From the most successful meeting to a sport facing a split, what went wrong in 6 months ?

On the 10th of December 2008, the FIA and FOTA met to discuss ways to significantly reduce the cost of running a Formula 1 team. This meeting was as a result of the financial crisis and the withdrawl of the Honda racing team from the sport (announced just a week earlier). Despite having major differences just weeks before, the magnitude of the crisis meant that a solution must be found and they did. The FIA and FOTA issued a joint statement stating: “FIA and FOTA have had the most successful meeting on Formula One matters which any of the participants can remember.”

The crisis was averted and it appeared that Formula 1 will be free from the politics for a few years to come. Wrong! In just 6 months, the sport is on the verge of a split. Why ?

Soon after the historic meeting between the FIA and FOTA, FOTA (on the 8th of January) announced a number of cost cutting measures including aerodynamic testing restrictions, low cost transmissions and low cost engines at costs comparable to what the FIA was targeting. Then on the 5th of March FOTA announced key proposals for reducing costs. Everything was looking promising for a stable future for Formula 1.

Then and less than two weeks later, the FIA announced unilaterally the introduction of a ‘budget cap’ option for Formula 1 teams and those opting in would be allowed some degree of technical freedom over those teams not wishing to take up that option. Naturally FOTA wasn’t pleased with these decisions given that they were not consulted despite having announced their proposals less than two weeks earlier. When asked why announce such rules despite FOTA’s proposals Mosley said “We cannot wait, because new teams wishing to enter the 2010 Championship will need to start work immediately. FOTA have already given us their main ideas, we understand that the outstanding matters are more minor.”

Minor they were not. This was the start of the current crisis and the first confrontation between the FIA and FOTA took place immediately with FOTA rejecting the FIA’s change to the points system and forcing the FIA to revert to the current system.

On the 29th of April, the FIA raised the stakes by inviting those who wish to enter the 2010 Formula 1 Championship to apply during the period between the 22nd and the 29th of May and those applying would need to indicate whether they will take up the ‘budget cap’ option. It is worth noting that for 2009, invitation to apply for entry was during the period between the 1st and the 31st of July 2008. This action by the FIA put FOTA in a position that it had to respond in less than 30 days and despite numerous meetings prior to the deadline, no agreement was reached and the FOTA teams (except Williams and Force India) lodged a conditional entry for all the teams together.

The entry list is set to be announced on the 12th of June and so far there doesn’t appear to be any breakthrough. If the list excludes the 8 FOTA teams then there will most likely be a rival series which neither FOTA nor the FIA want.

Why should there be a split when both the FIA and FOTA have the same aim and that is to significantly reduce costs. Surely if the aim is the same, an agreement could be found on how to reach this aim. Budget capping while an option isn’t the best way to reduce costs as it is very hard to police and by the admission of Max Mosley, the FIA would “need the right to carry out very intrusive audits” which the teams aren’t willing to allow. FOTA is offering engines and transmissions at costs comparable to those suggested by the FIA as well as significant reduction in wind tunnel and CFD usage. In fact what FOTA are proposing will allow teams to run competitively with a budget comparable to that suggested by the FIA.

So where is the problem ? Well, it seems that it has come down to 1 person and that is Max Mosley. Sure he has made many good decisions in the past particularly with regards to safety but not matter how credible a person is, one person alone shouldn’t be allowed to set the rules, governance of Formula 1 should be carried out through a commission with representatives from FOTA.

Max Mosley has twice decided to step down in the past yet he is still there, the last time was a year ago surrounding his sex scandal when he declared he won’t be running for President again this year. His latest position though is that he has yet to decide.

Max Mosley created Formula Two as a feeder series to Formula One even though a feeder series already exists (GP2), now it seems he is set on shaping Formula One his way regardless of what the teams want, a shape it seems that is defined by standard components and that isn’t what Formula One is about.

Perhaps Max has gone too far this time and this crisis – if resolved – may see his power grip loosened which can only be a good thing for Formula One, but with the stakes so high, it is a critical situation and a resolution may not be found.

This crisis needs to be solved and it shouldn’t be dealt with by threats and counter threats and those with the responsibility of ensuring Formula One remains the pinnacle of motorsport should act responsibly and beyond the politics and egos and look hard at finding a solution before it is too late.

No one wants to see two series

Related discussions and reference material:
2010 Formula One Regulations Thread
FIA announces budget cap option for 2010
FIA Press Releases
FOTA Press Releases

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