If you learn nothing else in your lives, children, learn this: Never trust a man who says "trust me." It's a lesson Formula One team owners seem to know. When International Automobile Federation (FIA) president Max Mosley held out that ...
If you learn nothing else in your lives, children, learn this: Never trust a man who says "trust me."
It's a lesson Formula One team owners seem to know. When International Automobile Federation (FIA) president Max Mosley held out that offer, trust me to fix what you don't like about the rules -- but only after you have committed to the 2010 season, whose rules I've already devised, they said no. An emphatic no. The frustration owners feel at the present level of negotiation fairly oozed out of their news release issued late Thursday. It was palpable on the page.
In deciding to form a separate series rather than join an FIA-governed Formula One whose rules changes have been frequent and capricious in the past handful of years, Formula One Team Owners exercised an option of negotiation. Carnegie Mellon University economics professor Linda Babcock might call a separate tour FOTA's BATNA, best alternative to a negotiated agreement. What else can you do if you can't get what you want in a negotiation? What power do you have?
Even at the reduced rate of eight from an original 10, FOTA's power is they are the show. If they go, drivers, sponsors, cars and a lot of fans go with them. Vox populi will decide who survives. So that's Force India, Williams F1, Campos, USF1 and Manor or BMW Sauber, Brawn GP, Ferrari, McLaren Mercedes, Red Bull, Renault, Toro Rosso and Toyota. Hmmm.
Threatening to set up a separate tour is the lever owners hope will move Mosley off a couple key positions that have thwarted an agreement. The budget cap, or resource restriction, is a reduction so severe its best analogy might be the braking force of a Formula One car. Only a relative handful of people, the drivers, know that power. No one who isn't prepared for it can handle such a quick stop. In the same way drivers train physically for F1 racing, teams want to slow fiscally for F1 spending limits.
Imposing frequent and arbitrary rules changes is an area of contention. That's why owners asked for a return of a Concorde Agreement. The secret document gave owners input to the governing process. And why not? Besides having so much at stake, the teams are subjected to the consequences of competition decisions in the most immediate way.
That Mosley's counteraction is to sue FOTA brings the dispute to a contest too well associated with stubborn, dare we say arrogant, men. Good for putting out campfires, perhaps, but not for running the tiptop motorsport in the world. If threats aren't the most effective, and definitely not subtle, negotiation tactics, lawsuits are even less cooperative.
So what would happen if FOTA winds up having to make good on their threat?
First question: Where will they race?
What F1-ready tracks exist that doesn't have a contract with Formula One Management and that would meet necessary safety standards? How quickly would contracts need to be signed to allow for preparation and promotion?
Which of those tracks would be welcome to hold an F1 contest again should they stage a FOTA event? Think Mosley's out-of-thin-air chat Friday about bringing F1 back to Silverstone, about to run its final race on FOM supremo Bernie Ecclestone's watch, was a pre-emptive strike to keep the BRDC from welcoming FOTA to every driver's favorite airfield?
How many races would a FOTA tour need to stage to present a legitimate championship? Are six enough? Twelve too many?
Who's going to do the legwork to set up a FOTA tour? Team owners ostensibly are contesting a current championship. Who will they appoint to determine locales and costs, to negotiate deals and to sign contracts? How much will they pay to stage a tour and how will they determine contributions among teams of differing budgets for shipping and hauling? How much would tickets cost?
And Mosley. If his legal tactic doesn't work, does he declare the FIA a FOTA-free zone and stage a championship with the teams he has and a few more who applied thinking they could operate on a 30 million pound or at most a 40 million pound ($65 million) budget?
Who --or more to the point, whose sponsors -- would want to join an F1 without Ferrari? No less an observer of the scene than F1 wannabe Bruno Senna told Reuters a week ago that trying to find a ride at this juncture means "You don't know who will be in F1 next season; you don't know who you're talking to." Friday reports had FIA-confirmed teams and prospects checking their options about throwing in with FOTA.
No, fellas, it's time to negotiate seriously and with renewed vigor. Stop running power plays, stop bargaining via public posturing, get real and get a deal. The only thing a separate series does is ruin your sport, alienate sponsors and embitter fans. Once you lose the interested parties, that is, the sponsors and the fans, you've lost the show. How do we know? Indy cars.