APRIL 27, 2009
A world beyond the F1 paddock
Inside the Formula 1 paddock there is much talk about what an important week this is going to be. This is true, but not for the reasons that some might think. The newspapers may report much about the McLaren-Melbourne "scandal" but it would not be wise for the FIA to make too much of what was a very big storm in a very small tea-cup. When all is said and done, standards are set by those in power (which is in itself an interesting thought), and one must accept their view of reality, if there is no higher power. Scapegoats have been found and sacrificed and a letter from McLaren to the FIA being leaked to the media, a further indignity, and one must hope that the federation will now turn to the far more serious business of the moment of how to stop the sport running out of cash without driving away the car manufacturers who bring so much to the party. Keeping the manufacturers in Formula 1 is important, even if some people think the are responsible for driving up budgets and causing political problems. Their value is in the credibility and prestige that they lend to the World Championship, in the kind of sponsors that come with them. They give F1 a gloss that perhaps it does not deserve, given some of the puerile things that go on. Now is the time for all this to stop. F1 needs to be whiter than white in order to attract as much money as possible and that requires all concerned to be as wholesome and corporate as possible. F1 remains a fantastic marketing tool, but it is too expensive. There may be people ready to step in to replace manufacturers - as we have seen with Red Bull and Brawn - but finding the budget to run such operations is difficult. The teams and the FIA need to find a budget cap at which they can operate. It must be low enough to save the day in a worst-case scenario but high enough to keep the serious players interested. What is not needed is procrastination of any kind.
All this is happening against a background of American giants General Motors and Chrysler facing bankruptcy and Fiat pondering a monumental risk of trying to gobble up Chrysler and Opel in order to accelerate out of the crisis.
The hope is that a compromise will be found between the teams and the FIA on the question of a budget cap and the future rules and regulations. The suggestion is that the federation is willing to discuss "a glide path" which will reduce the budgets in stages over the next three years with a limit of $80m in 2010, $50m in 2011 and $30m in 2012. This would give the teams time to redeploy people in new businesses. The worry is that $80m is still too high a figure to allow all the current teams to survive. The idea that all motor racing championships should use the same basic engines is a good one, but it must allow manufacturers to build their own versions of a template.
The FIA will this week reveal its plans and the word is that the federation may try to force the issue by moving forward the deadline for entries for the 2010 World Championship so that the F1 teams have no time to make a fuss. The whisper in Bahrain was that the entry could be closed as early as next Friday. FIA President Max Mosley did this in March 2006 when he gave teams one week to enter for the 2008 Formula 1 World Championship. The result was a total of 22 applications for entries. Many of these were entirely notional and in the end none of the supposed new teams became a reality. However, forcing the issue meant that the federation headed off any idea of a rival World Championship as the existing teams had to scramble to guarantee their places. Doing the same thing again is an option and it is unlikely that the teams will do anything different this time around because there is no real desire for a rival championship, particularly at a time when the car manufacturers need to be concentrating on their core business.
All the sport needs and wants is a fair set of rules and regulations and good governance.