Light at the end of the tunnel?

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.

England summer 2

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.

31 thoughts on “Light at the end of the tunnel?

  1. Interesting you should comment on how the Mclaren issues may have stirred things up. I posted the following on a motorsport forum earlier today.

    “I was just thinking that the demise of Ron may have been the last nail in the coffin for the FIA.

    It may well have been the catalyst that got FOTA united and off thier arses.”

  2. Can you really see the manufacturers setting up a rival series?

    … it seems to me as if they are using it as a bargaining chip but if they lose the war with the FIA I can’t see it actually happening.

    Do Renault and Toyota realy have the appitite for a rival series? and does it make commercial sense for Red Bull, Toro Rosso and Brawn?

    I can’t see Ferrari setting up on their own.

  3. Supposing we do get a F1- FOTA split (which is looking more and more likely), would the new championship be able to ‘kill off’ F1? F1 would consist of Williams, Force India, the 3 confirmed new teams and possibly the 4 strongest failed candidates. If FOTA can offer the likes of Brawn and Red Bull a decent new championship, I don’t see why they would want to stay in F1, so there probably would be a maximum of 9 teams. But presumably the investment and sponsorship behind the 7 new teams is dependent on F1 being the greatest motorsport series in the world, which it might not be next year.

    Hopefully none of this will matter, we’ll get a 13 team, Mosely free F1 from next year onwards, and none of the FOTA teams will leave, but it’s not looking good.

  4. I am annoyed as hell because it is turning my favourite sport into a pissing match.

    So anyway, what are you driving, Joe? Anything interesting?

    1. About 18 months ago I won a Toyota Prius in a quiz celebrating Toyota’s 50th anniversary in motorsport. It may not be a Ferrari or an Aston Martin, but I like it.

  5. If the FOTA teams do break away and start a new series with the help of the ACEA, I would think that would really hurt the FIA’s championship. And if the teams like Ferraris that are ‘locked in’ do have to participate in both, would they even bother running? If the FOTA teams that are included dont run, i would think that that would be a disaster for F1. Hopefully that doesn’t happen, but if it does the caviat could potentially be so much heat coming down on Max that he either resigns (doubtful) or some severe restructuring within the FIA.

    On the flip side, I think a breakaway could be good for fans and teams. The teams could have more control and their fair share of revenues and without Bernie, more tracks could be viable options and ticket prices would be much more reasonable. Being in the US, I am kind of torn seeing that the USF1 team will be signed with the FIA still.

    I want to see this resolved…the suspense is killing me!

  6. Bernie has the most to lose, at least from Bernie’s point of view. Maybe he should take Max for a long avuncular drive down Kentish way, and have a proper talk.

  7. “sappling life from the sport” is exactly right; thanks for accurately capturing the emotion of the F1 fan as we witness this immolation. Hard to believe, but this seemingly never ending tit-for-tat nonsense is making me long for the days when we were limited to driver ‘silly season’ talk between the races.

  8. Sorry to just increase on the general woes for the sport, but is the racing all that good? Really?

    1. I think that it has been very close all year, but perhaps not obvious enough for those who like the cut-and-thrust of Formula Ford. sadly, with the modern aerodynamics it is tough to have the wheel-to-wheel racing.

  9. An anecdotal view from across the pond. I used to go to the CART race in Toronto on a somewhat regular basis. I can’t really put a finger on why I don’t go to the races but when the split in the series happened I honestly lost all interest. I have not watched a race since the split. Not even the Indy 500. While they have made up now, my interest has long gone.

    I have always watched F1 because the brand names I grew up with are still there, for now. Given my reaction to the CART split I really can’t see me watching an F1 series with relative no names even if it meant that my beloved Williams team was winning again. It wouldn’t be the same with McLaren and Ferrari missing. At least I don’t think so.

    For now I will enjoy Brawn/Button and hope that I have something worth watching in 2010. Perhaps I’ll just sleep in on Sunday mornings or sit on the front porch instead.

  10. The current crisis is clearly all about Mosley. The teams want him removed and he is more desperate than ever to stay in power. The scandal last year made him stronger and now he feels he can do what he likes. He likes a battle and his style of creating a drama and then coming to it’s rescue is tiring and bad for the sport. He needs the teams to be divided so he can threaten and impose his ideas. A united front from the teams is frightening him because he can see what happened when he did the same thing to FISA in the late 80’s.

    Is there any way the fans can call for Max to be removed because to my mind, he’s quite obviously brought the sport into disrepute.

    Looking at Touring Cars and WRC, those series are suffering from problems with the regulations too. This is something the FIA claims it has the right to oversee, but the issues indicates it’s not doing a good job of it. In any other corporation or association, if it’s not operating effectively, the management have to go. And the fact Max has got his mates in to administer the sport and run the extra teams in F1, added to the bullying method he uses can only lead to the conclusion that the FIA is not a democracy but dictatorship.

  11. I think it is very sad that Mosley seems to be making all this into a fight for power. A lot of people want him out. He’s rich enough, he has sat there for a long enough time. Let it go, man!
    Let somebody else do it!
    If he (or why not a she) screws up, Mosley can say he knew better. If that doesn’t happen and F1 prospers, well then so be it. Mosley can enjoy his retirement and occasionally visit a race of this prosperous F1.

    I’m starting to think this looks like a loosing football club, where the trainer refuses to step down. And now he’s scrambling to make a team (the FIA members) which makes it all worse. It looks worse, it won’t perform and it’s all a loosing game for all parties concerned…
    Why are people affraid of him? Mosley makes very strange and bad decisions. Anybody can do a better job of it in his place.

  12. Maximilian should’ve retired in 2005 when he said he would, it looks like he was just acting.

    It’s unthinkable that bigwigs are robbing us proper Formula 1, yet it’s happening… again, to quote Twin Peaks.

  13. The weariness is getting to every serious fan. Joe, you said “When you read the FIA justification of the dispute it all makes sense.” You have a point, from one angle. But I’m still just about managing to concentrate, and the mind-boggling arrogance of the FIA’s “The FIA and FOM have together spent decades building the FIA Formula One World Championship into the most watched motor sport competition in history.” just reminded me of exactly how things are. F1 exists because of Senna, Villeneuve G., Clark, Stewart, Schumacher, Chapman, Dennis, Enzo, Tyrell, and the many others who brought and still bring something so special, so vital to the table. I can’t think of one tiny thing that Max and his dull sidekick have contributed first-hand to the history. They’ve leeched off the genius and greatness of others. How could there be two sides to the current situation? How could anyone imagine that these parasites care about anything but power?

  14. Much has been made of the CART/Champ Car/IRL open wheel war in the US, which ended in the bankrupcy of CART and the sale of Champ Car to the IRL. However, a more obvious comparison should be the Eurosport arranged, Intercontinental Rally Challenge (7 manufacturers) and the FIA World Rally Championship (2 manufacturers). Seems to me the IRC is doing rather better than the WRC just now…

  15. @ thewizardweb: It is not at all a question of democracy at FIA, because it IS a dictatorship vested in blue blazers of people who like to get into a fancy position in a generally not very democratic procedure, and they do not want much work nor many conflicts. It is an ideal pond for such a shark as Mosley.

    Joe wrote: “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.”

    This is exactly the whole point. Only a true dictator could survive such a mess and simply shrugg it off in few weeks time. And only people opressed by a dictatorship would think the way Joe wrote – until they would wake up to call for a revolution.

    In a well developed democracy things should go and come around with much more fluidity – one wouldn’t need a sex scandal to get rid of a scandalously damaging (although extremely shrewd and competent) official. FIA is a hostage of Mosley’s pre-WW I imperial mentality and I think it is not good.

  16. I have to disagree that the racing has been “good” this year.

    I have been an avid F1 watcher since the late 1970s. This season has been tedious and boring so far. I am considering dropping Speed TV from my cable service and just downloading the BBC broadcast off the web later on race Sundays. I don’t feel F1 is justifying the cost of the big cable package I have to get just for Speed TV.

    If F1 is having people like me turn away, then God help ’em.

  17. I agree with most of the sentiments expressed here.

    Wrote a bit more about it here: http://www.thesportwagon.com/2009/06/fisa-foca-fia-fota.html

    As I’ve said before, Max wins no matter what. At least as far as he’s concerned, which is all he’s concerned about.

    I think Ferrari wins regardless of the outcome. They think they hold a good hand. Max and Bernie seem to agree. In Max’s series they will get pride of place (and probably money). If they choose to leave, there are many less-expensive venues in which they can continue hawking cars to their wealthy clientele.

    Just one example: they seem to have Porsche’s number in endurance racing. There’s a lot of history behind that Ferrari/Porsche rivalry. Both manufacturers can go at it in GT racing for far less than an F1 budget, and still get a lot of marketing miles out of the effort.

    (BTW, it’s my considered opinion that, while winning is certainly better, merely being competitive is probably sufficient for marketing purposes. I’m sure Herr Schumacher helped sell a lot of Ferraris. But did sales decline when he lost? Does a potential buyer this year think, “Hmm, Ferrari aren’t so good this year, perhaps I should buy a Mercedes instead? Or a Renault?)

  18. Joe, you said you hope you are wrong, but I fear you are right,

    There are so many things the teams are surely unhappy about like stewards decisions, rule changes, races in front empty stands, money distribution, loss of popular races like Silverstone, Montreal etc.

    Max, on the other hand, does not care who races as long as he is the boss.

    Bernie, supiciously, isnt saying much these days. If it starts to really cost him money, we might see some change after all.

  19. Carsten

    Bernie is indeed quiet in public but I bet he’s very talkative behind the scenes. I can’t see him trying to justify a series where the real excitement is the battle for third is between Manor and some other unknown, neither of which have any sponsorship due to the current situation.

    My bet is that he’ll ‘follow the money’

  20. Having read and understood most of the output from the FIA… I have a problem with the proposed budget capped rules. Has anyone analysed the effect on lap times predicted with a budget cap car , designed with new technical freedom? Moseley has often used safety as a good argument to push through new regs (grooved tyres, aero restrictions etc..) surely we’ll be back to square one in a few year time anyway?

  21. Call me naive – as I’ve been called many times before – but I don’t expect Friday to provide lasting closure to this issue one way or the other. Even IF FOTA does not capitulate to the FIA by the end of the week and a new “formalized” entry list if published sans FOTA members, I would expect negotiations to continue. Should a agreement be reached I would not be surprised to see a few teams suffer “financial shortfalls” and bow out coincidentally opening room for FOTA. Of course I could be wrong.

  22. The important thing for Ferrari is to be seen to be racing at the very top level of motorsport, regardless of what form that top level takes.

    It\’s what their whole company ethos is based on, that every single one of their cars comes from a company that has always been a racing company, and always will be. It\’s something unique to Ferrari amongst the manufacturers, though Mclaren are obviously trying to follow in their footsteps.

    Le Mans wouldn\’t be great for them – the public only get interested once a year, and even then it\’s still a much lower profile event. It\’s not something you can build a whole brand on.

    What\’s happening with A1GP these days? They\’ve got a pretty solid infrastructure in place, TV rights are all sorted, and Ferrari are making the chassis now? The cars look a lot like 2004 F1 Ferrari\’s http://bit.ly/19eDV8

    It wouldn\’t be a huge leap for there to be a switch from 1 chassis manufacturer in A1GP to their being 3 or 4, and a reorganisation of the teams from a nationality basis to one of branded teams.

    The only real trick would be convincing people that A1GP is the top level of motorsport rather than F1.

  23. Several opinons:

    With regards to the removal of Max be careful what you wish for. Mr Todt won\’t be any better and I will definetly not be watching if that appointment is made even if all the teams kiss and make up. JT or not we just don\’t know if the replacement will be better or worse and believe me it could be worse.

    In my opinion what is trying to be acheived with a budget cap is very sensible not just from an economic climate point of view but a fans POV also. F1 has gone too far in the opposite direction from the 70\’s to where money is no object and seems to be the ultimate avenue to getting your way in the sport. No team is bigger than the sport itself. If Man Utd for some reason threw their toys out the pram there would still be a premier league. Ferrari having an unfair advantage all of these years makes them look a little silly now they are complaining. Enjoy the 6 championships you have won recently while ignoring testing bans, tobacco sponsor rules etc and stop whinging! One thing I admire about McLaren is no matter how much they get picked on by the FIA (right or wrong) they get on with racing and don\’t whinge a lot.

    If the budget cap did not effect the amount of staff you are allowed to have or your logistics etc and focused solely on the racing/car/performance part then I would back it any day. Let teams spend whatever they want to apart from what truly effects the car on the track. I don\’t care how many marketing/PR people you have dragging execs of companies through the pits or how many lorry drivers you have or whether you have a team space station or a team caravan. It is irrelevant to the fan of the sport. As long as the actual competing is affordable thus having more teams and competition then who cares?

    I tend to disagree with this presumption that fans are confused and don\’t know or care what is going on behind the scenes. When it comes to sports F1 fans are some of the most intelligent and knowledgable out there. Sadly in recent years if you are a fan of F1 you have had no choice but to stay informed in what goes on off the track as so much has happened that affects the ultimate outcome.

    Sorry for ending off subject but Joe a question for you: I have not heard anything about McLaren not running Kers at Silverstone this weekend. Given the fact it is going away next season and the other teams do not seem to have had a horrible transition taking it off the car (or never having it) when do you think they will stop using it? Or is that heavy unit the only thing they have that will hold the car to the track right now? 🙂

  24. J Hunt, just wanted to congratulate you on your very insightful comment. I too keep remembering that Ferrari alone broke the voluntary testing ban a few years ago.

    Don’t get me wrong, Max has many faults. In my opinion the whole governance of the sport should be reviewed and things must be much, much, MUCH more transparent. Additionally Max should retire, not because he is necessarily wrong, but because there is too much bad blood now. He should follow what they forced Ron Dennis to do.

    BUT for all of you shouting for his blood. FOTA is in no way innocent in this pathetic fight. Over the years they have rarely managed to agree an anything and I agree with the FIA, that some elements of FOTA, instead of trying to have constructive talks with the FIA, have just taken the attitude “We ain’t doing it, try and make us”. They thought they were calling a bluff. They were wrong.

    So please stop shouting about let FOTA split and that they will be ok. No they won’t the FIA or Bernie will sue them. There will a long drawn-out battle in the courts. Viewers will be split between F1, FOTA and those who are just fed up with it all. Sponsors will stay away because of the politics and lower viewing numbers. Race track promoters will suffer due to lower visitor numbers. NOBODY WINS.

  25. “… I agree with the FIA, that some elements of FOTA, instead of trying to have constructive talks with the FIA, have just taken the attitude “We ain’t doing it, try and make us”. They thought they were calling a bluff. They were wrong.”

    I would go further than this. Could it be that the three constructors in FOTA – Toyota, Renault and BMW are taking this stance purposely to allow themselves the chance to leave the sport and use Mosley as the scapegoat for them doing so?

    Ferrari are using the situation to put pressure on Max and the FIA but essentially it is easy for them to climb down from their position through the contractual obligation to FIA and FOM. They will have made their point, shown how much support they have on the ground, flexed their muscles to the FIA but will still be racing in 2010.

    Spot on, Joe Saward about the McLaren situation. I think that $100M fine in 2007 made the manufacturers sit up and take notice of just how much power Max held. Mercedes had to just ‘pay up’ on that occasion. This a major corporation paying money to a (shady) regulatory body on (at the time) extremely tenuous evidence based mostly around Mosley’s supposition that Ron Dennis was ‘telling porkies.’ Events later seemed to exonerate Mosley (although I think it is plain to see that McLaren’s ‘confession’ was under duress) but at the time how was anyone really to know?

    Another thought that occurred to me as I was drearily reading through the letters between the FIA and Ferrari lawyers is why did Jean Todt leave?

    I have always assumed that his departure was so that he could run for the FIA presidency but could it be because he disagreed with Ferrari’s involvement with FOTA.

    Notice how Todt signed off on all the FIA agreements up until his leaving at the end of March. Since then Ferrari has moved away from the FIA.

    Nigel Roebuck suggested in Motorsport this months that Todt ‘saved’ Mosley’s job at Montreal last year by refusing to sign a petition from all the team owners that Max step down in light of the sex scandal. Todt has always been close to the FIA – could it be that he was closer to them than Ferrrari. He probably wasn’t too pleased about being ‘promoted’ out of the race team.

    Probably all just fanciful conspiracy but after the past few months I could believe anything.

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