THE MOLE

Mosley and The Acolytes in concert

Max Mosley and no fewer than four of his FIA acolytes had lunch twice last week in London with assorted members of the motor racing media. The Mole has been to a few of these events over the years but decided this year to send a stand-in because the lunch to which he was invited clashed with the opening of the Retromobile Show in Paris. Looking at old cars and talking to silly old farts in cloth caps seemed to The Mole to be a rather more appealing idea on this occasion than listening to Mosley and The Acolytes in concert.

In fact The Acolytes did not get much of a chance to sing. Mosley held centre stage, as he is prone to do on such occasions, and the spotlight stayed firmly on the FIA's answer to Mick Jagger as he delivered his message (there is always a message at these events). Mosley's appeal on this occasion sounded a bit more like Bob Geldof as he tried to convince the audience that he would like to help the smaller Formula 1 teams lest they all fall victim to these economically-undesirable times.

Mosley the Missionary was not very convincing. His ideas did not seem to be very realistic and the idea of a Utopian Grand Prix getting a place on the F1 calendar is not very likely given the troubles that China and other new venues have had over the years.

Saving money in F1 is a concept as lost as The Fine Young Cannibals. If you force teams to spend less in one area of the business, they will spend more in another. Budgets never come down unless the money supply dries up. Those that do not have money will always suffer. The big fish survive and the whitebait get fried. These are the facts of life.

The only way in which small teams could really save money is if they were to be given free engines. Unfortunately the Red Cross does not make Formula 1 engines (although they could afford to given the donations which have come in since September 11) and the men who run the world's car companies are too busy cutting jobs to save money to worry about such grand gestures. The only way they will agree to such ideas is if they were forced to do so.

Mosley could make that happen by a change to the Sporting Regulations but that would require the agreement of the FIA Formula 1 Commission. This body is made up of Mosley, the 11 team owners (Alain Prost no longer being welcome at these parties), eight race promoters, two sponsors, one tyre company and one engine manufacturer. And, of course, Bernie Ecclestone, who represents the F1 commercial rights holder Leo Kirch.

In order to change a sporting regulation this body must have 18 votes in favour of a decision. In order to get the engine rules changed Mosley would need to count on the promoters, the sponsors, the tyre companies, Ecclestone and at least five team owners. At the moment only three teams are paying for engines: Sauber, Minardi and Arrows and it is not in anyone else's interest to vote for the change. Support might be found for free-thinking folk at Williams and McLaren, which are independent of car manufacturers but in league with them, but it is not very likely as they want to benefit from exclusive engine supplies.

Mosley's other ideas expressed over lunch were similarly odd. He is suggesting that cars be allowed to use only one engine during a race weekend and that if this engine breaks or loses power the car could have a new engine but would be penalised by having to start halfway down the grid. Mosley said this would save money because it is very expensive to build 50 or 60 engines every year.

Once again this is not very realistic because the money that a car manufacturer would save in production costs (which would be minimal because the machinery needed to make engines will be the same) would be shuffled quietly into research and development and not given back to the company's chief financial officer. No money would be saved.

The third idea which Mosley came up with is that the engine formula could be changed before the end of the current stability agreement, which runs until the end of 2007.

Mosley suggested that a change to 2.4-litre V8 engines would be cheap because manufacturers could simply lop two cylinders off the existing 3-litre V10 units. This would cut the power down and so avoid the embarrassing situation of engines kicking out 900 horsepower at a time when the car manufacturers and the FIA are trying to appear as environmentally-friendly as possible.

The idea of cost is often cited when it is decided to change engine rules but the fact is that a new engine programme costs more money than an existing one because of the research and development necessary for a design. Initially investment brings big returns but the same level of money is spent in ensuing years as development becomes more exotic. The best way to save money, therefore, is to leave the rules as they are until the engineers run out of new ideas.

The danger of the ideas expressed by Mosley over lunch is that they might drive away manufacturer interest in F1. This not something that the federation wants to see because manufacturer interest helps to keep the motor racing industry awash with cash and at a very high profile.

The Mole is of the opinion that Mosley is taking quite a risk with these ideas because driving out the manufacturers is something that Leo Kirch would probably like to see at the moment as the car companies are planning to spoil his party by starting their own World Championship in 2008. Mosley cannot really afford to be seen to be helping Kirch too much because the federation has agreed not to get involved in the commercial side of the sport and if there were suspicions that the FIA and Kirch were in league the bureaucrats of Brussels would soon be back, knocking at the door of the FIA in Geneva and talking about competition issues.

Mosley and The Acolytes are dancing on a minefield and it would be wisest for them to find a new song to sing. The Mole suggests The Beatles classic "Let it be".

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