The upcoming F1 Strategy Group – illegal though perhaps it may one day be ruled – is currently the decision-making body of Formula 1. It consists of six teams and representatives from the FIA and from the Formula One group. Despite a rather poor attempt by some of the team principals to argue that this is a forum for discussion, it makes the key decisions. These are then sent on to the Formula 1 Commission which only has the right to accept or reject those decisions. Of course, if you want to know the membership of the Formula 1 Commission, there is no point in asking the FIA. The only rule that I can find says that “the Commission shall be constituted in
accordance with the Concorde Agreement (or any similar document which may replace it)”, which means that it is confidential. Nothing like a sport with transparent rules…
Traditionally, the F1 Commission has consisted on a member from the FOM, one from the FIA, a member from each competing team, six race promoters (three from Europe and three outside Europe) appointed by FOM, two circuit representatives (one from Europe and one from outside) appointed by the teams, plus representatives from Pirelli, the engine manufacturers and two sponsors (from different market sectors). This means that it has a membership of around 24 people (depending on the number of teams). However, it is not one vote per representative, as there are always 12 team votes – even if there are only nine teams. If the teams vote 5-4, the majority is able to add the additional three votes and so eight votes count one way and only four the other way. In other words if the top five teams stick together the smaller teams have virtually no voice at all. It does not take a rocket scientist to work out that the Formula One Group has a pretty dominant position in this set up as no race promoter wants to upset the people who decide who gets a race. The FIA has almost no power in this body.
The next step of the process is that a proposal then goes to the FIA World Motor Sport Council and is either accepted or rejected. One can see that this gives the FIA power to block things. The World Council tends to do what the FIA President wants because the members do not wish to lose the privileges that come with the position and it is very clear that Jean Todt does not like criticism, let alone opposition.
So if the Formula 1 Strategy Group meets and votes on Ecclestone’s idea of bringing back old engines, what will happen? Mercedes will, logically, oppose it. And if you are a Mercedes customer it would be best to vote with them. Thus Mercedes should have three team votes (its own, Williams and either Lotus or Force India, depending on who is included). The Formula One group has six votes and the FIA has six votes so if Jean Todt agreed to cancel the FIA’s new engine regulations then the teams and manufacturers would have to follow suit. Ferrari and Red Bull might follow Ecclestone because they are losing, but McLaren is in a new relationship with Honda and voting to cancel the new engines makes no sense at all. Thus the vote could be eight in favour and 10 against. The proposal would get no further. Any other outcome would likely result in at least one manufacturer walking away from the sport and the ensuing chaos that would come from that.
The view of the commercial people is that a dominant Mercedes is not good for the sport (although we didn’t hear a peep when Ferrari won in a string of titles in a row a few years back). The people who believe in sport say that if Mercedes has done a better job than the others, its rivals do not deserve a leg-up for their lack of similar competence.
The option exists for Mercedes to agree to supply its hybrid systems as standard to all the teams, in much the same way as McLaren now provides the electronic control units. However, the FIA is unlikely to be keen on that idea and could (if the testicular mass exists) block it at World Council level, if the others tried to force it through. If the federation were to back down on this, its relevance in the sport would be virtually gone as its clever engine regulations would have been thrown out and replaced by a right old botch-job.
If the FIA had not sold its right to make unilateral decisions – a disgraceful move in my opinion – then the federation could simply dictate that engine manufacturers be only allowed to supply engines at a fixed cost and thus the small teams would be able to survive. The sport would still be seen as cutting edge and everyone would be better off.