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FOTA stakes out road ahead

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FOTA stakes out road ahead

And now, on with the show. Formula One Teams Association members meeting in Bologna, Italy, on Thursday turned their attention to making their sport more attractive to fans. Luca Cordera di Montezemolo, chairman of FOTA. Photo by ...

And now, on with the show.

Formula One Teams Association members meeting in Bologna, Italy, on Thursday turned their attention to making their sport more attractive to fans.

Luca Cordera di Montezemolo, chairman of FOTA.
Photo by xpb.cc.

Fresh off victory Wednesday in Paris over International Automobile Federation (FIA) president Max Mosley, who conceded to the group on several points, including a budget cap for next season, FOTA switched the agenda from planning a new series to ginning up the one they've got.

A threatened breakaway tour was the lever that moved entrenched sides to an agreement on lowering costs in Formula One. FOTA also bagged a promise by Mosley, 69, to step down from the post he has held for 16 years when his current term expires in October. London newspaper The Times reported that Mosley's power to influence Formula One ended Wednesday.

"We will continue to work as teams and manufacturers to reduce costs, as we have with engines and gearboxes," FOTA chairman and Ferrari president Luca Cordera di Montezemolo told a news conference Thursday. "Our goal is in two years to have costs as we did in the early 1990s. We are aiming to save a further 15 (percent) to 25 percent by 2011. For big and small teams, it is important to think about the balance between costs and revenue."

Figures for team budgets in the early '90s haven't been issued, but the 40 million pound sum sought by Mosley for next season is apparently representative.

"Already the savings have resulted in 15 (percent) to 25 percent saved, and we will see further savings in the next few seasons," Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said.

Red Bull and Ferrari led the pushback against Mosley's proposals. A Ferrari threat to abandon Formula One was pivotal to Wednesday's concessions by the FIA.

Cost reduction schemes introduced this season include a ban on in-season testing, reduced wind-tunnel use, and extended use of engines and gearboxes.

FOTA currently consists of BMW Sauber, Brawn GP, Ferrari, McLaren Mercedes, Red Bull, Renault, Scuderia Toro Rosso and Toyota. Suspended teams Williams F1 and Force India have yet to be re-admitted. New teams Campos Meta, Manor Grand Prix and Team USF1 have yet to be extended welcome. Williams F1 and Force India were suspended for agreeing unconditionally to FIA proposals for 2010.

FOTA vice chairman John Howett of Toyota said the teams group would leave replacing Mosley to the FIA.

"The federation is an independent body with its own constitution," Howett said. "It's their business who they appoint as president. From the teams' point of view, we'd like someone independent ... independent of any of the teams."

Teams now return to contesting world championships for drivers and constructors. But another concern to FOTA is dwindling fans at races. The Grand Prix of Turkey the first weekend of June attracted fewer than 20,000 fans. One estimate put the crowd at 11,000. Few among F1 participants wish to ply their craft before empty grandstands. Attendance is falling in China, which is expected to abandon its race in the next few years, Bahrain and Malaysia. Abu Dhabi joins the series this season. India is expected to play host to a race by 2011.

To consider fan-attracting ideas, Renault team principal Flavio Briatore has been tasked with working with the sport's commercial rights holder, CVC Capital Partners, owner of Formula One Group -- which covers Formula One Administration and Formula One Management -- whose major-domo is Bernie Ecclestone.

Flavio Briatore.
Photo by xpb.cc.

"We want to work for a better show, better entertainment," Briatore said "We need to talk about sport again."

"A lot has happened this year but we want the best teams, the best cars and the best circuits for the supporters. There has been a lot of talk of costs, of politics, but I don't believe that is what the fans want to talk about."

Briatore has proposed that Formula One follow GP2's format of two races per weekend, a sprint and a feature.

The FIA annually surveys fans to learn what aspects of Formula One most appeal to them. A desire to see more overtaking helped change construction regulations that this season introduced reduced aerodynamic elements on cars.

McLaren principal Martin Whitmarsh said the FIA ignored fan input.

"It's listening to what the audience wants and making sure we respond to it," he said of FOTA's charge.

An effort to accommodate fans follows growth under the guidance of Ecclestone that has expanded the sport to far-flung venues from its traditional base in Europe. Many of the new races are state-supported and have produced tracks with lavish amenities, amenities unmatched at traditional tracks not receiving governmental funding.

The United States lost its race when the Indianapolis Motor Speedway could not generate fees required by Formula One Management. Montreal lost the Canadian Grand Prix when funding lapsed. The French Grand Prix, oldest grand prix in the world, bowed out of the 2009 F1 calendar when the private promoter could not meet obligations in the current economic downturn.

Silverstone, scene of the British Grand Prix where crowds to six figures assembled last weekend, is chief among tracks loved by drivers and fans but scorned by Ecclestone, who has granted a contract for a British race to Donington Park. Donington Park last played host to Formula One in 1993.

"Even if the likes of Turkey are paying more money, we would rather have stadia that are full," Briatore said. "It is better for the spirit of the sport. We want stands full of fans. There is no point spending all that money on an empty cathedral."

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