Features - Straight Talk

MAY 28, 2015

Has anyone seen the FIA?


Jean Todt, Malaysian GP 2013
© The Cahier Archive

The last time I looked, the series I've been covering for nearly three decades was called the FIA Formula One World Championship. But when it comes to making the rules in Formula One, the Federation seems to be largely absent.

The last time I looked, the series I've been covering for nearly three decades was called the FIA Formula One World Championship. I get a pass to be able to attend all the races from the FIA. The Federation has dozens of officials working hard during every Grand Prix weekend, making sure all cars abide by the regulations and all procedures are strictly followed. And at the end of the year the FIA organises a Gala where all champions receive their trophies.

But when it comes to making the rules in Formula One, the Federation seems to be largely absent. Yes, the final word comes from the FIA World Council, but those meetings only serve to rubber stamp whatever the Formula One Commission approves - and already in this group the teams, Ecclestone and the representatives of the promoters and sponsors can outvote the Federation.

Eighteen months ago, a new forum was founded to be the creator of the rules - the Formula One Strategy Group - and the role of the Formula One Commission has been reduced to simply approve whatever proposals this new group comes up with, as it used to do with the proposals from the Sporting and Technical Working Groups.

Unfortunately, though, as Christian Horner rightfully pointed out in Monaco, "the only thing the Strategy Group has unanimously agreed on and implemented this year is the fact the drivers should wear the same crash helmet for the entire season." Wow, ground breaking stuff that has made Formula One so much better... Horner went on to say that the Strategy Group, "is a forum where strategic things are discussed about the future. It's not a decision-making forum. That should go either up to the Formula One Commission or down to the working groups."

Sitting on the same panel, Force India's Robert Fearnley and Toro Rosso's Franz Tost also expressed the view the Strategy Group was a waste of time and the Austrian went on to say that, "I think that the Strategy Group itself, with this constellation, never will come up with a proper solution. It should be Bernie and Jean together, they should decide what we have to do. They even should not ask the teams, because the teams will never come up with an agreement."

"Bernie", of course, has been rather busy giving interviews left, right and centre about how the rules should be changed - back to the old engines, in with costumer cars, out with the traditional Grand Prix events that don't pay gazillions of Euros to his company, in with races in obscure places where no one has ever heard of Formula One as long as they pay the equivalent of the annual budget of a small country for their race, etc. - and insisting Formula One is in its current state because it's a democracy and, in his words, "we know a democracy doesn't work in Formula One."

"Jean", by his side, has been remarkably quiet for a man who should be in charge of the Formula One World Championship. For a man who spent the good part of 40 years either co-driving in rallying or managing works teams in the World Rally Championship, Rally-Raids, Sports-Cars and then in Formula One - winning in every single category, it has to be pointed out - the Frenchman has shown a complete lack of interest for motor racing since he was elected president of the FIA nearly six years ago. Yes, he occasionally comes to the Grand Prix, normally in time to greet the local officials and listen to the national anthem of the host country, but apart from taking part in a very few meetings, Todt has handed Formula One to itself and the results aren't pretty.

I may be an optimist but last week I sensed the wind could be about to change. Todt, of course, sold to the five biggest teams the right to write the rulebook for a hefty fee at the end of 2013 - but may just have had enough of their complete inability to agree on anything. From what they told me, the Team Principals involved in the last meeting of the Strategy Group - also hosting Ecclestone, Todt and Donald McKenzie, from CVC Capital Partners, as guests - left the room believing their proposals wouldn't be published, so they were surprised when the FIA came out with a press release the following morning, detailing what had been discussed and approved in that meeting.

Given the only change that has been set in stone is having free choice on tyres from next year, as the rest of the proposals will never get the nod or simply nullify each other - you can't have more powerful engines and better aerodynamics while cutting costs and you can't have better racing with more sophisticated aerodynamics... Maybe the FIA decided to publish what was discussed in that meeting to show us all that the Strategic Group is a tremendous waste of time.

Hopefully Todt has realised he needs to spend a bit of time looking at ways to get Formula One back on track. After all it's the FIA's championship, so it's the Federation's responsibility to preserve it - even if that means losing that nice income the five top teams are paying every year. He can always argue that the teams had their chance to improve Formula One and blew it, so he had to take back control. And while doing so, he will also turn away the bureaucrats in Brussels, who are starting to believe the Strategy Group is an illegal body as it may violate competition laws by discriminating against the five teams that are not part of it.