The importance of Mr X

The FISA-FOCA war of 1980-1982 was a fight over who should control the promotional rights of Formula 1 racing. The battles resulted in the Concorde Agreement in which FOCA (the F1 teams) won to right to negotiate commercial deals on behalf of the FISA. The governing body was recompensed with a considerable sum of money.

There. That was simple enough, wasn't it? Three sentences in a history book.

Twenty years from now, all the current battles will be just as easy to categorize and define. The first line will say: "The battle between the FIA and the automobile manufacturers in the early years of the 21st Century was a fight over who would control the money generated by Formula 1".

We just don't know the other two sentences yet.

Two groups are preparing different futures for Grand Prix racing. It is the FISA-FOCA War all over again, the only difference being that the men who won power for the teams 23 years ago - Bernie Ecclestone and Max Mosley - are now trying to take that power away from the people they empowered. They are the establishment rather than the rebels and they are caught in the traps of their own creation.

Will the sport be better off with the solutions being discussed at the moment?

Are the players of today really interested in the future of the sport in more than a pre-formed sound byte?

Will money come down from above and be given to FIA clubs to help to expand the sport in countries across the world?

Does it really does matter who gets the cash if it is not going to be used for the good of the sport?

When you stop and think about the problems for any period of time - which most of the people involved do not do - you realize that all the current problems in Formula 1 can be traced to one specific event: the FIA's decision to lease the commercial rights of F1 to Formula One Management. This was something that FIA President Mosley was able to sell to the FIA members as providing long-term guarantees that the federation would survive whatever happened in the future and that the FIA would have a foundation to fund Mosley's various automobile-related schemes and give the FIA president a political voice. That gave the job some more interest for him and created a solid structure which gave Ecclestone, quite literally, the deal of the century. What no-one at the FIA recognised (or at least said out loud) was that the deal pawned the FIA's family silver for generations, in exchange for a relatively small sum of money.

The money that is generated now goes to the Ecclestone Family trust funds, to the teams or to banks. Nothing goes back to the member clubs (which actually own F1) and that means that developing the sport around the world is just as difficult as ever it was. If you are the man in Bujumbura or Kampala you are more worried about paying the fees to be a member of the FIA than you are about developing the sport by building a kart track or sending a youngster to a racing school in Europe.

It should not be like that.

In its statutes, the FIA is charged with "safeguarding the interests of automobilism in all countries, promoting the development of motor sport and encouraging improvement in the facilities and services of the member clubs".

Other sporting bodies, such as the International Olympic Committee (IOC), run their own commercial operations and their sports profit. The IOC distributes much of its profit to the National Olympic Committees. This is used to pay for new facilities, to train new athletes and to pay costs for the competitors to travel to big events.

The FIA does not need to do anything in F1 other than be a dull old regulator. More than anything it needs to be taking advantage of the one thing it controls which does generate money. The Ecclestone Family has had plenty of money. Max Mosley has played the games he so loves with politicians. Both men have been very clever and have enjoyed the benefits of their intelligence. They now want to perpetuate the system and protect their positions.

But now is the time to look after the sport.

The best thing for F1 would be for the FIA to take back the commercial rights. This is easy. The banks want to get out and will sell their shares in Formula One Management. They have now established their right to manage the business and so a buyer would have the same rights. There is a clause in the contract that the FIA can veto a change of owner but it is not going to veto itself!

The FIA is, as we often hear, a large organization which is recognised by governments and other big international organizations. If the Ecclestone Family can issue a bond, the FIA is quite capable of doing the same thing and borrowing the money it needs to re-acquire its commercial rights. It is in no rush to pay back the loan and could offer very attractive terms. Or it could do a deal with the very banks it seeks to buy out and end up paying nothing up front.

It could sort out problems with the European Union simply enough because what is being proposed is logical and sensible and there is no reason for a fight. The reason that the last discussions with the EU went on for so long was because of the nature of the deal, not because the European bureaucrats are difficult by nature. They have more important things to do.

Whoever proposes such a scheme could, in effect, write himself votes at the FIA because if one offers a local automobile club president the chance to make himself a star in his own country, and perhaps be awarded The Order of the Big Banana, he is going to take it. One million dollars a year to each club which holds the sporting power in each country would be a massive incentive to grow the sport. The man from Bujumbura could build his kart track. New countries would flock to the FIA. There would soon be all kinds of new facilities, scholarships to Europe, racing and rally schools and if bigger facilities were needed, there would be income to guarantee loans.

There would, obviously, need to be an FIA Audit Committee to make sure that the money was being spent properly but that is not really a big deal.

With the commercial rights secured, the FIA could build a structure, in tandem with the other interested parties, which would develop the commercialization of F1. Planning for the future and investing in the right places would help the sport to grow and more money would be generated, which would allow the FIA to make other grants to assist clubs with particular projects or to create international scholarship schemes.

F1 generates so much that there would be cash to fund administration costs and still offer the teams $50m each a year. Teams would have more value because they would be like franchises which have guaranteed flows of income and thus could be sold if there are new players wanting to join the game.

The FIA would still have its Foundation and other associated institutes to do good things for the automobile world and the racers could get on with their racing.

And we historians could finish the two sentences summing up the battles with the words: "The FIA President, Mr X, did the right thing and they all lived happily ever after".

Max Mosley could be Mr X. But if this scheme is not to his taste perhaps there is another Mr X out there?

Print Feature