FOTA group hugs new Formula One order

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FOTA group hugs new Formula One order

In an announcement that indicates Formula One, a sport with a turbulent political history, has turned upside down, Formula One Teams Association chairman Luca di Montezemolo told a news conference in Geneva on Thursday that all 10 teams --...

In an announcement that indicates Formula One, a sport with a turbulent political history, has turned upside down, Formula One Teams Association chairman Luca di Montezemolo told a news conference in Geneva on Thursday that all 10 teams -- that's right, a formerly-known-as-Honda team remains in the sport -- are in agreement about how to move forward as a sport.

Luca di Montezemolo (Ferrari, Fiat; FOTA Chairman) holds up his hands.
Photo by LAT Photographic.

Voicing a mantra of stability, sustainability, substance and show, di Montezemolo, head of Italian carmaker FIAT and Ferrari supremo, trumpeted a newfound harmony among teams that will return to customary battling only during races. Sweetness and light to follow.

"This is an unprecedented moment in Formula One history," di Montezemolo said. "Above all else, for the first time the teams are unified and steadfast with a clear, collective vision. Thanks to this unity, all the teams have already managed to make a significant reduction to their costs for 2009. And, while we will continue to compete vigorously on track, we all share one common goal: to work together to improve Formula One by ensuring its stability, sustainability, substance and show for the benefit of our most important stakeholder, namely the consumer. It is with this mindset that we now intend to work hard, with our partners at the FIA and FOM, our shared goal being to optimize the future of Formula One."

The International Automobile Federation (FIA) sanctions the sport. Formula One Management holds its commercial rights.

The group formed last year in part to push back against a sanctioning body president, Max Mosley of the FIA, bent on stripping spending from the sport. Ferrari has been tracked as the sport's biggest spender in recent years, at a half-billion dollars annually. In response to Mosley threats, FOTA targeted costs, revenue distribution, and fan engagement through technical, commercial and sporting working groups. Their task comes in the face of a global financial crisis that has hit sponsorship funding hard, to wit: Bank sponsorships that filled the void left when tobacco was pushed out of the sport have faltered, and car sales have slumped worldwide. Ferrari, BMW Sauber, Toyota, McLaren Mercedes and Renault are factory-backed teams.

Martin Whitmarsh (Vodafone McLaren Mercedes).
Photo by LAT Photographic.

Banks have not renewed or will let lapse sponsor agreements with BMW Sauber (Credit Suisse), Williams (RBS) and Renault (ING). Government bailouts of banks including RBS and ING have put sponsorships into the realm of public money, whose suppliers take a dim view of sports expenditures and corporate hospitality. Causing further consternation has been an across-the-board slump in car sales. Honda's decision to abandon its Formula One team in early December owed much to this downturn. Toyota, one of the biggest spenders in its short time in the sport, this month has sought government assistance

Senior team members comprising FOTA agreed to halve 2008 costs by 2010. Cuts hit wind tunnel and attendant CFD (computational fluid dynamics) software use, race staffs, and testing. The group targeted costs of engines and gearboxes. Engines must increase mileage by 100 percent in 2009 and eight engines per driver are allowed. Engine expense of $10 million per team in 2009 will drop to $6.25 million in 2010. Also by 2010, gearboxes will cost $1.875 per team per season; aerodynamic development spending will be cut a further 50 percent; certain chassis, bodywork and aerodynamic versions will be homologated; exotic metalic and composite materials will be banned, and teams will use standardized telemetry and radio systems.

If FOTA notions are agreed, by 2010, kinetic energy recovery systems (KERS) will be standard, and race lengths will drop to 155 miles or one hour, 40 minutes. Race maximum currently is two hours. The group wants fuel loads at race start and other data revealed to the public, driver autograph sessions with fans at races, and increased race-place points.

The new points scheme, described by McLaren Mercedes team boss Martin Whitmarsh, head of FOTA's sporting working group, would further escalate points -- race winners once earned six points. The current 10-8-6-5-4-3-2-1 would be changed to 12-9-7-5-4-3-2-1. By the 2010 season, a constructors competition point would be awarded the team providing the quickest pit stop during races. Teams also want a new qualifying system, additional points-scoring opportunities, and further testing reductions. by 2010 Teams want to supply more data to media, improve race presentation, and make senior team representatives available during television broadcasts.

Flavio Briatore (ING Renault F1 Team) and Christian Horner (Red Bull Racing).
Photo by LAT Photographic.

Commercial working group head Flavio Briatore of Renault did not outline specific aims or tactics of deriving a bigger share of commercial revenues. He said FOTA hopes to do that by working with commercial rights holder Bernie Ecclestone of Formula One Management. Briatore said remarks made Wednesday by Renault chief operating officer Patrick Pelata, that the team could pull out of the sport over money issues, were consistent with company philosophy that income must balance with expense. Renault, Briatore said, "was always very worried about the costs." Renault won 2005 and 2006 world championships with driver Fernando Alonso under the direction of frugal team manager Briatore.

Sporting and technical proposals must gain the approval of the FIA's World Motor Sport Council. Commercial proposals need Ecclestone's OK. A stated aim of FOTA is to change the current commercial monies distribution to give teams more.

"All the teams and car manufacturers are prepared to commit to enter in the new Concorde Agreement until the end of 2002," di Montezemolo said.

The Concorde Agreement is the secret deal by which Ecclestone divvies up commercial income.

"The new FOTA group has the best of intentions in representing the teams' best interests, both technically and commercially," Williams founder Sir Frank Williams said. "FOTA wishes to enjoy an open and productive relationship with both the FIA and FOM."

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Series AUTOMOTIVE , F1