Deja vu: a two-tier Formula One?

The vitriol and scorn from Maranello was palpable in the wake of the French courts' rebuff of Scuderia's request for an injunction against the FIA's proposed rules for the 2010 Formula One season.

Luca di Montezemolo, Scuderia Ferrari, FIAT Chairman and President of Ferrari.
Photo by xpb.cc.

"Wirth Research, Lola, USF1, Epsilon Euskadi, RML, Formtech, Campos, iSport: these are the names of the teams which would compete in the two-tier Formula One wanted by Mosley," said the team's press release. "Wouldn't it be more appropriate to call it Formula GP3?"

Oh, how short memories are. Even if the FIA pushes ahead with the dual set of rules, one for the cost-capped teams and another one for the rest, it certainly will not be the first time there are two clear "tiers" in Formula One.

In 1971, CSI (then independent of the FIA) added the option of 1.5-litre compressed (turbo- or supercharged) engines, in addition to the then-standard three-liter naturally aspirated engines. A minor footnote, perchance, until Renault introduced its RS01 in 1977, with a 1.5-litre turbo engine. With its bright yellow colour and the penchant of stopping at the side of the track with smoke pouring out, it may have been a bit of a laughingstock, until Jean-Pierre Jabouille gave the team its first victory in 1979.

By 1982, Alfa Romeo, BMW, Ferrari and Hart and joined the turbo brigade, with the smaller teams soldiering on with the Cosworth DFV. With the fragility of the turbo engines, and their restricted availability, there was no doubt that the difference between the factory-supported BMW, Ferrari and Renault entries and the (primarily British) privateer teams running Cosworths amounted to two tiers.

Keke Rosberg -- Nico's father -- managed to squeak out a world championship that year in a Cosworth-powered Williams. The death of Gilles Villeneuve and the serious injuries to Didier Pironi clouded the season, though the DFV brigade also had to deal with disqualifications in Brazil and a FOCA (the FOTA predecessor) boycott in San Marino.

Keke Rosberg, Williams-Cosworth FW08C battles with Danny Sullivan.
Photo by Jean-Philippe Legrand.

The venerable Cosworth scored its 155th and final victory, but as late as 1988, the smaller teams (Tyrrell, Williams, AGS, March, Benetton, Rial, Minardi, Larousse, Coloni, EuroBrun, BMS) were still running normally aspirated -- mostly Cosworth DFZ -- engines.

This was two-tier Formula One, no doubt, with many privateer teams. It wasn't called GP3 back then, either, except possibly in the private confines of Maranello. And few fans old enough to remember the close racing and full grids of the 1980s would rue the return

However, Ferrari wasn't complaining at that time. The second tier was no threat to the first, and to Ferrari.

While this week's Ferrari press release implies that Ferrari's actions are all for the fans, let's not forget that Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, whose personal fortune is estimated to be worth over $400M, is also the chairman of the giant Fiat conglomerate, the owner of Ferrari.

There is no doubt that Ferrari's racing activities are a business first and foremost: if the Fiat and Ferrari management did not believe that they were getting full value for their Formula One activities, they would have been gone long before Honda, regardless of the tifosi.

Formula One is both a sport and a business, and has seen its share of ruthless characters. However, one would have expected more class -- and a longer memory -- from a team that has been mollycoddled by the FIA in recent years, and from an Italian aristocrat who has been involved with Ferrari since 1973.

Bring on 2010, and full grids for Formula One. Every other team that has appeared in the championship since its inception in 1950 has been proven replaceable, whether Lotus, Mercedes, Brabham or Porsche, and it's unlikely that Ferrari would prove to be the exception.