A wind of change?
After yesterday's meeting of the WMSC (World Motor Sport Council), the FIA announced a number of changes that were approved, ones that should improve Formula One and its governance, and also published the final version of the 2010 Formula One calendar. A closer look at the calendar reveals that the 2010 season will start on March 14 in Bahrain and end on November 14 in Abu Dhabi. The calendar now features nineteen races and the most notable changes on the calendar are the addition of the South Korean Grand Prix, on October 24, and the switch of the final race from the Interlagos circuit in Brazil to the Yas Marina circuit in Abu Dhabi.
The Jeonnam Circuit in South Korea, which hasn't been completed yet, is another design of German circuit design-guru Hermann Tilke and consists of two tracks which can be combined; the Formula One track (5.6 km) and the permanent track (3.04 km). The organizers are building the circuit near the town of Yeongam, in the province of South Cholla, about 250 miles south of South Korea's capitol city Seoul and it is estimated the construction will cost over 230 million dollars.
The circuit runs counterclockwise and has two separate sets of pit and paddock facilities. Like the circuits of Monaco, Valencia and Abu Dhabi, the Jeonnam Circuit has a marina section, with a view on the ocean. Circuit officials expect the construction of the circuit to be completed by July 5 next year, and so far about 60 percent of the work has been finished.
And much to the delight of the North American fans, the Canadian Grand Prix is back on the calendar again. After tough negotiations and a yearlong stand-off between FOM and the Canadian authorities, the Gilles Villeneuve circuit has recently sealed a 5-year deal with FOM. Earlier this week the Silverstone circuit in Great Britain also secured its future and signed a contract with FOM to host the British Grand Prix at the Northhamptonshire circuit for the next 17 years.
New points system
The FIA also decided to completely overhaul the points system for 2010, with the biggest change ever seen in Formula One history. The new system awards the first ten places with 25, 20, 15, 10, 8, 6, 5, 3 ,2 and 1 point respectively. The current system, which was introduced in 2003, only awarded the first eight places, and with 13 teams and 26 cars at the start of the Bahrain Grand Prix in 2010, the WMSC felt it was necessary to extend the points system and award the first ten positions with points.
The intention was not to create a greater difference between the first three places and the rest of the top ten finishers, but to enhance the chances for the new teams to score points. The FIA also believes the smaller teams will therefore have something to fight for, and that is of course something we all want to see.
After Bernie Ecclestone came up with his own points system at the end of 2008, which would give the title to the driver who scored the most wins, the FIA came up with a report about the effects of such a points system, and concluded it would have changed the outcome of several Driver World Championships dramatically. When we apply the new 2010 system to 2007, 2008 and 2009, the outcome would have been exactly the same, and we would have to go back to 1999 to see a change in outcome of the championship: that year, Mika Hakkinen would have lost the title to Eddie Irvine had the 2010 system been in use.
With the new points system in place, drivers who will not finish a race, regardless whether caused by a car or engine failure or driver error, will lose a lot of points compared to the old system. For example; if Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel are battling for first and second position, and Vettel doesn't finish the race because of a driver error, he will now lose 25 points in relation to Hamilton, if the latter doesn't make a mistake and wins the race of course. Until now it would have cost you 10 points, in 2010 this will cost you 25 points.
The new system therefore gives drivers who consistently score points, a better opportunity to win the championship. Whether this is an improvement or not, or whether consistent driving is a driver's skill or not, is of course debatable, but in my view consistently scoring points is also a driver's skill, and should be rewarded. The Ecclestone 'winner takes it all' system would give the title to a driver who scored 5 wins and didn't score many points wasn't ideal either, so in this case I would settle for the new 2010 points system.
The points system was proposed by the Formula One Commission, which is made up of representatives of teams, promoters, suppliers and sponsors, and is presided by Bernie Ecclestone. The nice thing about the commission is that all parties that are involved in Formula One are represented and now have a voice and can propose changes to the WMSC or the FIA. The restructuring of the commission was part of the 2009 Concorde Agreement, which is an agreement between FOM, FIA, and FOTA about the future shape of Formula One.
In the past, only the FIA and FOM could make such decisions, and the teams, promoters, fans and sponsors had no voice at all. A stronger mandate has also been given to the Sporting Working Group, a sub-committee of the Formula One Commission: they can now make detailed proposals and recommendations to the FIA or the WMSC.
And especially this year, with its many ups and downs regarding the future of Formula One, has shown us that there was something wrong with the way FIA and FOM regulated the sport. Former FIA president Max Mosley pretty much took all the decisions himself, and only after the teams, united in the FOTA (Formula One Teams Association), threatened to leave Formula One and start heir own race series, Mosley was prepared to listen to them, albeit with half an ear.
Freshly-elected FIA president Frenchman Jean Todt, has now pushed for changes and some of his efforts have now resulted in a change in the governing of Formula One. As we already have seen, more parties are now involved in the decision making, which was part of Todt's election programme, and he now also wants to improve the governing of the Formula One regulations, another point high on Todt's wish list.
Many drivers, teams and fans, were not happy with the decisions the FIA stewards have made in the past, and argued the decisions were inconsistent and in some cases even outrageously unfair. We all remember the public outrage when FIA stewards in 2008 decided to give Lewis Hamilton a 25- second penalty for the way he gave a position back to Kimi Raikkonen, after he missed the chicane at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit during the Belgium Grand Prix, a penalty that ultimately cost Hamilton the win of the race.
The WMSC has announced that the FIA stewards of the meeting will be assisted by experienced ex-Formula One drivers. There will now be a panel of former Formula One drivers, who together with three FIA stewards, including one representative of the National Sporting Authority (ASN), will take the decisions during a Grand Prix. The introduction of former Formula One drivers assisting the FIA stewards will without a doubt be embraced by both teams and drivers, sofar former FIA president Mosley had always fiercely opposed this idea.
On top of that, according to the FIA "there will no longer be a non-voting chairman and each group of stewards will elect their own chairman amongst themselves for each race. Utilizing video and radio exchanges they should aim to reach decisions very efficiently."
And the FIA wants the current observer programme for Formula One stewards will continue, and training, distribution of decisions, and an annual meeting will be encouraged to raise the quality of decisions in this permanent group.
The WMSC also announced the introduction of FIA Formula One ambassadors. From the FIA statement: "An FIA F1 Ambassador will be appointed from the membership of the World Council for each event. The Ambassador will liaise with the ASN and organizing team at the circuit. He will also meet with the ASN President, FIA VIP guests, Formula One Management, F1 Teams and other stakeholders and act as an Ambassador of FIA sport."
Another idea of Todt, again something he promised during his election campaign, has also been approved by the WMSC: the appointment of FIA World Championship Commissioners. They will be appointed by the WMSC, and will have to report to Todt directly, and, at the request of the President, to the Deputy President of the FIA for Sport or to other members of the World Motor Sport Council.
All commissioners will be present at all the events of the World Championship they have been assigned to (F1, F2, WRC, WTCC, etc.), and will serve as a permanent liaison between the FIA and the various parties involved, like the promoters and organizers of the race, and the manufacturers, teams and suppliers. Todt thinks this will allow him, as president of the FIA, to "focus on the strategic development of the FIA and in particular to further encourage the synergies between mobility and motor sport."
What does it mean?
If the vision of Jean Todt is correct, it will mean that more parties will be involved in making decisions regarding the regulations and the future of Formula One. The involvement of former Formula One drivers in enforcing the regulations together with the FIA stewards during a Grand Prix, should in theory lead to more consistent decisions. The appointment of World Championship Commissioners ensures the FIA president is not directly involved in any FIA World Championship anymore, and that should eliminate for instance the clashes the previous FIA president had with the FOTA and other representatives of Formula One.
But although the FIA plans sound good, former FIA president Max Mosley was accused of favoritism and was labeled a dictator, and it is of course possible the FIA Commissioner for Formula One will be accused of the same, it all depends on who the commissioner will be and what kind of decisions or recommendations he will make. The go-between Formula One Commissioner could also introduce more bureaucracy within the FIA. Many names have been mentioned as candidate Formula One Commissioner, including Alain Prost, Michael Schumacher and Nick Craw.
The same goes for the new FIA stewarding setup, since we don't know which former Formula One driver will be appointed to assist the FIA stewards, we don't know what the result will be, it could be positive, but also negative, we don't know. For the FIA steward panel function, I can only think of one truly independent candidate, the second most experienced Formula One driver ever, Italian Riccardo Patrese. He has had no ties with Formula One whatsoever since he left the sport in 1993, has driven for almost every team except Ferrari and McLaren, and obviously has the necessary experience under his belt.
But let us give Jean Todt and the FIA the benefit of the doubt, and give it some time to see if the FIA will indeed bring a wind of change in 2010.