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JULY 13, 2005

Suddenly everyone in F1 is talking about compromise

The British Grand Prix weekend must have resulted in some serious heart-to-hearts in the Formula 1 world because ever since everyone has been talking about compromise. The latest release from the FIA is a typically clever document which is advocating some interesting new technologies. This is a smokescreen for what is clearly a shift in the federation's hard line about the future technology rules. This is good because there was no chance that the FIA proposals would ever get through the teams in the form presented recently.

The FIA says that in its recent survey of Formula 1 fans around the world there was a high number of fans who felt that advanced technology sets F1 apart from other motor sports and so is looking at systems which it describes as "useful technology" which could be used in the future. Much is being made of the regenerative systems which would produce power from the forces generated by the cars themselves which could be used in other areas of the cars.

"Deployment in Formula 1 would greatly accelerate the rate of development of such devices as well as promoting public acceptance and consumer demand," the FIA said in a statement. "In the research and development departments of the major manufacturers there are certainly many other new and interesting technologies under development which could usefully be deployed in Formula 1. It is also possible that major manufacturers not currently in Formula 1 might wish to come into the World Championship with their new technologies without necessarily becoming engine suppliers."

This is fundamentally a climbdown from the FIA's previous position about technology - which was untenable - and one is left asking whether this was a planned full-back position or whether the federation has been pushed into a corner by the knowledge that the F1 teams are not going to accept some of the rules on offer. In the past FIA President Max Mosley has often used the technique of throwing out a lot of radical changes and then reaping what he can when it comes to negotiation. This seems to be the case once again.

Among the other elements in the announcement is that aerodynamics may not have to be cut as much as originally announced and that it would be a wise idea to place a limit on the amount of downforce a car can generate rather than constantly trying to change regulations to contain performance. If this was the case, so the argument goes, there would be more emphasis on reducing drag, which is useful for the car industry, and there would be no reason to ban some of the aerodynamic devices which are now illegal, specifically moveable aerodynamic devices. The FIA added that measuring this would be easier with a control tyre.

The FIA also hinted that it will be willing to compromise on common components saying that "we must never lose sight of the need to keep at least 20, preferably 24, cars on the grid. This means that permitted technologies must either be relatively inexpensive to develop or of a kind which bring paying technology partners into Formula 1".

This opens the way for discussions.

The next step in the smoothing process will be publication of the teams' own version of what is wanted from the rules in 2008. This is expected to be published - probably as a discussion document (as this seems to be the way these things are done) at the German Grand Prix. The next step will be to merge the two sets of rules into one. This will not be hugely difficult as many points are very similar, but there are some sticking points on which teams are unlikely to compromise on.

When all is said and done, this is all part of a process to get the sport back on the rails and we will only know who are the winners and the losers when it is all over and we can look back and see where the various parties started out and where they ended up.

Fundamentally, however, it is a good thing although one might ask why negotiations did not start from this position in the first place as it would have avoided a great deal of unpleasantness.