Yesterday, I drove up from Paris to England. It rained most of the way. And at Calais I was stuck in an unnecessary queue at the Eurotunnel terminal as the French customs men did explosives swabs on the returning Le Mans 24 Hours crowd. The average Le Mans fan does not look like a terrorist. They are rather too jolly for that. They have spent the weekend holed up in a dilapidated chateaux, with little old ladies tut-tutting and very bad plumbing. This crowd have done their share of drinking in the course of the weekend and, judging by appearances, some of them have enjoyed some big French lunches as well. And why not? Why not stick numbers on the side of your souped-up Subaru? Why not have stickers telling the world that you are part of a Curry Club trip to the race. Why not paint your Caterham in Gulf colours? Why not wear a silly hat or golfing socks that your grandfather would not even have considered in the 1920s?
I did not talk to any of them about the state of the motor racing world, but sat in my car, inside the train, inside the tunnel. I did not wish to talk about Formula 1. It is just too depressing at the moment. The racing is good, don’t get me wrong, but the politics is sapping the life from the sport. And the British GP this weekend will no doubt give us another dose of the politics as the FIA and FOTA get to the next showdown. All this is disastrous for the business. The driver market is frozen, the signing of sponsorship deals has effectively stopped and everything is “on hold” until there is a clearer picture about the future. No-one seems to care about the fans – except that they are the people who are used to justify the existence of the whole business. The fans I have spoken to do not really understand what is going on. They do not really care except that their favourite sport is being messed up.
There was light at the end of the tunnel yesterday. The sun was shining in England and I took the opportunity to enjoy the flexibility of life as an F1 journalist. I went for a drive through the Weald of Kent, a land of breath-taking lush greens, oast houses, and pubs with ridiculous names.
It was a delightful way to spend an afternoon and I justified itself to myself as I had spent all of Sunday hard at work.
While I was on the road the mobile phone did not work in most places and so I was left free of it all.
Today the FIA has been explaining why there is a conflict, hoping no doubt to win some support with the clear logic of its arguments. When you read the FIA justification of the dispute it all makes sense, but then I have reached the conclusion that it is not addressing the real issue. That point was made on Friday by the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA), which made it clear that the fight is not about budget caps. It is about how the sport is run.
“The FIA needs a modernised and transparent governance system and processes, including the revision of its constitution, to ensure the voice of its members, worldwide motorsport competitors and motorists are properly reflected,” the statement said, and it went on to call for “stable governance, clear and transparent rules which are common to all competitors to achieve cost reductions including a proper attribution of revenues to the F1 teams, in order to deliver a sustainable attractive sport for the worldwide public.”
Luca di Montezemolo, the head of Ferrari and FOTA, made the point again in his discussions with the media at Le Mans over the weekend.
“I really hope we manage to find a solution,” he said. “I’m sure there are responsible people inside the FIA who understand the situation.”
Cutting through the crap, Montezemolo’s message was clear as a bell. He was calling for the FIA clubs to find a way to remove Mosley.
Why now? Mosley survived a sex scandal in 2008. That surely would have been the moment to have done this? Perhaps it was, but no-one did. The FIA clubs that did want him out were defeated and Mosley came back stronger.
And maybe that is the problem.
No-one will say it out loud but I think that the manufacturers are all frightened of what has happened to McLaren. You can think what you like about the rights and wrongs of what happened to McLaren in 2007 and again at the start of this season, but it is clear that a lot of people in the F1 world find it disquieting that such a great team has been brought to its knees. The rival teams may have been happy to see McLaren suffering at the time, but when they stopped to think about what had really happened, they all began to feel vulnerable.
I am absolutely sure that Mosley knows that the real aim of FOTA is to end his term of office. The entry list that has been issued may look as though he is trying to compromise but it included three new teams that were not the ones that had been expected. The reaction of the stronger candidate teams was interesting. They too were mystified. They did not understand it. They knew they were stronger than the teams named.
What the announcement on Friday did was to close down three of the 13 available entries. There are still at least four new teams out there that are strong enough to enter F1 next year, plus Williams and Force India, FOTA members who feel obliged to go with the FIA. That means that in the worst case scenario the FIA has nine teams for next year. There is room for four more if any of the FOTA teams wish to jump ship, which it is logical to do. There are four teams that exist solely to race. If FOTA offers them no alternative championship, they could join Mosley’s teams. If FOTA decides to do its own thing (which now seems to be the case) then we will have two championships. FOTA has eight members.
Will this disaster really happen? I don’t know, but I fear it will. It is the worst case scenario for all concerned, yet I cannot see how it can be solved. Max is not going to depart of his own free will, the manufacturers are not going to back down again. If that turns out to be the case, the only solution to keep all sides together is for the FIA clubs to take Max out…
…and I just cannot see that happening.
So, right now, there is no light at the end of the tunnel…
I hope I am wrong.