A web of problems
MAY 10, 2002
The Mole is in a bit of rush today. There are things to be done in preparation for the forthcoming meeting of the Formula 1 team bosses in London (rooms to be bugged, that sort of thing). It looks like being quite an interesting one. For a start it has been called not by Bernie Ecclestone but rather by the FIA President Max Mosley and when that happens, it seems that Mosley always arrives with something unexpected. Mosley does not go to team managers meetings for the fun of it.
There is no agenda for the meeting (at least not one that the team bosses know anything about) but it is expected that there will be discussions on the unfortunate situation which exists between Minardi and Arrows. In essence the problem is this: Minardi claims that it should be given the $12m that was to have gone to Prost Grand Prix this year from the TV fund. After some months of pushing and shoving every team agreed that this was the right solution, except Arrows. The motivation behind this appears to be that Tom Walkinshaw of Arrows was unhappy with the way in which Paul Stoddart stopped the Phoenix Finance Ltd bid for Prost. Walkinshaw says that he has no big interest in Phoenix Finance Ltd and so his blocking of the Minardi money seems a strange thing to do although TW has been going around trying to convince all the team owners to agree to split the money between them.
The good news is that in recent days Walkinshaw has announced to the world that he has found new backers for Arrows. He has declined to name them. The Mole feels that he should now be more willing to compromise than he was when his back was to the wall. This is, of course, assuming that one believes that he has found new backers.
If he is not willing to help Minardi out one must assume that he does not have the shed-loads of money that the words "new investors" seem to suggest.
The Mole does not see what Walkinshaw has to gain from refusing to help Minardi. Paul Stoddart has said, in as many words, that if he does not get the TV money he will have to shut down the team so it would be a good idea now for Walkinshaw to agree to Stoddart getting the money. In this way he could appear as the great peacemaker, which might not be a bad idea at the moment.
When one's livelihood is threatened passions can become very intense. This is not a concept which team bosses can remember as they are all now so rich that they will always live happily ever after no matter what happens to their racing teams. But to normal people such a threat is very damaging. In Canada one of The Mole's operatives spent several minutes calming down "a junior member" of the Minardi staff who was so upset by Walkinshaw's recent behaviour that he was suggesting that if the team goes down there are going to be some embarrassing revelations coming out about the way in which some of the people in Formula 1 do business.
The Mole feels that now is not the moment for more dirty washing in the public arena and that it would be wise for all concerned to come up with a Munich 1938 type of agreement to get us through the current crisis. Walkinshaw and Stoddart can wipe each other out later on if they feel so inclined but now is not the moment.
There are too many other issues in the Formula 1 frying pan.
There are also going to be discussions about the rules and regulations but there is another issue which has come to The Mole's notice in recent days. The Formula One group has been instructed by its owners in Germany to adopt cost-saving measures and to this end has been looking at ways in which it can cut back on the expenditure at each Grand Prix, particularly with the huge Formula One television operation. Costs are going to be exceptionally high between the British and French GPs in July because there is only a one week break rather than the usual fortnight. They have therefore decided that money can be saved if they axe many of the systems which were developed by Formula One for the use of race control. The argument is simple: starting races, detecting jumped starts, pitlane speeding and even reporting where every car is on the track at every moment is not the work of the commercial rights holder. That is a task for the sporting authority. The suggestion is that up to now the company has been providing all these services for free but cannot now afford to do so (or rather does not want to).
This raises the question of who should be responsible and indeed whether the F1 circus needs all the high technology information services that have been developed over the years. The response of the FIA to this will be interesting. It is possible that the French GP could be started with lights in the old-fashioned way without the automatic jumped-start systems. But there are safety issues raised over the race control operations which may or may not be available. The FIA could simply declare that unless the systems are in place the French GP cannot happen on the grounds of safety, which of course would be a financial disaster for the promoters and for the Formula One group. But then again the cynics will say that the FIA would not want to do that because it would play into the hands of those who are operating rival venues for the race in the future. If Magny-Cours ran into trouble there is a company called Excelis which runs the Paul Ricard racing circuit which might be willing to step in.
It is controlled by a Mr Ecclestone. The very same fellow who runs the Formula One group.
The Mole quickly came up with a solution to this problem: a wealthy sponsor such as Allianz needs to be wheeled into the arena to buy the high technology stuff from the Formula One group. The FIA could then name them as an official safety partner of the FIA and as no money has changed hands it is not a commercial transaction and all will again be rosy in the garden.
Except that Walkinshaw and Stoddart will still be ripping up the flowers and throwing them at each other.
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