DECEMBER 10, 2008
The future of Formula 1
Today in Monte Carlo the Formula 1 teams and the FIA get together to discuss cost-cutting strategies, two days before the FIA World Council meets to rubber-stamp the decision that are made. The federation has one idea about how to cut costs and the teams have quite another. The unity of the teams, within the Formula One Teams' Association, appears to be strong as they seem to understand that if they are divided they will have little or no power and most seem to be compromising and not allowing their immediate needs (such as better results) get in the way of what needs to be done. Some may be griping quietly behind the scenes but it is not a time for disunity.
At the same time, sometime is peddling the line that half the teams would support the idea of a standard engine. It is hard to see who this would be except those who have an axe to grind. Standard engines would help those who are currently behind and so some might be tempted to fall into line with Max Mosley simply to gain a few tenths here and there. This will not make them winners. The winners, on the other hand, are loathe to give up any advantage, but they know that probably they must in order to keep the sport stable. There is no doubt at all that there are some who simply will not accept a standard engine, because it undermines the fundamental principles of why they are involved in F1. It is in no-one's interest to push these teams out of the sport at a time when it is very hard to find sponsorship and losing more teams will have diasastrous repercussions on the image of the sport. If they are willing and able to spend money then the sport would be mad to exclude them. Scare stories about teams having no money and not being creditworthy must be seen simply as attempts to destabilise the union that exists in FOTA in order to undermine the power that the teams have.
Almost all of the teams appear to be taking cost-cutting very seriously - as indeed most of them need to do because they do not have unlimited access to funds as once was the case - but what has become clear in recent days is that none of the teams are in deep trouble right now and that the current discussions thus are not so much about money as about power and who makes the decisions in Grand Prix racing.
If the teams can be split then the power will remain with the FIA and with its commercial allies, but if the teams stay together they command the stage and the commercial forces need to fall in with them. There is a limit to this power, of course, as it is impossible to imagine an alternative championship in the current economic conditions but no-one sensible should be betting the sport on their desire to be in control. What is required is the right compromise to make sure that F1 remains healthy, relevant and entertaining. It is a time when those involved need to be responsible in their actions as these are delicate times and fighting over the toy box might end up with everything ending up broken on the floor. Let us hope that the people involved are more sensible than that.