DECEMBER 10, 2007

Brundle makes a point

The FIA announced on Thursday that it is taking legal action against The Sunday Times newspaper over comments made in September by the paper's columnist Martin Brundle. The former F1 driver, World Sports Car Champion and influential television pundit is not about to back down and in his column on Sunday attacked the World Council decision in the Renault espionage case and the legal action against the newspaper.

"As a former Formula 1 driver, I have earnt the right to have an opinion about the sport, and probably know as much about it as anybody else," he wrote. "I have attended approaching 400 Grands Prix, 158 as a driver. I have spilt blood, broken bones, shed tears, generated tanker loads of sweat, tasted the champagne glories and plumbed the depths of misery. I have never been more passionate about F1 and will always share my opinions in an honest and open way, knowing readers will make up their own minds."

Brundle went on to underline that many people in F1 are unhappy with the way the sport is being governed but do not want to say anything publicly. Brundle is a man who has no axe to grind. He is a down-to-earth and sensible analyst of F1. A serious player. He is saying something that many others in the sport believe: that the punishment against McLaren was unfair. It seems all the more so now that Renault has escaped punishment when the charges against the team appeared much worse than those against McLaren.

Before the Renault decision on Thursday Sir Jackie Stewart made a speech to the Motorsport Business Forum in Monaco suggesting that it was time for a major rethink at the FIA with a structure that would better suit the needs for corporate governance in modern F1. The sub-text of his remarks was very clear. On Sunday The Scotsman newspaper pulled no punches, saying that after the Renault decision FIA President Max Mosley should resign. The story was written by someone who never attends F1 races. Someone with nothing to lose.

The FIA usually shrugs off criticism by saying that it does a job that requires unpopular decisions.

The fact that the FIA is taking legal action against a major mainstream publication is slightly worrying because back in 1997 Mosley gave an interview with F1 Racing magazine in which he remarked that "the day you start being offended by criticism is the day you're getting too old or going crackers or something of that kind."

Ten years on is that still true?

Thus far we have seen only untouchables such as Stewart and Damon Hill publicly attacking Mosley. The doyen of the F1 media Alan Henry wrote in the October issue of F1 Racing that perhaps it was time for Mosley to retire, given "his heavy-handed observations" about Stewart. F1 veteran Ian Phillips said at the Motorsport Business Forum that he has never been as frightened about the future of the sport because of the way it is being governed. Others hinted at the same thing.

In F1 circles almost everyone is saying the same, but no-one wants to be quoted. The FIA says this is not the case but that is certainly our experience. Brundle agrees. Whether Martin is right about the FIA writ being a warning to F1 journalists not to attack the federation is a matter of opinion which cannot be proved one way or the other but there is no doubt that the F1 media - including this website - are choosing their words very carefully. Are we all paranoid? If we write "Mosley must resign!" will the FIA really hound us? One must hope that this is not the case as it would be a sorry state of affairs for the sport to be in. A free media is the cornerstone of any form of democratic society. There should be legal protections, but that should not stop journalists being able to express their opinions, based on the facts before them. Government in all its forms - be it political or sporting - is accountable for its actions and the press has a duty to ask questions when decisions do not make sense.

If F1 is free, open and democratic why are we all careful about what we are writing?

Do we want Mosley to resign? Not if he can sensibly explain why one team was punished and another was not. Comparisons of the two cases simply do not stack up. We want to know why allegations made about Ferrari were never followed up when every hint of trouble with McLaren has been put beneath the microscope. We want to know why McLaren is still being hounded about its 2008 car and yet the same is not being done to Renault.

The FIA does not have to answer these questions, but as long as they remain unanswered the discontent will continue to bubble just under the surface.