I’ve been on the road for the last couple of days, driving to England for some meetings and being in places where even mobile phone signals have yet to arrive. Now I’m back at Eurotunnel waiting in the parking area as they have (as usual) managed to change the times of the shuttles. It is nice to know that nothing changes…
Hopefully that will not be the case in Formula 1. There was a meeting yesterday of the F1 teams to try to sort out some of the questions regarding cost cutting. The big teams are trying to head off a full blown cost cap with a plan to have certain common parts. That works for them and would help the little guys, but it would still mean that money is a weapon in the F1 game and some would argue that it would better to stop messing about and create a level playing field now that there seems to be an opportunity to do it. The small teams have got everyone’s attention and while compromise is the easy way out, it might not be what is best for the sport.
Others argue that money has always been a factor in F1 and it should remain that way.
My view is that money has always been a performance factor but that does not make it right. It should probably have been addressed decades ago but no one had the will to change because they were up against forces that they did not wish to challenge. If tradition is illogical then why not change it when there is an opportunity?
The meeting yesterday was a step forward and let us hope that the FIA now gets serious about protecting the possibility for an ingenious small team to climb the greasy pole and win, using initiative and not leaving victory exclusively for the big teams.
Obviously the big teams may object to that, but some of them should remember that not so long ago they were small operations and the system allowed them to grow to become winners. That is how it should be. There has to be potential for a Force India or a Sauber to win races one day if they get it right and others get it wrong.
Having said all of that, there is no reason why the European Union’s potential interest in the sport would change as a result of the meeting, except that if there was a small team willing to make a complaint, that might now have been persuaded not to go down that path.
I think everyone agrees that we don’t want Eurocrats crawling all over the sport for years to come, however if the people running the sport have broken rules then are we supposed to ignore that and hope that the EU lumbers off elsewhere? Or is it better for things to be tidied up and a few wrists slapped?
The best thing would be for the sport to act quickly and be 100 percent sure that its house is in order. That would involve putting its head in the lion’s mouth and asking the EU if all is well. That way they are showing willing.
Certainly it would do no harm for the sport to ask the EU for an opinion about a Strategy Group that excludes the small teams, about the financial arrangements that gives more money to the big teams and about the deal signed last summer between the FIA and the Formula One group that seems to have affected the federation’s powers as the governing body.
My feeling is that the EU will be happy to be asked. If they think there is a problem they will give an opinion and the sting will be taken out of the process. And remember they don’t really need a complaint if they want to take a look at the sport. They can do it on their own – and in that case it would really be down to whether or not they see it is as a slam-dunk, easy victory. The problem, I suspect, is that it would not be easy to change the current arrangements without a lot of negotiation so there is no quick solution. Having said that, those involved only have themselves to blame for any troubles if they did not consult the EU on such matters, or employed legal people who did not warn of the dangers they were walking into.
Is it possible that all of this will go away without a mess? A few years ago one might have been tempted to say yes because no one wanted to rattle any cages, but today things are different. Bernie Ecclestone’s position is currently unclear. CVC Capital Partners probably has a plan but they are not saying anything until they need to action that plan. The FIA has the most to lose financially, but if there are problems of governance it would give the federation back the power it should have and give them the chance to negotiate a different deal. One does have to ask, however, whether it would be wise to have the same people negotiating a new deal.
That is where we are at now.