Paper trails

Maybe Formula 1 has made me too cynical, but these days I tend to look at everything in F1 very carefully because things are not always what they appear to be. This is based on past experiences. When people say that I am a conspiracy theorist, I reply that normally I am happy to accept that 85% of conspiracies are down to human errors, but that when it comes to Formula 1 that percentage is closer to 50%. It is a fact of life that the more money there is involved in an activity, the more arcane the politics that surround it.

I would like very much to be able to take what I am told at face value. As I say quite often these days, what F1 people forget is that they are involved in a sport. It is a luxury that is not required. It is an optional extra of life. And if one wants evidence of this one can point quite easily to the fact that motor racing stops when wars break out; and events have been cancelled because of revolutions, final crises and even foot and mouth disease. So let us not forget that all this fighting over money and power is exactly that. There are thousands of jobs that rely on the sport, but I am not convinced that those involved in the current difficulties have this at the top of their list of priorities.

The ongoing dispute between the FIA and FOTA has been going through a period in which everyone is sending letters to everyone else. Some of these are being leaked to the media – as has been the vogue for some time, some are being issued as press releases.

This creates the impression that no progress is really being made. Everyone involved knows that for any proper solutions to be best arrived at, it would be best to keep all of this behind closed doors. And the impression therefore is that both sides are busy leaving paper trails which they will use at a later point to justify their own actions.

Paper trails are useful in legal action, rather than relying on the spoken word.

This is not a good sign.

The most recent announcements concern a letter from FOTA to FIA President Max Mosley proposing terms of a settlement. These seem to be reasonable enough and FOTA asked for the deadline to be extended to allow a deal to be struck.

The FIA has replied saying that the teams must lift the conditions attached to their entries by Friday evening. If that happens Mosley says that the FIA would be willing to talk about governance changes. This would involve an element of trust – and one has to ask whether the teams are willing to take that risk.

A commitment to talk about change, is not after all a commitment to change.

20 thoughts on “Paper trails

  1. I’m having a lot of trouble accepting all this gloom and doom “rival series” scenario. It would not be like IRL/CART because in IRL there was no Ferrari. The argument that “Ferrari is key to F1” contradicts any notion that there would be a dilution of the sport. Where Ferrari goes so goes the money, the fanboys, the TV and most (or even all) of the existing teams.

    The FIA “rival” to such a new setup would be equivalent to a Saturday night dirt oval scene in the deep boonies of Indiana.

    The idea of a breakaway may also be troubling because 1) a championship governed by a coherent set of rules is so difficult to imagine — but I have to think FOTA has been quietly preparing just such a set all along; and, 2) organizing and promoting a new league is a big deal — but who can say whether or not Bernie (or rather CVC) can find a way to ditch the FIA and take up where F1 left off? They can call it what they want, but for most folks the brand name “Formula 1” is completely secondary to “Ferrari”, “McLaren”, “Mercedes”, “BMW”, the whole lot.

  2. “Maybe Formula 1 has made me too cynical. . . .”

    Joe, I don’t know if you’re familiar with the American comedienne Lily Tomlin, who famously remarked, “No matter how cynical you get it is impossible to keep up.” In your line of work this might possibly be true. . . .

    By the way, I take the (relative) silence of Bernie and CVC as an indication that they are prepared to risk the departure of the manufacturers (including Ferrari) from F1, the upside of that outcome being that a cost-capped fleet of minnows will have no leverage at all to disturb the current division of revenue.

  3. It seems to me that Max is once again saying “it’s my way or the highway.” The teams are fed up with his thick-headedness, so I think we’ll have two series in a few days.

  4. As usual, excellent commentary, and some good comments above. You have to wonder what Bernie’s silence means. After all, he was the one that have always backed Ferrari, and made sure he always had their signature first. Remember, he joined the Ferrari team earlier this year during their winter press escapade in Italy. And I found it very interesting to see Bernie seated on Flavio’s yacht along with the rest of the FOTA members during their meeting in Monaco before they went to meet with Max. Come on Joe, tell us what Bernie’s up to!

    1. Well, my feeling is that Bernie is stuck in the middle of all of this, with CVC breathing down his neck, because they have to worried about their money. The FIA is obviously counting on him; while the FOTA teams are working on their own agenda. There is a theory, which is impossible to prove or otherwise, that Bernie could fall in with FOTA – which would make their life much easier for them (and torpedo the FIA series…) – but the percentages of offer would doubtless be much smaller than is currently the case…

  5. Item #1: Mosley said the FIA will talk about changes in the Concorde Agreement and systems of governance…(wait for it)…after the teams make their entries unconditional.

    Item #2: Mosley said he has no plans to run for re-election in 2009.

    After saying anything to survive his naughty-scandal, does anyone seriously think Mosley is acting like a lame-duck, and will shortly relinquish his grip on power?

    If the teams sign-up to Item #1, then based on the credibility of Item #2, they’ll end-up with the governance they deserve. But not the governance they want, meaning this whole deal will have been a huge waste of everyone’s time.

    As you say, “A commitment to talk about change, is not after all a commitment to change”.

  6. Ironic isn’t it? McLaren were handed a huge fine and all but thrown out of the championship for bringing the sport into disrepute.

    But of course that was back in the halcyon days when it was a sport…

    I can see a stalemate coming here. Max can’t back down from this one, he’s in far too deep. FOTA can’t back down and retain their credibility.

    The only option left appears to be a break away series – maybe then we can get back to the sport.

    Oh, by the way I read that Lola have withdrawn their entry.

    Sleep well Max – I’m damned if I’d be able to.

  7. One thing’s for sure, the FIA and FOTA are doing their bit to keep postmen in a job with all these “letters”.

  8. FOTA plus circuits?
    Bernie owns Paul Ricard, Silverstone is important to FOTA, Indianapolis and Montreal are important to the manufacturers, there is at least one middle eastern option that isn’t tied to the FIA/F1 circus…and I rather think that Spa and the Ostereichring are also available, as I am sure Monza would be….

  9. Mosley’s cornered. Odds are he’ll either stall again or suggest a compromise that he knows FOTA will accept, and thus claim victory in the hot fetid jaws of defeat.

    And everyone will be so breathing normally again.

    Or he could stamp his foot and just quit, so there. Well, okay, maybe not. But one can dream.

    Meanwhile, rumor has it there’s a race on in the UK somewhere……

  10. Doesn’t Bernie or CVC own the F1 name? If so, and if the theory you mentioned were to happen, is there a scenario under which FOTA’s series would be run as F1, including the tracks Bernie has agreements with? What types of contracts are in place between Bernie and the FIA?

  11. I can’t help but think this is primarily about the money and secondly about governance. Both are legitimate concerns but the teams should remember who created and maintained the circus that layed their golden egg.

    I also wonder if Bernie were 10 years younger wether this would have been sorted sooner.

    I can’t see Bernie going with FOTA as they would only offer an agents type fee to the promoter. Remember how much he gets atm and that’s after expenses. He’s better off in bed with the FIA.

  12. > I take the (relative) silence of Bernie and CVC
    > as an indication that they are prepared to risk
    > the departure of the manufacturers

    Of course everybody in F1 has better things to read on Friday!… But I’ve got a theory about why Bernie is so silent. It would be great if any of Joe and his readers could find a moment to offer critiques (here or there). I wouldn’t mind being convinced that it’s completely wrong!

    Max Mosley has a had a few years of humiliation and defeat. Friday might well bring him another.

  13. Mosley’s compromise is very favourable to FOTA if you consider his original position. The only problem is that as soon as the teams sign on the dotted line Max has them by the balls again.

    And we all know what Max is like …

  14. It’s sadly ironic that the final race of this season, and what may be the final race of F1 as we know it, is the inaugural Dubai Grand Prix, with Dubai being a city that is rapidly disappearing up its own arse due to rampant greed and egos.

    Perhaps we could have the race appropriately sponsored? The Bear Stearns Dubai Grand Prix brought to you by AIG? A flotilla of General Motors SUVs could lead the parade lap…

  15. I wonder when the reality of the situation that Moseley has built will be noticed.

    He is killing the goose that lays the golden eggs. The FIA and FOM contribute the square root of very little to F1, except for a great deal of waste through unnecessary ludicrous rule changes and the like.

    It is the teams that both carry all the risk and make all the investment in the sport. They also hold all the relevant skills and experience to maintain the excitement of F1; excitement that is fundamental if the income stream from all sources is to continue.

    Correction, not quite all sources, FOM would continue to get the hosting fees from any future oil rich (gullible) builder of the next unwanted Grand Prix circuit. Have they never thought that they could save a deal of cash by not bothering with, never to be used, spectator facilities?

    Never mind Bernie, you still have a number of surplus to requirements european circuits to force out of business so you have a few more opportunities for some more “killings” yet.

    If this scenario were to appear in a work of fiction it would never be published as being quite unbelievable.

  16. gfehr,

    Totally respect your comments. However I think you will find that if Ferrari shout and stomp and push comes to shove Ferrari will be on their own with very few alongside them. True in IRL/CART there was no Ferrari but there were institutions with huge fan bases such as Andretti Green racing and Chip Ganassi who are no fools and knew which side to choose unlike Forsythe etc. It would be kind of like CART/IRL but slightly topsy turvey as it will be the breakaway series which dies and not the one which has been here all along.

    Following the pied piper or staying in a sport where you can fulfill financial commitments and contractual obligations no matter how terrible the racing will be without Ferrari (of course it won’t be) is a no brainer. If there is not an agreement I think you will find Ferrari in a position like Forsythe racing. Choosing the wrong side. Love or hate Max he is right when he says F1 will continue with or without them. I really don’t understand the opinion that Ferrari ARE F1. Yeah fair enough they have been in the sport the entire time etc but they are not the be all and end all and not everyone loves them. If Bernie joins on their side then fine. What you will see is a lot of the organisations and race promoters who left due to the ridiculous costs return to the sport and you will once again have at least two races on the north american continent. Let’s face it F1 fans will just end up watching both until the breakaway series dies because the competition will be weak and the efforts to bring in money, negotiate tv rights and broadcasting etc will be too much of a struggle to have the breakaway series survive. Who will be the governing body? Imagine what happened in the states only 50 times harder with ultimately the same outcome. Races are planned, then they are cancelled, then it is shown on some obscure cable channel for an entire season and never live etc. Eventually It all comes back to one series again. In fact just replace Max with Tony George and it will be almost the same story with different names and the series switched.
    I will feel bad if the reds are not on the grid next year but that won’t stop me from watching and if Bernie goes too then hey, maybe I’ll be able to afford to go to a race again. I went all the time in the states (Montreal and Indy 5 years straight.) Now I live in europe I have not made a race in 3 years. Not because I can’t afford it but because I can’t justify that kind of expense. Although I am not a fan of Tony George (due to him bailing out early during the michelin fiasco GP) and found the whole Indy experience a little boring you have to admire him for making that race so cheap and refusing to pay the ridiculous amount of money to host it and have to pass that charge on to the fans. Still and probably always the cheapest F1 race I have been to.

    At the end of the day manufacturers of road cars don’t need the sport as much as Ferrari do. In all reality who honestly buys a car these days because the particular manufacturer races or wins in F1? Seriously hardly any. Ferrari probably a little more so but I still bet that 75% of people who can afford a Ferrari have never seen or heard of an F1 race either on tv or live. I really don’t think it would effect their sales at all which is probably why Porsche don’t run F1 either because the extra revenue generated through sales is too small compared to the effort.

    Anyway, I am sure that they will find a way to all be friends again as money seems to have that ability.

    Enjoy the race this weekend my friends! Thanks to Joe for your great reporting.

  17. For the first time in about as long as can remember, I will not be watching the F1 Grand Prix on Sunday. I expect my wonderful wife to be doing something around lunch for Father’s Day on Sunday (here in South Africa), and for the first time, she has not even bothered to consult me. And I don’t care. I’m just too fed up with the whole F1 business.
    But if South Africa were to advance to the T20 cricket final on Sunday, the whole family here will be watching that! And of course, on Saturday we’ll all be watching the first test between the Springboks and the Lions. No matter who wins, it will be an epic battle, sort of like James Hunt (McLaren) versus Niki Lauda (Ferrari) back in 1976.
    If F1 were to go the way of the Dodo, at least we’ll still have rugby and cricket, and we will sustain the legend on stories about Steward, Hunt, Lauda, Piquet, Prost, Senna and Schumacher….

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