JANUARY 14, 2008

A change in the F1 stewards

The team principals meeting on Friday seems to have passed without undue drama and apparently no-one said anything when FIA President Max Mosley told the teams that Alan Donnelly, the FIA consultant who attends F1 races as his official representative, will be involved in the process this year.

It is not clear exactly what Donnelly will do but there were rumours at the end of last season that Tony Scott Andrews, the F1 permanent steward, was not going to continue in 2008. It remains to be seen whether this is the case. The appointment of Scott-Andrews two years ago was a very sensible move for the FIA as it not only improved the consistency of decision-making but also ensured that the people making the decisions had some idea of what was going on on the F1 scene. Scott-Andrews quickly established that he was both independent and fairly sensible in the decisions he made. This improved the faith that F1 had in the stewards.

The role of a steward is to be the referee of an F1 event. There are three at each race and they examine the reports submitted to them by the various officials and, then listen to the explanations of all the parties involved. They then decide on sanctions if they think they are necessary. They are, in theory at least, completely independent of the FIA, although many of the F1 stewards have long been members of the FIA World Council.

If Donnelly takes up a role as the permanent F1 steward it is going to be very hard for him to establish any credibility as an independent. This in turn will reflect on the FIA and will not help improve the perception - whether true or not - that everything is controlled by Mosley.

The problem is that while Donnelly is clearly an intelligent and capable individual he has been a close ally of Mosley for eight years and before that worked with the FIA President as a member of the FIA-funded Automobile Users Group at the European Parliament. Today he is paid as an FIA consultant.

A former finance officer of the General and Municipal Boilermakers' Union, Donnelly was an European MP between 1989 and 2000 and went on to become the leader of the European Labour Party between 1998 and 2000 which made him a close associate and advisor of Prime Minister Tony Blair. In 1991 he was made a Knight Commander of the Federal Republic of Germany. He quit politics in 2000 and established his own public affairs company which is called Sovereign Strategy and is headquartered in the FIA-owned building in Trafalgar Square in London.

According to the Sovereign Strategy website its clients include the FIA, Formula One Management Ltd and Ferrari.