Last week the FIA presented some new facts about the earlier this year announced cost cap regulations which will be applied to the sport from 2010 onwards. Again, the FIA did not come up with the technical regulations regarding the capped and non-capped teams. And time is running out, the FIA also stated that all teams who want to compete in 2010 should submit their application during the period 22-29 May 2009. Teams now have less than 3 weeks to make a decision whether they wish to compete under the cost-capped rules in 2010 or not -- or whether they wish to compete in Formula One at all for that matter.
There we have problem number one, no details about the 2010 regulations, and yet less than three weeks to make a decision. Most teams already made it clear they don't oppose the new cost regulations, but they do oppose the fact that there will be two sets of rules within one competition. It seems the FIA now wants to force the teams to make a decision without any knowledge of the technical regulations. Hopefully the FIA will soon publish the 2010 regulations; you can't expect a multi-million dollar enterprise like a Formula One team to agree with any regulations without knowing its content and possible consequences first.
The technical rules for 2009 were already published in 2007, and I can't think of any valid reason why the FIA still hasn't published the regulations for the 2010 season. Or does the FIA have more nasty surprises in store for us -- after the teams have agreed to enter the competition under cost capping rules? Will we find out the truth after the teams have agreed to commit to the brave new Formula One World?
There is a way to get rid of a future two-tier Formula One competition. If all present teams, now united in the FOTA organization, would agree to enter the 2010 competition under the new cost-capping rules, there would be no need to have two different sets of regulations. The FOTA should tell the FIA that they will accept the cost-capping regulations, but to return the favor, the FIA should drop the non-capped regulations and new teams should only be allowed to enter the competition under the same cost capping rules as the existing teams. And since it is more than likely that new teams would go for the capped option anyway, that shouldn't be a problem at all. A little voice in the back of my head keeps telling me that this is exactly the scenario the FIA has in mind. Problem solved, or am I too optimistic?
The FIA already made a few concessions regarding the costs which were included in the budget cap, like marketing and promotion costs and driver and young driver programs. Max Mosley also admitted that there is some room for negotiations regarding the new rules and the proposed budget of 58 million dollar, so why not?
Many people wonder how the FIA is going to police and enforce the cost-cap financial regulations, and also wonder what the FIA will do when a team spends too much money.
The FIA will install a "Costs Commission", a Chairman and two other Commissioners, and the members will be appointed by the WMSC. Unfortunately the cost capped teams will have to pay this Commission themselves. So I was right after all. The FIA: "The costs involved will represent a tiny fraction of the costs saved in Formula One". If a team spends too much money the FIA says, "the Cost Commission will judge the degree of misdemeanor and advise the FIA, who will determine any penalty". Which means we are still being kept in the dark about possible penalties. It also means the FIA could decide to give a team a 10 million dollar fine, or even disqualify the team from the competition.
FOM agreed that new teams will get an annual payment of 10 million dollar plus free transportation of two chassis and freight up to 10,000 kg in weight (not including the two chassis) as well as 20 air tickets (economy class) for each round trip for events held outside Europe. Thank you Mr. Ecclestone, very generous of you. We can't all have our private jet plane now can we?
According to the FIA, there is room for three more teams in Formula One, so far we have heard Prodrive, USF1, Lola and GP2 competitor iSport, are interested in competing in F1, but they are not sure yet, because they still have no details about the capped team rules. The newcomers also have three weeks to come up with a business plan and a solid budget. So far the FIA has said that "each new team must qualify as a 'Constructor' and demonstrate that it has the necessary facilities, financial resources and technical competence to compete effectively in Formula One". But still nothing about the regulations, it seems Formula One will become Formula None in 2010.
The FIA also confirmed a refueling ban for 2010 to, as they put it, "save the costs of transporting refueling equipment and increase the incentive for engine builders to improve fuel economy". While this could benefit the sport in terms of strategy, fuel economy improvement and driver skills, there is of course a downside as well. Formula One cars don't have a large fuel tank, at present they can only carry a maximum of about 80 to 90 kg of fuel, and not the 200 or 220 kg of fuel you need to complete a 300 kilometer race (depending on the circuit, and given the volume weight of F1 fuel is 0,72 kg per liter).
This means all teams have to re-design their present car. But you can't simply enlarge the fuel tank, the added weight will have a huge impact on the balance of the car, and teams might have to come up with a completely new designed car. This will force them to spend a lot of money, and that is exactly the opposite of what the FIA is aiming for, cutting the costs to run a Formula One team. Perhaps the FIA should add another 5 to 10 million dollar to the maximum budget for the 2010 season to cover these costs?
And there is also the safety aspect, although modern materials make it possible to design and build a safe fuel tank, it is nevertheless possible a car catches fire after a crash, and when the fuel tank is ruptured 200 kg of fuel can cause a major disaster. I probably don't have to tell you what happened with Lorenzo Bandini in 1967, Piers Courage, Jackie Ickx and Jackie Oliver in 1970, Roger Williamson in 1973, Nikki Lauda in 1976, Ronnie Peterson in 1979, Riccardo Paletti in 1982 and Gerhard Berger in 1989. We don't want to see those kinds of horrors returning to Formula One, I'm sure you will agree with me. The more fuel, the greater the risk, but I guess we have to live with that and rely on modern technology to make sure things like that will not happen again in the future.
Universal Motorsport Engine
While the car and engine manufacturers were once hailed as the saviors of Formula One -- because they were prepared to invest a lot of money in the sport, money that the privateer teams didn't have -- they are now seen as the culprits who are responsible for the huge spending by teams and the financial problems in F1 and other motorsports. Mr. Mosley has therefore developed a cunning plan to get rid of these manufacturers: the Universal Motorsport Engine.
His plan is simple, develop one engine platform that can be adapted for all race classes. Mosley: "An engine that would work in turbocharged form for F1 and then all the way down to naturally aspirated form for the lesser categories (DTM, BTTC, LMP1, GP2, Le Mans, IRL and even A1GP) and in a turbocharged or naturally aspirated form for the World Rally Championship." The engine should be able to operate with different turbo boosts and rpm's for different race classes. It seems Max Mosley thinks he can do without car and engine manufactures in motorsports, this weekend he even suggested that Formula One could do without Ferrari.
In a reaction on Mosley's comments Bernie Ecclestone told UK newspaper The Times he wouldn't let that happen and will protect Ferrari's position in Formula One. But it was the same Bernie Ecclestone who told the media a few months ago that F1 spectators don't care, or don't even know, what engine is in the back of a Formula One car, as long as they get a good show, they don't care. Well, Mr. Ecclestone, this might come as a surprise to you, but F1 fans are not that stupid and ignorant as you seem to think, but above all, it's not a very nice thing to say about F1 fans.
FOM and CVC
While the whole world is in a financial dip and very reluctant to spend more money, Bernie Ecclestone wants to see more money. What else is new? Circuits have to pay 50 million dollar to organize a race, after 2 or 3 races they end up with multi million dollar debts and face bankruptcy. When that happens Mr. Ecclestone 'hints' the local government should be prepared to pay for organizing a race as well, but with the current economic recession it is not very likely that governments will financially support a Formula One race.
And if indeed, as is the case with the British Grand Prix, the British government doesn't want to 'invest' money in Formula One, Bernie Ecclestone shouts it's a disgrace they won't support a national Grand Prix, and without any further ado signs a contract with another circuit. Why should the government pour money into the FOM organization, we know FOM is not willing to share more than 50% of the revenues, so in effect 50% of the revenues are going directly to Ecclestone's piggy bank. Still surprised the British government won't support your attempts to 'save' the British Grand Prix Mr. Ecclestone?
Many circuit managers and financial experts have recently questioned the economic model of Formula One as it is nowadays executed by the commercial rights holder FOM and their financial partner CVC. CVC has borrowed an awful lot of money to buy their share of the Formula One commercial rights, and now somehow have to pay back that money. Former Canadian GP promoter Normand Legault told the Canadian La Presse newspaper that Ecclestone's house of cards is already falling down.
Every race is sold to the highest bidder, the price is too high, circuits are faced with the unworkable demands of the FOM, and circuits like Singapore are forced to invest in very expensive light systems to accommodate night races. And much to our surprise Bernie 'Zig Zag" Ecclestone is now all of a sudden prepared to talk about a Canadian and American Grand Prix again, is it possible he knows something we don't know yet?
The number of spectators of the Australian, Malaysian and Chinese Grand Prix are rapidly decreasing -- apparently caused by the delayed start time which was originally designed to boost the number of European viewers. Can you imagine that the 2010 Grand Prix of Italy at Monza will start at seven o'clock in the morning to boost the number of spectators in Asia?
And when all circuits have had enough of Ecclestone, FOM and Formula One, or worse, have gone down the drain, where are you going to organize a race in the future Mr. Ecclestone, in your backyard, or on the moon perhaps? In the latter case you'd better start negotiations with Richard Branson right now, this scenario could be very interesting for Virgin Galactic.
If Ecclestone really wants to safeguard the future of Formula One as he keeps telling us, he should put his money where his mouth is, and in this case I mean literally...