OCTOBER 15, 2008
The way things are
The FIA's latest proposals for cost-cutting, which were leaked to The Times today, are in part serious and in part a negotiating position from which the federation will back down after talks with the teams. Such is the way that business is done in F1. The proposals may make good headlines but they are no more than that. Over time we have seen any number of such ideas but few of them have ever become reality. This is good because the idea of standard engines is a very bad idea. There is nothing wrong with having very tightly controlled engines but the manufacturers must be given the freedom to claim an engine is their own. If that freedom is taken away some of the value of F1 to the car companies disappears.
Standard engines and such things are not what Formula 1 fans around the world want to see. Back in 2005 the FIA did a survey with AMD, asking what the fans really want. The results were unveiled with much pride at Monza that year and showed that 94% of the survey of 93,000 people wanted more overtaking; 88% wanted driver skill to be more important; 80% agreed that advanced technology is what sets F1 apart and 64% looked forward to the technical innovations each season.
Standard engines are not going to satisfy the fans, unless there are other technologies that they can get excited about - and which make a visible difference on the race track. The idea of KERS and other energy recovery systems is a good one and should be applauded, but in practical terms are we really going to see more overatking as a result of it? The answer is probably no because teams have done lots of simulation work and have found that the extra power produced by KERS will be best used throughout a lap, to increase the speed of the cars in the corners rather than used in sudden bursts of power being used to overtake. The Overtaking Working Group has done what it thinks will be good for the sport and let us hope that changes to the wings and slick tyres will make a difference.
However, the recent outbreak of interventionist stewarding at races is not going to help matters. Overtaking is not easy and is often quite a messy business because of the way the cars now are. To pass other cars is a risk and penalising drivers for trying is not a great idea. It is not clear why such actions are deemed to be necessary except that the FIA seems to need to flex its muscles, perhaps in an attempt to re-establish some of the credibility that the federation lost during Max Mosley's sex scandal.
The bottom line in this situation is that the only way that this can be curbed is if the member clubs do something about it. The United Nations is not going to send a peace-keeping force into the FIA headquarters and take control.
F1 is just a sport.
The real problem comes because some of the decisions being made are inconsistent or are deemed to be unfair by competitors, fans and media. Sebastien Bourdais's penalty in Japan and the lack of any action against Felipe Massa's overtaking manouevre on Mark Webber, which involved the driver not only putting all four wheels over a white line, but also driving straight across a red and white hatched box, which was at the exit of the pitlane, are a case in point. These inconsistencies are deeply worrying and they serve only to add to the perception that the race management in F1 is either not competent as it should be - or that Ferrari gets special treatment. The FIA is forever saying that there is no favouritism and that the supposed Ferrari bias exists only in the minds of the media and that fans around the world do not see it. But there is nothing to back up that assertion and much evidence to suggest that the federation is perceived as being biased. One needs only to cruise around blogs and forums to see that.
The management of perception is something that the FIA tries to do all the time, but it is hard to change perceptions without making serious changes, putting in new faces that can be trusted and then following up with no dubious decisions. Given the attitude of the federation members towards Max Mosley's sex scandal one can see that there really is little interest within the FIA about what the world thinks of its dealings. The news that Mosley is now telling the German media that he might stand for another term of office is no real surprise. The fact that he pledged to leave the role at the end of his current term seems to have been forgotten.
Forgetting such concepts as trust and honesty, the real question is whether or not Mosley is the best man for the job. The fact that there is no opposition worth considering is a worry. Perhaps there are competent people within the FIA clubs, but it is hard to see them if they are not willing to even enter into the democratic process.