JUNE 29, 2005
Once more unto the breach
This morning in Paris, the Formula 1 world will make important decisions. The FIA World Council, a gathering of some of the top club officials in the automobile federation, will decide on whether Grand Prix racing should be ruled by commerce or by the book. It will decide whether the F1 teams who pulled off the race track before the start of the United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis did that on the grounds of safety or whether it was a deliberate act of rebellion.
Logic dictates that what the teams did was contrary to their best interest: they alienated not just the tens of thousands of fans in the grandstands at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but also countless more TV viewers around the world. In addition to that the major competitors in the World Championship allowed Ferrari back into contention for the title. There is rarely anything more important to a racing team than World Championship points and one must ask what motivated such desperate action.
The political argument just does not wash.
Talk to any of the teams and they all say the same thing. They wanted to race, they wanted to put on a show and to grow their business - disjointed and self-defeating as it sometimes is. But on this occasion they could not. Michelin said that it could not guarantee its tyres and, faced by the laws of liability in the United States, the teams were left with no choice.
The FIA argues that it must maintain the rule of law in the sport and while there is obviously merit in this argument in normal circumstances, there are times when it is necessary to be flexible. In the past there have been times when the FIA was willing to be flexible. But not this time. The show did not go on and F1 has suffered massively for it. If this is in the best interest of the sport, then the sport has little hope of competing in a world where those who forget that the customer is always right are dashed on the rocks of commerce.
There should have been a compromise and the best evidence suggests that the teams tried everything to get one. The FIA made suggestions which were, at best, bizarre. It is extraordinary for a federation which is doing safety work on how to avoid wheel-over-wheel accidents to suggest that drivers go through the fastest corner at Indianapolis, with the crowd close at hand, at differing speeds. A chicane would at least have established a clear point at which cars would have to slow down, rather than playing a game of Russian roulette on the banking. The suggestion that teams pass through the pits on every lap would have been as much a slap in the face for the fans as was the end result - and it would have gone on longer.
The FIA World Council needs to consider how these proposals came about. Who made them and why. Those involved need to be made to justify their actions.
The suspicion is that Indianapolis was a power game that went wrong. And if that is the conclusion that is reached by the World Council, it is necessary to ask whether or not this was necessary and whether the battleground was well-chosen or a bad strategic error.
In its defence the FIA people say that being the referee is bound to make it unpopular. This is a fair point, but there are degrees of unpopularity and the current FIA regime has jumped into a vat of bile with both feet. This would be fine if there was the belief that the federation was doing things for the right reasons but under Max Mosley there has long been the suspicion, promoted mainly by Mosley's own snide snipings at those who dare to challenge him, that it is not just about the sport. He must convince the World Council members, if indeed they even ask, that this is not the case.
There is a huge responsibility on the shoulders of those involved. Their decisions may decide the fate of Formula 1 and perhaps even the fate of FIA itself. If the FIA wishes to maintain its power and relevance it must hold the respect and trust of the competitors. Now is a time for modest stillness and humility from all parties to avoid the blast of war, an outcome which is good for no-one - least of all the fans.
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