Formula 1’s ten teams have formed a new group to represent their interests in the sport following a meeting at Ferrari’s Maranello headquarters.
It looks like another move in the power games that have been going on between the sport’s regulators (the FIA), the commercial rights holders (FOM) and the teams, which intensified during the course of the Max Mosley/News of the World Scandal.
To make sense of the latest development it would be useful to look back at some of the recent developments.
The Monaco meeting that never happened
In May, during the Monaco Grand Prix, Max Mosley was battling to keep his place at the head of the sport. Despite demands he should step down and the FIA Senate vote on his future a few days away he showed up at the weekend but, according to reports, spent most of it taking meetings away from the limelight.
During the event the Formula 1 team managers were asked to attend a meeting concerning engine development. They replied asking if they might have some time to make adequate preparations for the meeting, not an unusual request as these tings are usually scheduled a long time in advance.
The teams asked to have the meeting in two weeks’ time which, crucially, would be after the Senate vote. The meeting did not happen at Monaco and was not rescheduled. The feeling among some teams may have been that the original meeting was to give Mosley a useful photo opportunity ahead of the Senate vote: ‘look, I’m still carrying out business as usual.’
At Silverstone (after winning the FIA vote but before the verdict in Mosley’s suit against the News of the World) Mosley sent a new letter to the teams. The letter requested proposals to reduce current levels of expenditure, to extract more useful energy from less fuel and improve the racing.
The timing arrangements for these plans was significant:
We need proposals which we can turn into detailed rules. These must be ready within three months and have the support of at least a majority of the teams, failing which the FIA will prepare new rules for 2011.
This represents a substantial change in the FIA’s position. It originally planned to freeze engine development in 2007 for ten years. That was later cut back to five years. If new engine rules are to arrive in 2011 it will have been four.
Since the start of the engine freeze, the purpose of which was to cut costs teams have laid off technical staff and presumably will have to re-hire them if the engine rules are going to change again.
The tight, three months deadline is a typical Mosley tactic: create a sense of urgency, put pressure on the teams to reach a compromise, and when they don’t, force through a solution of the FIA’s (read: Mosley’s) devising.
Mosley’s letter included direction on how the teams might arrive at their proposal on engine rules:
Professor Goeschel has kindly agreed to hold meetings of FOMAC to discuss these issues directly with the manufacturers.
But the teams seem not to consider the Formula One Manufacturers’ Advisory Committee (FOMAC) are their representatives.
Writing in his column for Autosport, Dieter Rencken suggested Bunkhard Goeschel is viewed as a staunch Mosley supporter:
"He (Goeschel) works for a component manufacturer and does not represent us," said one team boss rather agitatedly at Silverstone, becoming even more so when advised Goeschel had, in a three-way interview which included Mosley and had been published that day (a day ahead of Mosley’s court case against the News of the World) by the German newspaper Die Welt, effectively stated the manufacturer collective had forgiven his recent proclivities.
FOMAC, the team principal went on, was a ‘committee’ instigated by the FIA and certainly did not represent all competing motor manufacturers, and therefore had no right to speak on behalf of the team collective.
This, then, appears to have been the moves which have compelled the teams to set up their own group.
The teams met at Silverstone in Bernie Ecclestone’s motorhome and acted swiftly to co-ordinate their reaction to Mosley’s letter. A subsequent meeting was held over the German Grand Prix weekend and another earlier this week at Ferrari’s headquarters in Maranello.
Here the teams agreed to form their own representative group called the Formula One Teams’ Association. The name has a clear echo of FOCA, the Formula One Constructors’ Association, which clashed famously with the governing body in the 1980s.
During that time Ecclestone, as owner of Brabham, led FOCA, and he was at the teams’ meeting earlier this week in his current capacity as F1’s commercial rights holder. He was joined by Donald McKenzie from CVC, the investment group which owns 70% of Ecclestone’s Formula One Group.
It’s hard to overlook the historic parallels. Almost three decades ago Jean-Marie Balestre was elected President of the Federation Internationale du Sport Automobile, the FIA’s governing body for sport. He clashed openly and often with Ecclestone’s FOCA and the subsequent years saw a fierce battle for power between the two sides involving race cancellations and even a drivers’ strike.
Are we going to see a repeat of this? Joe Saward of Grandprix.com reckons:
[The formation of FOTA] is obviously a sign that the teams have realised that now is a time to be strong, rather than allowing themselves to be dominated by others. Much will depend on who leads to new alliance, and whether it can stay together, but this is a new force in F1.
What I think is especially significant is the role of Ferrari in the developments. For several years Ferrari and the other teams have not seen eye-to-eye on the future of the sport.
Think back to the beginning of 2005, when the teams were last pitched against the FIA in a dispute over basically the same issues as today – future rules, cost cutting and distribution of F1’s income. Ferrari were the first team to break ranks and support the FIA – in exchange for a reported $100m sweetener offered by Ecclestone.
A year and a half later the Grand Prix Manufacturers’ Associations – teams that had stood against the FIA and threatened to set up their own championship – had splintered and surrendered. In an interview in June 2006 Ecclestone and Mosley were asked about Ferrari’s role:
Ecclestone: I’ve known Luca [di Montezemolo] now for 30 odd years, and he has always been the biggest supporter of what is good for Ferrari.
Mosley: Whatever Luca did or didn’t do with Bernie it was always in the interests of Ferrari. There is also a fundamental tradition in Ferrari to never run outside the Establishment. They would always be with the FIA. Sooner or later it was bound to end in the way that it has. The only question was the amount of time and aggravation it took.
Since then Jean Todt has been replaced by Stefano Domenicali as team principal and many have remarked on how Ferrari’s attitude has become more receptive. Domenicali even said of the new discussions with the teams:
Ferrari and out president are very keen that Ferrari is willing to participate in that because Ferrari is part of Formula 1 and Mr di Montezemolo is really keen on that.
The contrast between the two attitudes could hardly be greater: from ‘Ferrari is Formula 1′ to ‘Ferrari is part of Formula 1′ in three and a half years.
And who has been appointed the new leader of FOTA? Luca di Montezemolo.
The clock is ticking down towards Mosley’s latest deadline. But if he was expecting the teams to go into a panicky funk and split into two factions, allowing him to practice his tried-and-tested ‘divide and conquer’ game, it looks like he’s going to be disappointed.
Mosley seems to have come back from his battle with the News of the World with a desire to resume business as usual and show he’s the man to do business with. But the formation of FOTA suggests the teams are unwilling to dance to his tune.
If they put their proposals forward in time, and Mosley rejects them, will they make the oft-stated threat to take their racing elsewhere, to some new Ecclestone/CVC-run series?
On the face of it one might think not. After all, if their objection to Mosley is so strong, they need only wait until next year when he insists he is going to retire. But he said the same thing in 2004, and he’s still here four years later.
There are always more questions than answers when it comes to making sense of F1 politics – so as ever I’d be very interested to hear your take on the developments.