OCTOBER 28, 2009
To Abu Dhabi and beyond...
The coming weekend in Abu Dhabi will be the beginning of an exciting new race and the end of other stories in Formula 1. The sport has new leadership with Jean Todt having been elected as FIA President and everyone is waiting to see what the Frenchman is planning to do. There are hopes and there are fears. Todt is a man who has been divisive in the past, but he now has a clean sheet or paper and an opportunity to do things differently. Some say that a leopard does not change its spots but one can hope that Todt's focus and commitment will be used be used for the good of F1 and that it will end the confrontational style of management that has existed under Max Mosley.
There are significant rule-changing next year with the end of refuelling in races. The knock-on effect of this will be cars that are very different to the current machinery with much larger fuel tanks and the need for drivers to be more careful with their tyres. Whether this will mean better racing remains to be seen. There will still be tyre strategies and pit stops but will there be more overtaking? Time will tell. The reality about overtaking is that it is not just about the cars. The design of the circuits needs to be taken into account as well and with too much money leaving the sport and disappearing into the pockets of venture capitalists and bankers, who care nothing for F1 beyond what they can make out of it, it is not easy for this to change. In many respects the NASCAR financing model, which gives 60% of the revenues back to the circuits is a much more sustainable structure in the longer term. A decent percentage of that money finds its way back to the teams from prize funds and appearance money. In addition the competitors get 25% directly from NASCAR, leaving the sanctioning body with a fair 15% of the take. This is ultimately better for the sport - mainly the fans - who pay less for their tickets and thus have more available money if they wish to invest in merchandising.
Formula 1 needs to look very carefully at its funding models in the years ahead as there are increasing signs - recession or no recession - that the current structure is becoming unssutainable in the traditional F1 markets. There is nothing wrong with expansion to new markets, but the balance needs to be right and when the sport is not in the world's biggest consumer market then something is clearly wrong.
The race in Abu Dhabi will also be the end of the current chapter in BMW's F1 history. The Munich firm will probably come to regret the decision to pack up and leave, taken because of new environmental goals that need to be addressed. The whole withdrawal has been very badly managed by the folk in Munich and one hopes that the Sauber team will emerge in one piece from the current crisis over entries. The team could have achieved a great deal more if it hd been given a little more time.
Elsewhere in the paddock there is much movement with some of the top names switching between the teams. Next year we will see Fernando Alonso at Ferrari. Kimi Raikkonen is on the move and will end up somewhere unless his financial demands catch him out. Rubens Barrichello is on his way to Williams and Nico Rosberg seems on his way to Brawn. And the talented Robert Kubica is going to Renault, where hopefully his talents will be better used than they have been at BMW Sauber.
There is therefore much to look forward to.
The season has flown by very quickly and in the offseason will no doubt do the same. There are four and a half months in which there will be no races but no doubt when we get to Bahrain in March it will seem like yesterday that we were in Abu Dhabi.