Ferrari and BMW’s clash over KERS could signal a threat to FOTA unity

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BMW are believed to be far ahead in their KERS development

The first fault line has opened in what so far has been the impressively solid unity of the Formula 1 Teams’ Association.

Speaking at Ferrari’s annual press skiing event, Stefano Domenicali complained that BMW had vetoed the efforts of the other teams to postpone the introduction of Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems (KERS) for 2009 due to the costs involved.

Two months before the start of a new season is not a time to go changing technical rules which have been known for two years. Although Domenicali insists his concern is cost-cutting, Ferrari’s KERS has had a difficult gestation while BMW look set to hit the ground running. Is this about politics or the competition?

Either way FOTA has so far worked hard to preserve the unity of the teams and resisted Max Mosley’s attempt to bring in greater standardisation. Mosley and Bernie Ecclestone may seize on this apparent opportunity to divide the teams.

Counting the votes

Inevitably with F1 politics you have to wonder whether someone’s being liberal with the truth. When was this vote of the team bosses taken on KERS?

Was it at the Heathrow meeting last week? Or was it while Honda’s team was still active? If so, it’s hard to imagine that the Japanese team that had staked a huge gamble on 2009 voting against a technology it had invested so much development into.

Perhaps there were two votes against deferring KERS, but with Honda out of the picture (a situation that may be dependent on Ferrari’s willingness to supply them with engines) only BMW are left now. And Domenicali is applying a little pressure.

A little bit of history repeating

It’s easy to point at Ferrari and mock the hypocrisy of their complaints about BMW’s ‘selfishness’.

Were not the teams trying to settle on testing restrictions four years ago? And didn’t a certain Italian team, notwithstanding that it had won every championship for the last five years, refuse to agree to them?

That was in the Jean Todt era, of course. Domenicali’s team now has its name on a deal which sees in-season testing banned, limiting the usefulness of its Fiorano test track and other nearby Italian circuits.

But singling out either team misses the bigger point. Which is that organisations like FOTA are always going to find their members torn between obligations: the pursuit of individual victory versus the need to preserve the greater good -in this case, protecting F1’s long-term survival by slashing costs.

In choosing to pursue victory by political means, perhaps Todt’s real successor is not Domenicali but Mario Theissen.

If Domenicali is making a fresh stand against wasteful spending, declaring it at an expensive media event the likes of which other teams have been cancelling was poor timing. Perhaps this is just the Ferrari boss letting off a little steam after the F60’s launch was hampered by KERS teething problems. After all, we do not know how united the other teams are behind Ferrari

More on FOTA and KERS

BMW steering wheel with KERS button (click to enlarge)

Images (C) BMW ag

Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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24 comments on “Ferrari and BMW’s clash over KERS could signal a threat to FOTA unity”

  1. I would be more sympathetic to Ferrari if they had a decent KERS System. To me it just seems that Ferrari are attacking BMW because they know BMW have a superior system. F1 represents a not just a battle of drivers but a battle of engineers. I would be very disappointed if Ferrari caused the greatest engineering opportunity in F1 in years to be delayed because of their incompetence.

  2. Ferrari is not doing themselves any favours and comes off just looking bad. Making such accusations breaks down FOTA’s appearance of unity which gives Max and Bernie some leverage to work with. That is a pretty stupid thing to do when FOTA is in the middle of negotiating more revenues from FOM and knowing Bernie’s divide and conquer tactics.

    Not to mention pressuring a change in rules that have been known for two years just makes them poor sports. I really can’t see why BMW would change their stance under such bullying tactics. Domenicali really had nothing to gain making a statement like this but had plenty to lose.

  3. If Ferrari had a decent KERS then the argument would be more valid. Especially since these rules have been known since 2006. Don’t have a reliable system while the competition does? And you don’t like that? Well, tough luck.

    This statement has only served to weaken FOTAs stance against the FIA – more statements like that could undo all the good work that FOTA have managed to accomplished up until now. Don’t start arguing now.

  4. It was all the teams apart from BMW wanted to delay/abandon KERS, not just Ferrari. I wouldn’t be surprised if we hear more comments about the expense of KERS from other teams after they’ve launched their cars.

    The thing about KERS is that the restrictions and limits are so tight that I’m sure all the teams will get the maximum benefit (in terms of storage and release of energy), it’s the weight and reliability of the systems is what will differentiate them. When Max bangs on about improving the show, and not wasting money on things that can’t been seen by the spectator (ECUs, gearboxes, etc), what is KERS doing in the sport?

  5. I am not so sure that KERS is going to add anything to the sport BUT,Mario has a right to defend thier position…..just because everyone else is not ready is not BMW’s fault.They have an advantage and it is time to use it….with the field so tight every bit helps.

  6. Someone tell me how delaying KERS for a year will save costs.
    It won’t.

    If it were delayed every single one of the teams will still spend the next twelve months further developing their system and spending money on it. Delaying it a year won’t mean they’ll put it on the shelf and not try to develop it.

    Reasons of cost cutting are such a cop-out. Just tell the truth – you haven’t managed to get it to work.

  7. Speaking at Ferrari’s annual press skiing event

    Where do I get an invite for this? Do all the teams have annual press skiing events?

    I demand to know!

    1. I didn’t get one either :-(

      But then I can’t ski. And my ice-skating is hilarious

  8. We’ll know the truth when the cars take the track, not to be too cliche about it.

  9. I doubt KERS will do much more than widen the gap between the top teams and the lesser teams. Add to that the fact that it is hugely expensive to develop and completely irrelevant outside F1 the whole exercise seems like a bit of a misfire to me. The expense of it alone flys in the face of the current cost cutting drive.

  10. Just because the other teams feel like their behind on KERS they want to postpone it.

    BMW worked all of 2008 on their 2009 car and it just wouldn’t be fair to them.

  11. Isn’t KERS optional for 2009 anyways? Surely if any of the other nine teams don’t want to spend R&D on KERS this year they could run their cars without it. Since it’s not clear whether KERS will be an advantage, a team that doesn’t want to spend on it this year can develop a reliable KERS-less car instead – a decent alternative strategy. Ferrari has been going on and on about their KERS problems – just don’t do it if it’s that big of an issue.

    Also I don’t buy that all teams except BMW want KERS delayed. Some of those teams may have a good system, but are open to the idea of delay for the sake of FOTA solidarity. If BMW chooses not delay, it’s their right. If Ferrari is truly keen on having a united FOTA front, they would not make BMW’s stance public because now they just put a wedge in the team.

  12. Perhaps my understanding of FOTA is not as complete as it should be, but isn’t Di Montezemolo Ferrari’s member? Therefore Domenicali really has no ‘official’ say in FOTA’s affairs?

  13. I agree that BMW should not be called out on this matter. KERS is not news. All the teams had the same amount of time to prepare. It would be a big blow to BMW engineers that developed the KERS system. This should have been put on the table a long time ago and its too late to decide now.

    I’m glad someone pointed out that KERS is optional this year. In this case Ferrari really has no argument. Use it or don’t. Wasn’t that how F1 used to be. Cars on the grid were vastly different from each other.

  14. Ferrari are such poor losers!
    anything they cant get a handle on has to be banned doesnt it!
    y the hell postpone KERS when all teams have been spending untold millions on it!
    think back ’98 and McLarens “brake steer” system, who didnt get a handle on it and got it banned? thats not the only thing either!
    they are the only team who wont rise to the challenge that is developing thier technology and winning that way! that is after all what F1 is all about! think of thier years of dominance and how many complaints did all the other teams put together between them?
    what next, they’ll get the all new engine formula changed when that comes in cos they dont get an advantage? Pathetic! the more i hear about Ferrari, the more i hate them!

  15. The delay would help, as it’s expected that there will be a standard KERS in 2010.

  16. It looks like Domenicali has bitten off more than he can chew – why didn’t he leave it to Luca? If Ferrari need more time to develop KERS then it looks like they will have to run with the standard engines for the time being, which won’t impress the tifosi or the italian media….

  17. Williams bought a stake in a specialist KERS company. I’d be astounded if they’re not prepared with a fully working KERS.

    Ferrari have sour grapes cos they don’t know whether they’ll be able to win as much this year. You wait, as soon as they start winning they’ll shut up about KERS…

    And, I thought KERS was road-relevant, lots of cars being launched in the not-to-distant future seem to have regerative braking.

  18. Red toys duly thrown from the cot because they didn’t get their way…

  19. What if, regardless of KERS Ferrari anticipate they don’t have a competitive machine? and this way it would be easier to put it down to a KERSless car than to a car that is just not competitive in general terms?
    I know it’s too early to say such things, but it’s a thought

  20. I agree with Pink Peril, Domenicali, as the chairman of FOTA and a representative for Ferrari, should not be making these kinds of complaints about BMW. It’s like a judge declaring what verdict he expects the jury to come up with before a case, or the chairman of a sporting organisation telling everyone one team is more important than the rest…. Oh, wait a minute. We’ve been hear before.

    Sour grapes from the red team. They had the same time to prepare as everyone else, tough luck if they can’t deal with it. They have a history of complaining about others innovations when they get beaten, even if the technology was passed by the FIA.

    I can’t believe that only BMW didn’t want a veto. Toyota, surely must want this technology, it would validate their Prius.
    And Williams must hope that they’ve taken the right path with their system. It has to be worth a punt for them, as it cannot possibly perform worse than last years car!

    Hope BMW run rings round them.

  21. Oh, BTW, guaranteed that within 5 years, with this development, every car will have KERS!

  22. Just realised, Montezzemolo (or whatever) is the Chairman isn’t he! D’oh, my bad, went out last night with my girlfriend, so I’m nursing a sore head from too much wine!

  23. Well then Keith….it is the off season,post those ice skating home movies and we will all have a laugh!

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