Berthold Bouman, F1 Correspondent
- FOTA future still in doubt
- Testing ban hurts young drivers
- FIA announces regulation changes
FOTA future still in doubt
After last week’s shock announcement that Ferrari and Red Bull Racing had turned their back to the Formula One Teams Association (FOTA), the future of the alliance remains in doubt. Last Tuesday there was an emergency meeting with the top four teams, Red Bull, Ferrari, McLaren and Mercedes, but still no news has emerged about the result of this meeting.
Red Bull and Ferrari announced they would withdraw as they both thought there was no future for the FOTA if its members could not reach an agreement about the course to follow regarding the negotiations of the 2013 Concorde Agreement, an agreement with the Formula One teams, the governing body the FIA, and the commercial rights holders FOM and capital investment company CVC. But both Ferrari and Red Bull were especially unhappy about the progress being made regarding the RRA (Resource Restriction Agreement), an agreement that should regulate how much money teams are allowed to spend in one season.
Last year the Spanish HRT outfit decided to leave the FOTA, as in their opinion the FOTA did not do anything for the smaller teams, and with two more teams now leaving, the FOTA now represents nine of the 12 current Formula One teams. Ferrari stated about their decision, “FOTA's drive has run its course, despite the excellent work of current president Martin Whitmarsh in trying to reach agreement between the various positions for the common good.” But Red Bull has not yet given up and in a statement said, “We will remain committed to finding a solution regarding cost saving in Formula One.”
Red Bull deny they have breached the RRA and also claim the alliance has achieved little this season, “FOTA fulfilled its purpose in the crisis period, and so there was a reduction in costs, but as far as achievements there was nothing else,” Red Bull advisor Helmut Marko said earlier this week. Team Principal Christian Horner agreed, “In the last twelve months it hasn't quite been clear what was the purpose of FOTA.”
One man who was happy about the news was of course FOM CEO Bernie Ecclestone, and he didn’t waste any time on giving his opinion, “I think they believed [FOTA] didn't quite do what it was intended to do.” And he explained, “It is very, very difficult for all these people who are competing with each other to agree anything that's going to stop their ability to win. I think it was probably dead before it started.”
The row actually started after other teams had accused Red Bull of breaching the RRA, and had spent far much more money than they were allowed, hence their domination of the season which ultimately resulted in Sebastian Vettel’s and Red Bull’s second consecutive title win. Marko was also not happy with the accusations and today commented, “We are the best in aerodynamics and so the others only wanted to cut back the [development of] aerodynamics.” Ecclestone was again quick to respond, “You get all that nonsense, 'oh, they're cheating’, because they've spent more than they should have!”
Mercedes Motor Sport Director Norbert Haug however, is adamant the FOTA should play an important role in the future. “I think it is absolutely vital that FOTA is existing. The aims that we are having, the targets, are very important and I think it is up to the so-called top teams to really balance it out,” the German said. And Mercedes GP team CEO Nick Fry agreed, “We've certainly hit a bump in the road but I believe that work will continue in the background to try and resolve this and we will do whatever we can to support that.’
Ecclestone, who always opposed the idea of a team alliance, can be happy now, every team that leaves the FOTA makes its position weaker, and one of the things the FOTA is trying to accomplish is getting a bigger share of the sport’s revenues, while Ecclestone so far has refused to give them than more than 50 per cent. Ecclestone wants to ‘divide and rule’, which has always been his tactic over the years.
With the FOTA now breaking up, it is feared the rogue teams will try to negotiate with Ecclestone themselves, which would ultimately arouse more suspicions amongst the remaining FOTA members, and could spell the definitive end of the alliance. A far much better solution would be to convince Ferrari and Red Bull to rejoin the FOTA and fight for the changes they want, as the FOTA isn’t only about money, it is also about the future of the sport, the technical regulations and the safety of Formula One itself.
Testing ban hurts young drivers
Many teams have complained about the lack of testing opportunities, as have young drivers who find it increasingly more difficult to show their skills because there is really only one opportunity: the annual Young Drivers Test, which this year was held in the week after the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on the Yas Marina circuit. Only three days, and for some even less than three hours, to show what they can do with a Formula One car, and all are hoping for a race seat of their dreams.
Charles Pic recently joined the Marussia Virgin outfit, but the 21-year old can only test in the simulator, “I'm flying to England tomorrow to be at the factory to get to know the staff and start working with the engineers and in the simulator.” The Frenchman has only 12 days of testing in 2012 during the pre-season testing days in February, in which he not only has to get used to the car, but also will have to test the new 2012 car and components, which is also of paramount importance for the team as it will be there only chance to check and setup the new car before the first race in Melbourne, Australia.
Pic commented during a press conference in Paris, “It means I need to set up a timetable to make sure I can learn things in a different way, so we need to set up a good program so that the two months in winter can be used for the best.”
This season’s Young Drivers Test proved to be an opportunity for teams to test new 2012 components, rather than testing young drivers. The in-season testing ban was introduced in 2009 when teams spent more time testing than on the race track, while the costs kept increasing. At the time this was a disadvantage for the smaller teams who didn’t have the budget for extensive testing and this resulted in the in-season test ban. Especially Ferrari has always opposed this and right on cue, the FIA today announced they will ease the ban and there will be one in-season test session of three days.
FIA announces regulation changes
Along with publishing the definitive 2012 calendar, after a meeting of the World Motor Sports Council (WMSC) at New Delhi, India, the FIA today also announced other changes to the Technical and Sporting Regulations. The Technical Regulations now ensure that teams can no longer use exhaust gases to influence the aerodynamical properties of the car, and have improved the regulations for the side-impact structures.
The FIA published these changes for the Technical Regulations:
• All engine standard ECU set up and control parameters, which were formerly contained only within a Technical Directive, are now contained within the relevant parts of the Technical Regulations.
• The exhaust tailpipes are now strictly regulated in order to ensure that the aerodynamic effect exhaust gases have on the car is kept to an absolute minimum.
• Better marking of in-car emergency switches operated by marshals are now stipulated.
• The side impact structures will now have to be subjected to a further (upward) push-off test.
Changes to the Sporting Regulations are aimed to increase safety, cars must now first pass the mandatory crash test before they can participate in the pre-season testing days. The duration of a race is reduced to a maximum of four hours, this decision was inspired by the Canadian Grand Prix that was red flagged for hours and it took almost eight agonizing hours before the first car crossed the finish line. There are also changes of the Safety Car regulations, and on track drivers are only permitted to defend their racing line once, and during a race weekend all allocated tyres may now be used on the first day of practice as well.
Changes to the 2012 Sporting Regulations
• Cars may no longer take part in pre-season testing without having passed all crash tests.
• There will now be a maximum race time of four hours to ensure that a lengthy suspension of a race does not result in a race that could run up to eight hours if left unregulated.
• Before the safety car returns to the pits all lapped cars will be allowed to un lap themselves and then join the back of the pack, ensuring a clean re-start without slower cars impeding those racing for the leading positions.
• Cars which were in the pit lane when a race is suspended will now be allowed to re-join the cars on the grid in the position they were in when the race was suspended.
• Drivers may no longer leave the track without a justifiable reason, i.e. cutting a chicane on reconnaissance laps or ‘in’ laps to save time and fuel.
• Drivers may no longer move back onto the racing line having moved off it to defend a position.
• One three-day test will be carried out during the season, formerly there were none.
• All stewards’ decisions which are not subject to appeal are now in one place instead of being in various places within the regulations.
• All tyres allocated to a driver may now be used on the first day of practice; formerly only three sets were permitted.
Join us again next week for another episode of “Formula One: On and off track”