APRIL 15, 2005
Meanwhile in the Place de la Concorde
This morning in Paris FIA President Max Mosley meets with Ferrari, Red Bull Racing and the man from Jordan to discuss the rules and regulations for 2008 and beyond. The FIA muezzins in the minarets of the Place de la Concorde are wailing out a message that consensus is the way for the sport to move forward. That is a fine argument.
Consensus is the way forward.
One has to ignore the fact that Formula 1 politics has generally been about the use of power rather than about hugging and kissing. There are, of course, enormous suspicions about the unity of the nine teams which are sitting in opposition (perhaps they would say "parallel") to the FIA and Ferrari. For months we have been hearing stories that the group would not stay together and yet it has. It is doing something that people said was impossible to do.
"It is a bit like FOCA used to be," says one seasoned observer. "We discuss things and decide what we want to do even if some of us do not agree."
A while ago Mosley said that it was "so much the better" if the teams can come up with their own regulations but at the same time predicted that there would be problems "when detailed technical and sporting rules have to be agreed". That is the process that is now being gone through by the nine teams and so, logically, there really is not much point in an FIA meeting at which only Ferrari and a couple of mid-grid teams are present. It is a PR manoeuvre which casts the federation in the role of the little guy against the monstrous automobile companies.
There is plenty of time before the rules must be made - the deadline is December 31 - although we hear that this is not really the issue. The big problem at the moment appears to be that the banks are flexing their muscles a little after the recent "victory"in the long-running struggle for control of the Formula One empire. We hear that the bankers want results and are putting pressure on for a solution to be found. If they lose patience in this matter there could be all kinds of unpleasant repercussions for the sport.
In the 1990s arm-twisting used to work. Teams did what they were told to do because it was usually in their interest to do so. Bernie Ecclestone would ring a bell and the team bosses would obey. But these days that Pavlovian reaction has disappeared. Ecclestone is still seen as the avuncular figure and most of the teams would be happy to do some kind of deal with him for the future but there is a lot of baggage that comes with him, in the form of bankers, who care for nothing but the money.
And then there is the question of the FIA and here one gets into delicate territory because the federation does not like to be told that it is very unpopular. Being unpopular is part of the job of running a sports federation, but the current executive group has gone beyond that. The teams report (to a lesser or greater extent) that they are so fed up that they either want a new management at the FIA or a new federation. Perhaps they tell the FIA something different because the voices from within the federation say that the teams are much sweeter towards the FIA than they are letting on. One thing which is clear at the moment is that the FIA General Assembly does not agree with the teams. They seem to be supporting Mosley no matter what he does.
The teams say that they will present their thoughts to the FIA when everything is agreed and signed off. If they fail to do that the FIA can come rushing in and save the day. But the teams have not failed yet. One might argue that it would be wise for the nine teams to invite Ferrari to attend its meetings but in many respects Ferrari's past record of blocking anything it does not like - an attitude personified by Jean Todt - is now coming back to haunt the team. In many respects Ferrari blew it when it decided to jump ship and signed a heads of agreement with the Formula One group and the FIA over a new Concorde Agreement. The nine teams have made it clear that Ferrari is welcome in the future but not right now.
What is fascinating is that the nine teams have different aims and goals and yet they are making compromises to make things happen. This is portrayed as a weakness by those who seek to undermine the group but in reality it is a strength. The aim in these meetings is to achieve a consensus.
The FIA has yet to prove that it is serious about consensus. The use of Clause 7.5 of the Concorde Agreement last summer to force change on the teams was not appreciated, nor is the fact that the FIA has not called an F1 Commission meeting for nine months. Trying to turn today's meeting into a question of consensus is a nice idea but it is not going to work.
What will be important is the press release that the FIA issues this afternoon. The nine teams last week offered the nearest thing there is to an olive branch to the federation.
"We are looking forward to contributing to a constructive dialogue about the future of Grand Prix Racing in due course," the statement quoted BMW's Professor Goeschel as saying, "but first, we need to complete the process that we have underway."
If the FIA goes on the offensive this afternoon, expressing disappointment that the teams did not attend, it will be a bad sign. If it says that it is looking forward to seeing the results of the work done by the teams it will be a much more positive response.
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