Former Williams chairman Adam Parr is a man who believes in doing business properly. As such, he found it difficult to adapt and accept the ways of F1, where things have always been done in a much more complicated fashion, with a “total war” attitude often being the way in the dealings between the parties involved. This meant that anything was acceptable and that the end justified the means. Illustrating this point is not easy because it is always hard to prove – 100 percent – that something happened because X did this or that to Y. The culture of non-transparency makes it tough. However, one can say, for example, that there are many in the sport who believe that McLaren’s $100 million fine was a payback for the team having played a role in nudging the European Commission into an investigation into the relationship between the governing body and the commercial interests.
Can anyone prove such a claim? No, but it does make sense when compared to what happened to the Renault team a short time later when it was found to have its computers stuffed with McLaren data and escaped with nothing more than a smack on the wrist.
It should be added that one of the side-effects of non-transparency is that conspiracy theories tend to run riot.
Parr resigned from Williams earlier this year because he found himself in a position he felt was untenable, with the Williams board of directors not wanting to get into the fight that he wanted to engage in. The directors were probably right when it comes to “total war” techniques, but Parr may be right when it comes to playing by the accepted rules of business.
The problem for F1 now is that having removed himself from the equation, Parr has nothing to lose, and that means that he can say things that he would not have said as Williams chairman – such as suggesting that the European Commission should again look at the way the sport is doing its deals. He believes that the Concorde Agreement that is being negotiated at the moment should be examined by the Commission to see whether the terms promised to Ferrari and Red Bull are anti-competitive. Parr is a lawyer and he thinks the unequal divisions of power (board representation) and money may not acceptable under EU competition laws. He also says that teams are unwilling to complain because they do not want to get on the wrong side of those who run the sport. It is hard to argue with this logic.
The only way to find out who is right is to go down that path. There is an argument – and apparently legal precedents – for a team like Ferrari getting special treatment because of its historical importance and value to the championship, but giving similar terms to a Johnny-Come-Lately team like Red Bull, over a McLaren or a Williams, is a matter for more discussion.
Will anything happen? That probably depends on whether or not the European Commission is paying attention to the sport. Back in 2001 the Commission closed down various anti-trust investigations into regulations and commercial arrangements involving F1 after all parties agreed to make changes limiting the FIA to a purely regulatory role, in order to prevent any conflict of interests, and to remove commercial restrictions on circuit owners and TV broadcasters. The Commission said that it would keep an eye on the business to ensure that the changes work in practice. The investigations dated back to the mid-1990s when complaints had been made. The scrutiny ended in 2003.
It may take five years to sort out, but at the end of it, the way the game is played could have to be modified to fit in with the acceptable rules of competition. If that turns out to be the case then Parr will be deemed to have done the sport a great service, although some of those currently involved will probably not look at his remarks in such a favourable light. Be that as it may, what is said is said and we will have to see whether the seeds take root in Brussels.