There have been meetings today at the FIA in Geneva in an effort to sort out the rules of the sport for 2017, notably the questions of power unit supply, cockpit protection, bodywork rules and a new elimination-style qualifying. There was a meeting of the F1 Strategy Group – six teams plus Bernie Ecclestone and FIA President Jean Todt – this morning and then a meeting of the F1 Commission, all the teams and a bunch of race promoters and other stakeholders. This body can only accept or reject what the Strategy Group decides and its decisions then go forward to the FIA World Council, which is a similar rubber-stamp or reject process. Generally-speaking, what the Strategy Group decides goes through because the two bigger bodies do not (or cannot agree to) rock the boat.
The new rules must be in place by March 1 if they are to come into effect in 2017, so today was the crunch. From what I hear, the affair was fairly sensible, but not all of the changes will be going through for 2017 with various matters being delayed until later in the year, which means they cannot happen until 2018. Bernie Ecclestone’s ranting to the Daily Mail over the weekend, accusing the sport of various things and being extraordinarily negative about the state of F1, seems to suggest that he does not like the situation in which he finds himself politically and it all sounded rather like an attempt to get the European Commission to intervene, on the basis that he will regain some powers if the current system is broken up. This rather underlines the belief that the small teams which complained to the European Commission did so with a nod from Ecclestone. The problem with the Commission is that it is a slow-moving beast and thus far nothing as been heard about the complaint that was made. The other thing is that if the Competition Directorate does get involved, it will almost certainly tell the sport to sort itself out or face action, rather than going straight to action. But before that happens there is a lengthy process of issuing a statement of objections and getting reactions to that from the various parties. The truth is that any actions, if they ever come, will probably be too late to help the Formula One group in the negotiation process for the post 2020 commercial agreements. If it does come, it will also mean that there will be no chance of a sale or an IPO because of the uncertainty it will bring. Once again one can only wonder why the owners of the Formula One do nothing, but this seems to be their modus operandi. They accept what they are given and do not seem to question anything that is said or done.
The details of what has been agreed today have yet to emerge but the situation remains the same. Even if the Formula One group and the FIA vote together, Ferrari still has the right to veto new sporting and technical regulations if they do not like them, a situation that was created by the main players and so they have no real right to complain if it is now biting them. If the teams and the FIA ally, then the Formula One group can do nothing.
What has emerged is that there will be a new qualifying process in 2016 which will feature a knockout format. After the first seven minutes of the 16-minute Q1 session, the slowest driver will be eliminated, after that another driver will drop out every 90 seconds, until only 15 are left. In the 15 minute Q2 session, the slowest driver will be out after six minutes and then another six will be knocked out, one every 90 seconds.
That will leave eight drivers in Q3, a 14-minute session. After five minutes the slowest driver will go and then the 90-second system will kick in again, leaving only two drivers in the final minutes. The aim of this is to keep things exciting – and keep everyone out of the track. It should be fine as long as the cars that have been knocked out do not get in the way as they are touring round to the pits, but there will no doubt be rules to stop that happening.
It seems that none of the silliest ideas are going to get through and so we do not have to watch the sport go through the indignity of reversed grid and other ridiculous party tricks that have been put forward by people who should know better.