AUGUST 30, 2002
While the Formula 1ers headed out to Indianapolis, The Mole decided it was better to stay home and watch the beeches of Burnham changing colour as autumn descends on Great Britain. It was fortunate that he did because this led to a chance meeting on Saturday lunchtime at the pub between The Mole and a lawyer that he has known since they were at school together. He specialises in commercial law and, having risen through the ranks to become a fairly important fellow, he is now something to do with the International Chamber of Commerce in Lausanne.
"Entre nous," he said over a gin and tonic, "half the F1 teams are taking Minardi to court over some money."
The Mole nearly spilled his drink.
It emerged that a handful of teams have decided that they do not think that Minardi has any right to the money that was paid earlier this year. In theory this money was to have gone to Prost Grand Prix but when the French team flopped this poor orphaned cash was left without a home. The teams claimed that it should be divided amongst them. Minardi boss Paul Stoddart argued that it should be his because the demise of Prost made him the 10th team. The Concorde Agreement was no help at all. The argument became very heated but eventually Max Mosley decreed that the money should go to Stoddart and said that if the other teams did not like it, they should go and argue their case at the International Chamber of Commerce in Lausanne.
This they have now decided to do.
You will have to forgive The Mole for feeling that this is a rather blinkered thing to be doing. The money saved Stoddart from having to close down Minardi. If he has to now pay it all back again, the team could go out of business. And that would not be an intelligent thing to do because Stoddart is not backward in coming forward and would not go quietly. The whole thing could create another public relations disaster for the sport.
And what better way to advertise F1 than to have the big teams pushing a small team out of business. Some of the team bosses have talked about the money that Stoddart received and justify the action by saying that they all need money at the moment. This is a nice idea but by the time they have paid the enormous legal bills (going to the International Chamber of Commerce will not give you much change out of $1m) and then splitting the spoils between them it is unlikely that they would get more than a few hundred thousand dollars apiece. And there is no guarantee that they will win
Others say that they must act on a matter of principle. The Mole laughed when he heard that. At Monza there was a special car park behind the paddock marked "Team Principles" and The Mole's spies reported that most of the time it seemed to be empty. One or two of the F1 team bosses have a modicum of morality but there are others who are completely untrustworthy in all that they say and do.
The move is dumb form a number of reasons above and beyond the fact that it could do terrible things to the F1 image. For a start it would further undermine the value of all the teams.
The value of a F1 team these days is based on the fact that each has an entry in the World Championship. The entry is limited to 12 teams. When there was a demand for entries the teams became suddenly very valuable. The demise of Prost changed all of that because no-one took up the vacant space. Anyone wanting to enter the sport can simply pay the FIA $48m. This is refundable. So any team being offered for sale is basically worth less than $50m, which is half of what used to be the case.
If Arrows now disappears and is not replaced there will be two slots available and knocking out Minardi would make a third. And each available franchise lowers the value of all the teams because in the end the authorities are going to have to start thinking about getting rid of the $48m deposit if they want to keep up the numbers.
The Mole's conclusion in all of this is that the entire issue is one of ego and Minardi has nothing to do with it. It is not about the money as much as being about the fact that some of the team bosses do not like being told what to do by FIA President Max Mosley. Mosley has a habit of treating the team bosses like children and runs intellectual rings around them in meetings. He makes them feel small and rather foolish.
It is worth asking the question whether or not this is a valid reason for threatening to wipe out a fellow team. The Mole feels that now is not the moment for such things to be happening. Surely it would be better for the team bosses to be working together to build a better sport in the future rather than quibbling over the scraps for all the wrong reasons. What the sport needs now is men with foresight and intellect to figure out how to stop the fighting and how to get together to change the rules and regulations to make the sport more appealing to the general public.
Formula 1 these days is like a big corporation with 10 different divisions all pulling in different directions and if it continues to behave in this way it will eventually do itself serious damage.
The Mole feels that some of those involved should concentrate more on where the sport is going in the long term rather than slashing at the weak guys.
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