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Political posturing

Formula 1 cannot survive without constant crises; and while several middle-ranking teams are furious about the appearance of the new Ligier - which looks alarmingly like a Benetton - another potential problem is developing between the International Automobile Federation (FIA) and the Grand Prix Drivers' Association.

The FIA has introduced several clauses in the superlicence application forms which the drivers are not happy about. Most of them are refusing to sign the applications.

The drivers are arguing that a superlicence is not a contract, but rather a certificate of competence, and are objecting to clauses which indemnifies the FIA against legal action in the event of accidents, and another which appears to restrict drivers from discussing the competence of governing body with journalists.

Many of the drivers met to discuss these issues during last week's testing in Estoril, and they are hoping that the FIA will be flexible and listen to their case. This is not likely because the FIA clearly feels exposed to criticism and potential legal problems and has long been trying to curb bad publicity. Our sources at the FIA say that the governing body is not going to give way saying that it is a problem for the teams to sort out. They have entered the World Championship; and if their drivers do not wish to compete, they will have to find replacements.

In fact the clauses inserted are fairly meaningless because no-one can sign away their legal rights; and so in the case of an accident, if there are legal grounds for action, the FIA cannot stop drivers or their relatives suing the governing body. A gag on talking to the press is also meaningless as current F1 drivers spend most time talking "off the record" because they are worried about upsetting sponsors.

The dispute, therefore, is little more than the governing body flexing its muscles and the drivers grumbling about it. It should not develop into a larger problem - a drivers' strike for example - but if it does the only people who can expect to be blamed are the FIA.

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