I’m off to London today to sort out the computer mess with 100 percent certainty, and then I’ll be back tonight and heading for Monaco tomorrow, as these days I rent an apartment for a week of the race. I do this because the hoteliers got so greedy that you can get a decent apartment with a terrace and a view for the same price as a manky little single room in a grotty hotel outside Monaco. And you can get a few days of R&R before the GP.
Today is the F1 Strategy Group and while everyone is talking big, no great decisions are expected. The older folk want to go back to the previous F1 engines, which will not solve the problems that F1 has. It was cheaper and quieter to use horses after the car was invented… but that was hardly forward thinking. Going backwards will simply make the sport less relevant and less interesting for sponsors.
On the way to Spain for the first European event I was listening to the French radio and there was a promotion for Formula E. The electric championship is a flawed idea in my opinion because the technology does not exist to support it, but it is doing a much better job than F1 in making itself sound interesting. And it is getting to places where F1 cannot easily go, like major cities. Paris and New York will be next.
No one involved in F1 seems to think about the image of the sport, but the way forward must be to keep pushing with relevant technology but at the same time ensure financial control. There is a lot talk of change, but how much of it will actually get through? The big teams will likely block everything that will materially affect them. The decision-making structure and the FIA’s appalling dereliction of its duties with regard to the sport means that the federation cannot or will not force change.While one understands that the FIA needed money to survive, selling the right to govern the sport was an ill-considered move. I am absolutely not against the FIA as an institution, and will defend it in that role, but there needs to be the will (and the backbone) to solve problems and as the FIA leadership (and I paused before using such a grand word) do not like to fight. There must be ways that things can be done with the sporting regulations or by using other blocking powers to force the other players in F1 to stop messing everything up and to do the right thing for the sport. There seems little hope of an uprising within the empire – such is the power of patronage – so the only real hope is external force that might force change within. Bizarrely, the best thing for the sport right now, in my opinion, is probably a European Commission investigation to break up the useless decision-making structure and the commercial arrangements between the FIA and FOM, which were part of the deal. These two parties told the Commission after the last investigation that they would have very specific roles and that the FIA would provide governance and have no involvement in the commercial side of the business. Owning shares in the rights holding company is an odd way to avoid commercial involvement and giving up governance is a weird way to govern. I would imagine that a European Commission investigation would rather suit the Commercial Rights Holder (CRH) as it would enable them to tear up their deals with the FIA, Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes and allow for a different distribution of the money, with the CRH keeping more…
Whatever the case, the outcome of the meeting today will probably be the key to deciding whether or not there is a complaint to the Commission. If there are no sensible deals for the small teams then they have nothing to lose… And the worst enemy one can have is someone with nothing to lose.
In the meantime I am rather worried by the fact that the road safety people who are against Jean Todt’s envoy role have made a point of linking the Frenchman with F1, when in reality he plays no great role these days. The danger of this is that campaigns to topple Todt from his new position will drag the sport into a position where it is seen to be anti road safety. I have no objection to Todt wanting to be the man with the biggest hat in road safety, but he should give up his FIA role now that he has the other position. The sport has done much over the years to improve the safety on the roads but this is not its job ( this is the work of the FIA Foundation) and few in F1 (if any) want to be involved with the ill-considered role that Todt has manoeuvred his way to. It is clear that the road safety lobby has recognised the value of publicity regarding F1 by including a reference to the sport in their complaints. This was not an accident. The sport is in danger of being dragged into this mess.