Analysis: What's really behind Ecclestone's 'driver aid' ban call

Bernie Ecclestone and Max Mosley got back together this week for an interview on German television. Was there some sort of agenda behind their return to the public spotlight, asks Jonathan Noble.

As a double act, when Max Mosley and Bernie Ecclestone were both at the peak of their power, ruling over Formula 1 with iron fists.

If they decided on a plan, wanted changes made, or even something controversial to remain, then together they would conjure up what was needed to get it done.

Rumour has it they sometimes even pre-wrote press releases detailing the outcome of rule change meetings with teams before the interested parties had sat down at the table.

Working as one, the governing body and the commercial rights holder took grand prix racing exactly where they wanted it to go.

Different times

Time has moved on, and a new regime and new approach from the FIA has opened up a different era of F1, one that has not left everyone involved completely happy.

Ongoing concerns about costs, criticisms of new hybrid regulations, the dangers of one of its most successful teams walking away, and worries about the robustness of its audience, have left many in the paddock uneasy.

So it was fascinating this week, that Mosley and Ecclestone returned so publicly to the spotlight together, arm-in-arm and eager to let the world know how unhappy they both are about the state of F1.

But was this simply two old friends causing mischief, or is there a bigger motivation behind what they did?

Total rethink

However the joint Mosley/Ecclestone interview with German channel ZDF came about, it's clear it made a pretty big impact.

A spate of news stories based on what they said, and numerous social media links to the 30-minute insight, made sure that their message was well circulated.

Consistent throughout, as Ecclestone and Mosley were probed on the state of F1, was that something had gone wrong with F1 somewhere along the line.

We have long known Ecclestone hates the current turbo hybrid engines, but their discontent went much further than that.

Both Ecclestone and Mosley talked about F1 not delivering in the entertainment stakes, it being too predictable and having become more of an 'engineering' challenge rather than one for 'drivers.' Costs were also deemed out of control.

They called for an urgent overhaul of the rules: to make the drivers heroes again – be it through all-new regulations or stricter enforcement of articles that prohibit driver aids.

It was time to make things more exciting exciting and make life harder for the drivers.

As Ecclestone said at one point: "We mustn't forget that we are in the entertainment business, so we ought to have rules that the public want.

"We should be asking the public – what do you not like about F1 today and what did you like about F1 before..."

Causing upset

Throughout the interview, both men were not afraid to criticise the other, as they did not agree fully on everything.

But both did agree on one thing: that the way current FIA president Jean Todt runs F1 is a world away from how Mosley did it in the past.

While Mosley, under F1's current woes, would likely have stood up, pulled off some mischievous stunt to impose a radical rules shake-up, and dealt with the consequence afterwards, Todt's presidency is all about consensus.

Be it cost control (look at the way the 'budget cap' was abandoned), engine rules or a bid to make the cars more exciting, Todt is not afraid to make big changes, but will only do so if everyone agrees that it is the right way to go.

Of course, in terms of an end result, keeping all of F1's participants happy with changes made to the sport makes perfect sense, but sometimes, aren't governments supposed to make unpopular decisions for the greater good?

Upsetting the apple cart

There were several references throughout the interview from both Ecclestone and Mosley about the need sometimes to cause upset to make things better. And both were open that Todt is a man who prefers to avoid such conflict.

Mosley's suggestion of a strict interpretation of F1's driving aids ban to instantly get rid of much of the input from engineers came with the counter that it would not be too popular.

Ecclestone too mentioned that there was scope within the current framework of the Strategy Group and F1 Commission to make changes longer term – but only if he and the FIA were in agreement about where things were headed and were not afraid to take on the teams.

And while upsetting teams has never caused any concerns for Ecclestone, it is not an approach that Todt has ever favoured.

Power games

Ultimately, the underlining message from the ZDF interview was clear: F1 is in dire need of some big changes, and someone needs to stand up and make them happen.

Without Todt's support, and a more defiant approach, Ecclestone knows that he is powerless to do much.

A search for consensus among teams that have vastly different agendas is unlikely to ever be fulfilled. That leaves F1 only with the prospect of having watered-down changes come in to force that never deliver as much as they could.

Perhaps Ecclestone's message is one of a call for help; that his view for the future is an F1 that many in the FIA would be happy with: faster, more challenging cars where the drivers are the stars and the mega racers can easily come out on top.

Achieving that aim is not going to happen if you go about asking the teams for their opinion and support, especially at a time when Mercedes and Ferrari are growing their power base in the paddock.

Perhaps he wants the governing body to get a bit more bite.

Double act returns

Back in Russia, as Ecclestone set about trying to help Red Bull overcome its engine supply problems, he again suggested that running F1 was a world away from how it was when Mosley was in power.

"Ten years ago things were a little bit different in general," he said.

Is he frustrated? Yes. Is he unsure of what he wants? No.

So letting the world know that he and Mosley remain close, that they may be up to something behind the scenes, would certainly act as a bit of a wake up call for those who think that Ecclestone is without the power he once had.

It is going to be fascinating to see how he plots his path from here and – with or without Todt's backing – sets about trying to get what he wants.

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Series Formula 1
Article type Analysis