedes for names like Wirth Research, Epsilon Euskadi, RML, Formtech, Campos and so on. Ask Max Mosley’s precious “man in the pub” about any of the names from the first list, and their eyes will light up in recognition. Asking about names from the second list would elicit a nonplussed response.

A grid full of teams like this, and with none of the historic and famous names that mean so much to people, would be an empty F1 indeed. It could be a return to the bad old days of the late 1980s and early 1990s, when the grid was full of half-arsed operations which polluted the field and acted as mobile chicanes. The FIA went too far in its efforts to get rid of these teams in the mid-1990s. Now it seems happy enough to go too far back the other way.

Max Mosley’s case seems utterly weak. He should know that too, because the last time he threatened the teams by forcing them to enter at short notice, the list of “new teams” was similarly long. Of these teams, one — Prodrive — was given the nod. It never materialised because the FIA decided to forego the biggest opportunity to cut costs they could ever ask for by making customer cars illegal.

As before, these new teams look like paper tigers. Yet Max Mosley is hinging the future of the sport on them because he finds it more palatable than relinquishing any of his power.

5 comments

  1. A really good post. Ferrari are of course right about the new teams, but their language was, I felt, quite extraordinary.

    They have to get a more representative way of governing this sport that doesn’t involve the dictatorial whims of Max and Bernie.

    “By contrast, Max Mosley just plucks new rules out of his freshly spanked arse.” Lovely turn of phrase – had me laughing out loud.

    How’s it going to get sorted, though? Who has the clout to bang heads together and make everybody see sense. Everyone who was saying last week that all this would blow over is now starting to worry. Your article is very effective at arguing that Max Mosley is completely wrong, but how can the power be wrested from him

  2. Thanks for the comment Caron. You are right that it’s difficult to see a way forward. I certainly can’t ever think of a time when Max Mosley has had to concede defeat — even though he has been categorically in the wrong a number of times. And for Ferrari to do a U-turn after all of this chest-beating would be embarrassing in the extreme for them.

  3. Doctor Vee, I very badly wish you’d write more often. But insights like these –with Easter eggs like “freshly-spanked arse”– make it worth the wait.

  4. Ferrari is so big that it is the only serious opponent to the FIA. I don’t like the “Cavbalino rampante” either, but if I have to support their decision against the evil Max, I’ll do. I don’t really care about the name (Formula 1 is that, only a name) and Ferrari can have the potential to create a new successful champ. I recommend to read about the history of basket in the USE and the split NBA/ABA in the seventies. That was the beginning of one of the greatest leagues ever: the reconstituted NBA.
    Think about it…

  5. Crid — Thanks very much. I wish I could write more often too!

    Ponzonha — Nice insight about basketball. I didn’t know about that. In motorsport people are always worried about a split because of what we saw with IRL and CART in the USA, which was truly disastrous. But maybe you are right that it is the way forward.

    One suggestion I read was that the teams could buy the A1GP brand and run under that banner. I suppose Ferrari already have an association there, so it might not be so outlandish.