The return journey from Delhi was not as easy as it perhaps should have been. The first plane was late and there were some “Jobsworths” at Dubai International Airport who tried to stop us making our connections. They were following the rule book, probably, but sometimes the rule book is stupid and needs to be ignored. Fortunately for me I managed to find someone who had enough understanding of these things to agree with me and I caught the flight I was supposed to be on, leaving my luggage behind, but a lot of others were left stranded there. Anyway, by the time I got home I was ready for a few hours off.
It is going to be a busy week for the F1 team principals as they are all meeting up again on Thursday in Geneva for a meeting of the Formula 1 Commission. Just a that you understand the importance of this body, the commission consists of 26 members, including 12 team representatives; eight promoters (four from Europe and four from outside Europe – three from each region being picked by FOM and one from each region being chosen by the teams). The remaining six members are a tyre representative; an engine representative; two sponsor representatives, the FIA President and the Formula One group representative (Bernie Ecclestone), who is the chairman of the body. Winning a vote requires 18 members of the Commission to vote in favour of a motion. The recommendations of the F1 Commission then go to the FIA World Council, which has the right to accept or reject the proposal, but cannot modify it.
There are three requests for chassis name changes on the table. Team Lotus wishes to change its chassis name to Caterham; Lotus Renault GP is asking for its chassis to be renamed Lotus, rather than Renault, and Marussia Virgin Racing wants to change its chassis name from Virgin to Marussia. The Caterham-Lotus settlement is now agreed between the two parties involved, but some of the other teams are arguing that F1 brands need to be carefully preserved and should not be hawked and traded, as Lotus has been. There is also believed to be some resistance to the Caterham name, as some people do not think it is really the right kind of brand for the sport. This is rather short-sighted as the plans for the car company are heavily influenced by the Asian markets, where Caterham has little or no brand history, so the brand can become whatever the owners want it to be.
The Lotus Renault GP team also needs to convince the commission that it linked to Group Lotus and is going to be manufacturing road cars and intending to continue to do so for an appreciable period of time, rather than simply buying the brand and then selling it on to someone else.
The argument is really about continuity, with the “real” F1 brands, such as Ferrari, McLaren, Williams and Sauber, wanting to maintain other brands, such as Lotus. It is inevitable that some of the teams at the back of the grid will change identity with each new owner, as this is required for survival.
However, these entities rarely last long in the sport and so names such as Red Bull, Force India, Scuderia Toro Rosso, HRT and Virgin have little long-term F1 brand value, now that names such as Minardi, Benetton, Jordan, Arrows, Ligier and Tyrrell have all disappeared. There is the troublesome middle ground with names such as Mercedes and Lotus, which have F1 brand value, but have not been consistently in F1 and there is some additional discussion about precedent as Honda Racing F1 was allowed to become Brawn GP for a season and then Mercedes, without the company losing its historical performance payments.
This is particularly important with the Renault-Lotus switch as the historical value is believed to be worth as much as $60 million a year. Team Lotus also stands to gain a large sum of money if it is allowed to make the Lotus-Caterham switch because the team will probably end the year, having finished in the top 10 for the last two consecutive seasons, which will give it a different legal status, as defined by the Concorde Agreement. Some of the teams are using these arguments in an effort to gain a bigger share of the revenues, while the contentious question is also potential a good weapon to divide the FOTA teams.
“As a Formula 1 community, we should be doing everything we can to help and facilitate teams,” FOTA chairman Martin Whitmarsh. “If they come up with a clearly silly, divisive name or a name that’s damaging to Formula 1, then we should be able to use good judgement to prevent it, but if it’s clear that the name change facilitates the funding and the retention of that team within F1, then we shouldn’t use the polemics and politics to prevent it.”
The F1 Commission will also be asked to discuss the definition of a constructor, which is currently defined in the Concorde Agreement as being an entity that designs a certain number of “listed parts” for its cars, including the chassis, bodywork, suspension and various assemblies and mechanisms. The number of these “listed parts” can be changed if all the teams agree. There are worries that some of the teams are getting rather too much from technical partnerships, the specific target for these discussions appears to be Force India, which is performing extremely well, largely due to a technical relationship with McLaren.
Some of the other teams feel that Force India’s performance is too strong and that too much technology has been bought and thus the rules need to be refined. This is potentially a very divisive subject as Marussia Virgin is just beginning a technical relationship with McLaren, while Team Lotus has technology deals with Williams and Red Bull Racing and HRT has similar arrangements with Mercedes GP and with Williams.
Another facinating point will be a discussion over the idea of introducing a system of demerit points for F1 licences. Drivers would lose points for offences and if they lose too many points they would face licence suspension for a period of time. Fines and other penalties may also be applied in addition to the points. The advantage of such an idea is that it would help to provide opportunities for youngsters to make an impression as stand-ins if a regular driver were to lose his licence. With safety standards as they now are, the turnover of drivers in F1 has slowed considerably with veterans remaining attractive to teams because of their experience, particularly when there are such tight restrictions on testing. Rubens Barrichello, Michael, Schumacher and Jarno Trulli, for example, have all been in F1 for 15 seasons or more, while Jenson Button, Mark Webber, Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa have all done 10.
The Formula 1 Commission is going to discuss the problems that have been created this year in qualifying as teams have taken to not going out in the Q3 session, in order to save tyres for races. This has had a detrimental impact of the qualifying show and teams feel that itis necessary to find a way to keep the Q sessions exciting, without them impacting the race strategies.
There are also believed to be questions over whether or not the FIA should be allowed to hire people from the teams, and vice versa, based on the possible transfer of intellectual property. This discussion has come about because of fears that former Ferrari engine design Gilles Simon worked to create the FIA’s new engine rules and then departed to join the planned Pure engine firm.
We believe that there will also be discussions about whether a permanent F1 steward might be good idea in order to create more consistency in decision-making. The current system features a number of FIA-appointed stewards who each do four or five races and communicate with one another so that they can provide guidance to other stewards who do only one race a year.
There are expected to be discussions about the involvement of teams and drivers in more F1 promotional activities and regarding the question of the identification of the drivers on the cars, as this remains a big problem for many spectators.
The other item of note is a discussion about the Grands Prix in Bahrain and Korea in 2012.