THE MOLE

I am a jelly doughnut

Politicians have a habit of screwing things up. They come and they go and it is left to the bureaucrats to clean up the mess they leave behind them. If you want something to run properly you need to have a dictator. The second best option is to have an effective bureaucracy. One of the reasons that The Mole and his fellow secret agents fought so hard against the Russians back in the Cold War days was because we knew that without either one or the other the whole place would quickly crumble.

The Mole feels that the he and his kind did a good job with a little help from our American friends, although President John F Kennedy did not help matters when he turned up in Berlin and told the locals that "Ich bin ein Berliner". Our opposite numbers at the Russian Embassy thought it highly amusing that the US President should turn up and tell the poor beseiged people of Berlin that, in literal translation: "I am a jelly doughnut".

When it comes to motor racing politicians they are (with one or two exceptions) even more hopeless than the real thing as they do not always understand the issues but they do like to expound on any subject. This is why one day we will hear team bosses saying that there is a crisis in F1 and the next day they will say that there is no crisis and that the press are to blame for talking the sport down.

The Mole has never believed that there is a real crisis in Formula 1 beyond the fundamental problem that the team bosses have too much power. And some have enormous egos. They cannot agree on anything and so the Formula 1 "house" is divided and could one day fall.

The Mole thinks that Ferrari domination of F1 is a bad thing but believes that the current "crisis" is nothing more than a diversionary tactic while the real issues are sorted out. While watching magicians at work one should always look at the hands away from the action to see what is really happening. The Formula 1 Commission in London was billed as one of the most important in the history of the sport but messing about with sporting regulations (which is all that has really happened) is not going to solve anything much. What is needed is flexibility and the teams have not allowed that to happen. If it is left in the hands of the teams the sport will drift on until the end of the current Concorde Agreement in 2007 with nothing being decided (the cancellation of the Belgian GP highlights this). And the sport will end up in real trouble.

The big teams think that after the Concorde Agreement ends Formula 1 can be transformed into a new "Grand Prix World Championship" and that they will then get more money. And yet they are fighting against any measures to save money at a time when budgets have gone off the clock.

The GPWC announced a few days ago that it has made a proposal to the banks which run the Formula One group to restucture Formula 1 with two new Concorde Agreements stretching until 2017. At the moment it is nothing but a proposal. There could be a deal but even if that is done there is no guarantee that this will be acceptable to the international automobile federation which ultimately controls the sport. The FIA is supposed to look after the wellbeing of the sport but feels that it cannot do so because the teams have too much power to veto necessary changes.

Everyone will tell you that there will be a compromise one day because too much is at stake but The Mole is less and less sure that this is what will happen as it makes a lot more sense for an attempt to be made to organise a World Championship which is more simple, cheaper and more open.

Logically, this will be more entertaining as well.

Thus The Mole has been watching very closely as talk has emerged that Bernie Ecclestone is considering buying into Championship Auto Racing Teams Inc. While it is being denied that a deal is being done the Mole's spy network reports that while the CART people were busy in Australia at the weekend Bernie's lawyers and accountants have been taking a nice close look at the CART books and contracts to see if something can be organised. CART needs help. The series has been all but destroyed by competition with Tony George's Indy Racing League. The only way out is for CART to forget that battle and try to build something else, something bigger.

When CART chief executive Chris Pook started to talk a few days ago about the series switching to normally-aspirated V10 engines in 2005, The Mole began to take more notice. Such a move would open the way for the CART teams to use versions of the current F1 engines and that would open the way for a number of manufacturers to maximise the value of their investment in automobile racing by using the same engines in both Formula 1 and in CART. The US luxury car market is the one that really matters and so it should be the one that Formula 1 is aimed at. To date F1 has done very badly in America. Things are beginning to move forward but it is going to be a long process unless there are American teams, drivers and sponsors. And that means that there need to be more races in the American time zones.

The Mole believes that the fact that Bernie and CART are talking about a deal of some kind should be a warning signal to the GPWC. They continue to plan their own new World Championship in 2008 but no-one seems to have considered the possibility that Ecclestone and his partners might be considering doing exactly the same thing. The difference would be that they would still be able to call their championship the "Formula 1 World Championship".

If a new CART-based series were to pop up using the same engines as are currently seen in F1 but with different regulations and a different decision-making structure which cut costs and made the whole business more flexible it is quite possible that more than half the F1 teams would be willing to switch series. CART is not as global as F1 at the moment but it visits Mexico, Europe and Canada and has been seen in South America and Asia as well. With a quick wash and brush-up and with Ecclestone bringing in some of his race contracts from F1, the series could easily slide into the role of being the Formula 1 of the future.

In 2008 the old F1 could die and a new one could be born. There would be American teams involved, there would be US drivers and sponsors. There would be US venues. The rules could be set to ensure that budgets remained sensible (the one chassis with modifications is quite a good premise) and decision-making would be easy.

The Mole thinks that the FIA would jump at the chance to have a series with fewer problems and that many of the existing Formula 1 promoters around the world would rather work with Ecclestone to maintain continuity than work against him. The Mole believes that it would not be long before the hard-nosed bean counters in the automobile companies would begin to argue that the GPWC makes no sense and that if they want to sell more cars (which The Mole believes is the ultimate aim of the car companies in F1) it would make more sense to do it in a series which had a major US element.

After that it would just be a question of people needing to swallow their pride and go where the dollars are.

Click here to read previous Mole columns: The Mole Archive

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