Formula One - On And Off Track Week 42

Berthold Bouman, F1 Correspondent

Story Highlights

  • F1’s FOTA existence in jeopardy?
  • F1 reacts on Dan Wheldon’s death

FOTA’s existence in jeopardy?

The FOTA (Formula One Teams’ Association) currently represents all Formula One teams except the HRT team, as the Spanish outfit left the organization because it in their view only represented the interests of the larger established teams, and did nothing for the smaller teams. Team Principal Colin Kolles at the time said, “I think we are better off negotiating our own contracts, because we understand our problems better than the chairman of FOTA who may want something completely different.” Although HRT were accused of not paying the 100,000 Euro fee and therefore left the organization, it was certainly already a sign not everything was hunky dory within the organization.

FOTA Fans Forum 2011, Milano: Stefano Domenicali, Team Principal Scuderia Ferrari
FOTA Fans Forum 2011, Milano: Stefano Domenicali, Team Principal Scuderia Ferrari

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The FOTA was founded in 2008 during a meeting of team representatives at Maranello in Italy. The FOTA’s main objective at the time was to represent the teams during the negotiations for the new Concorde Agreement, an agreement between teams and the commercial rights holders of the sport, Bernie Ecclestone’s FOM and capital investor CVC. It’s current chairman is McLaren Team Principal Martin Whitmarsh, and Lotus Renault Team Principal Eric Boullier is the Vice President.

Recently asked about the FOTA Ecclestone answered, “It is an unnecessary association of people who should put their sole emphasis on getting competitive cars on the grid. It’s just more of what they don’t have to think of. I look after that so there are enough financial resources.” Which of course in plain English means Ecclestone does not want FOTA to interfere with the financial issues of the sport, as he actually would rather negotiate financial issues with the separate teams, and not with the FOTA as an organization.

Recently there have been speculations about Red Bull having breached the RRA (Resource Restrictions Agreement), and spent more than was allowed by this ‘gentlemen’s agreement’, hence their current domination of the sport. Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner rubbished the rumors, “It's false, absolutely false!” And the Briton hinted others were just jealous of Red Bull’s successes, “We've worked within the RRA, within the regulations that exist. It saved us money, saved the teams money. Unfortunately the consequence of success is people will throw stones.”

Dutch financial consultancy company Capgemini apparently found ‘discrepancies’ in the books of Red Bull, which was for a number of teams a reason to raise the alarm, and have asked for clarification of the findings of Capgemini. As in the past, this has now grown into an old-fashioned Formula One row, and a few teams have been wondering what the point of the FOTA is when its members don’t even obey their own rules.

Monisha Kaltenborn, Managing director, Sauber F1 Team
Monisha Kaltenborn, Managing director, Sauber F1 Team

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It now seems there is confusion about what Capgemini’s exact task was, was it a probe to see whether teams have not exceeded the limits of the budget cap? Sauber CEO Monisha Kaltenborn offered her insight, “What Capgemini did was a benchmark study, looking at methodologies and how they are used,” she said, adding, “We were not in any way trying to verify the abiding of the RRA, that was not its mandate. It was to see how you interpret the rules and how you use them. The moment you write something in a contract it is always open to interpretation and that is what the idea to it was.”

But the tone has been set, apparently teams lost confidence and don’t trust each other, and Ferrari Team Principal Stefano Domenicali even hinted the issues could spell the end of the FOTA. About the current situation the Italian said, “In terms of the cost cutting we can no longer afford to continue like this.” And the Ferrari boss added, “If there is no trust, there is no need to go forward. We know why FOTA was put together so we need to understand whether we still need it. What are the objectives for the future of FOTA, if it has a future?”

Horner agrees with his Italian colleague and told Reuters, “The principal issues are obviously the Concorde Agreement, the direction that goes in, and fundamentally the RRA.” And he added, “I think that FOTA has reached the crossroads where it needs to deal with some of the key issues moving forward or we’ll stop. It’s as simple as that. If we can’t find agreement within FOTA on that then what is the purpose of FOTA?”

Mercedes Team Principal Ross Brawn commented, “The teams have to come together to find a solution ... or else we will have a continuation of the problems that we're having at the moment, all the comments, the rumour, the innuendo, the distrust.”

And there is another topic high on the agenda, Team Lotus and Lotus Renault have indicated they wish to change their team name, and some teams don’t have a problem with that but others, like Brawn do. “I know that happened to us when we wanted to change our name,” he argued. “People sought to get favours from that decision. It needs to be done in an adult way and not used in a divisive way." Whitmarsh agreed, “I recall when there was a desire to change the [Brawn] team name to Mercedes, how a number of people conspired against that, which was a ridiculous position to take and very damaging to the sport.”

Martin Whitmarsh, McLaren, Chief Executive Officer and Bernie Ecclestone
Martin Whitmarsh, McLaren, Chief Executive Officer and Bernie Ecclestone

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But Chairman Whitmarsh as ever remained very optimistic about the future of the FOTA, “We are an association that generally required unanimity to go forward on lots of these strategic issues and we are a sport full of egos, personalities, competitiveness and paranoia, but so far what has been achieved is fantastic." At the same time he doesn’t rule out the FOTA could break up, “There are people around who don't want FOTA to be here I am sure, and ultimately the people that count are the teams. So if the teams reach a decision that, for the time being, we don't need it [the FOTA], then great. We will go and do something different.”

But all FOTA members have to be careful and also will have to look to the future, if the FOTA breaks up it will give the most powerful man in Formula One, Ecclestone, the opportunity to negotiate with separate teams about their share of the sport’s revenues, which will without a doubt cause even more problems and distrust. Ecclestone without a doubt would be the main beneficiary as he then doesn’t have to give in to the demands of the FOTA, who want to achieve a fairer distribution of the revenues amongst the teams, and in particular want a larger share than the 50% they currently get from Ecclestone.

Formula One reacts on Dan Wheldon’s death

After Dan Wheldon was tragically killed last Sunday during the Las Vegas Indy 300 it is almost inevitable to reflect on his death and reactions from all disciplines of motorsport have poured in. Many people in Formula One knew Wheldon and have even raced with the Briton during the early stages of their career.

McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton was sad when he heard the news, “Dan was a racer I'd followed throughout my career, as I often followed in his footsteps as we climbed the motorsport ladder in the UK. He was an extremely talented driver. As a British guy, who not only went over to the States but who twice won the Indy 500, he was an inspirational guy, and someone that every racing driver looked up to with respect and admiration.”

Dan Wheldon, Bryan Herta Autosport with Curb/Agajanian
Dan Wheldon, Bryan Herta Autosport with Curb/Agajanian

Photo by: Covy Moore

His team mate Jenson Button wrote on Twitter, “Just woken up to the most horrific news. Dan Wheldon RIP.” And said to the UK Express, “I have so many good memories of racing with Dan in the early 90's, a true fighter. We've lost a legend in our sport but also a great guy. I can't begin to imagine what his family are going through and my thoughts are with them at this very difficult time.” Mark Webber also raced with Wheldon, “Rest in Peace Dan. I remember our early days in the UK in ‘95/’96. Miss ya!”

Ex-Formula One driver and now BBC commentator David Coulthard wrote in his column for the UK Daily Telegraph, “Dan's death is such a terrible waste. There was no need for him to be racing in Las Vegas, to be putting himself through the risk of going for that big $5-million prize from the back of a packed grid.” About Wheldon he said, “Dan was a racer through and through, a popular character and a real talent. He was someone who had embraced the American dream; he practically had the mid-Atlantic accent to boot.”

Force India driver Paul di Resta, cousin of Dario Franchitti, “Very sad news that a great racer has died. Rest in peace Dan. Thoughts are with your family.”

South African Jody Scheckter, 1979 Formula One World Champion, was present at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway to watch his son Tomas racing -- saw the crash and was devastated, “Dan raced with or against some of my sons in England in Formula Vauxhall. We have known him for years really. He has been very successful. A bubbly guy all the time. It is very sad.”

But, and this is inevitable as well, drivers and fans have not only paid tribute to Wheldon, but have also voiced their concerns and criticized the circumstances that led to his death. Formula One 1992 Champion and 1993 CART Champion Nigel Mansell told the BBC, “In Indy racing, there is simply nowhere to go. When an accident happens you are into the wall in a split second. The trouble is there are no small accidents when accidents happen.” Mansell also compared the situation with Formula One, “This is why Formula One does an exemplary job. The tarmac runs off so the driver has time to decelerate the car.”

Webber was concerned about the many cars on track, “I think the pack racing element of it is particularly hazardous. The single seaters, to be that tightly packed, to be rubbing each other at 350 kms an hour, that's what they are probably going to look into on a short oval.”

Jody Scheckter, 1979 F1 World Champion drives the 1979 Ferrari 312 T4
Jody Scheckter, 1979 F1 World Champion drives the 1979 Ferrari 312 T4

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Scheckter commented, “They were basically touching wheels at 220mph. They all bunch up together so there are 34 cars in a small space of track.” And he added, “One person makes a mistake and this happens. You [shouldn't] have to get killed if you make a mistake. It was madness. Formula One is not like that anymore and it is still quite exciting.”

Mansell agreed, “To have 34 cars traveling at 220mph on a mile-and-a-half long circuit, there are too many cars on the track. I heard Jody and he said it well. The smallest mistakes turn into catastrophic ones and Dan was on the receiving end.”

Former Formula One driver Briton Anthony Davidson reckons the high speeds are the problem, “You've got to look to the root of the problem and the root of the problem is just the fact that you've got very high speed cars traveling around very closely fought races with open cockpits. You have to question, do they have to go that fast? Can the spectators see the difference between 250mph or 160mph? I am not so sure.”

Mark Blundell, who raced in Formula One and later in CART as well, “The speeds are much faster than Formula One -- and when you’re only a couple of inches away from each other side by side, doing 220mph, when things go wrong, they go wrong in a big way.” He blamed the organizers as well, “It was a recipe for disaster when you look at what was going on. These kinds of cars shouldn’t have been running on these kinds of circuits. You saw 15 cars wiped out -- 40 per cent of the grid -- and we’ve had a fatality. That’s not acceptable.”

Derek Warwick
Derek Warwick

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Derek Warwick, former Formula One driver and presently the President of the exclusive BRDC (British Racing Drivers Club), thinks inexperienced drivers are also part of the equation, “The drivers that go into a Formula One race are all great drivers who have won championships, from working their way up from Formula Three to GP2 before they get a super license to be able to race. I sometimes question the depth of talent in IndyCar races. The inexperienced generally end up having accidents. They need to tweak what they're doing a little bit.”

Coulthard also slammed the organizers, “The truth is that $5-million prize was a gimmick; a desperate attempt by Indy Racing League promoters to boost flagging interest. Tragically they have their front and back pages now. But at what cost? With any luck it will spur on the IRL to improve its safety record. Say what you like about Max Mosley, but one thing that we in Formula One must all thank him for is his response to Imola in 1994.”

Right now there are more questions than answers, many have wondered whether it was a good idea to put 34 cars tightly packed together on a super-fast one-and-a-half mile long oval with steep banking and offer a $5 million bonus to make the race more spectacular. A disaster waiting to happen according to some. On the one hand, due to the nature of the sport accidents will happen, but on the other hand, with today’s technology it is no longer acceptable drivers do not stand a chance when something goes wrong. Last Sunday, something that was supposed to be fun and entertaining for all involved, turned into a major catastrophe within milliseconds.

After Ayrton Senna’s death in 1994 Formula One has spent hundreds of millions to not only make the cars safer, but to make the circuits safer as well. FIA President at the time, Mosley was the man who relentlessly pushed for more safety, although he was also a man of many controversies, he was the man who made the sport safer than ever.

Double checkered flag after the five lap tribute to Dan Wheldon
Double checkered flag after the five lap tribute to Dan Wheldon

Photo by: IndyCar Series

Today it was announced that the FIA will assist the IndyCar Series during an investigation into Wheldon’s death, a statement issued today read, “As part of our standard safety protocol, a full investigation has been launched by IndyCar, with assistance from the Automobile Competition Committee of the United States (ACCUS) and Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA), the national and international governing organisation, to determine the factors involved in this accident.” And the statement further read, “We hope to have preliminary findings to report within the next several weeks. In the meantime, it would be inappropriate to comment further until the investigative team has had the opportunity to conclude its work.”

A memorial service for the 33-year old Wheldon will be held on October 23 in the Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

Also read: Dallara honors Wheldon with 2012 IndyCar chassis name

Join us again next week for another episode of “Formula One: On and off track”

Formula One - On and Off Track week 40

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About this article
Series General , Formula 1
Drivers Jenson Button , Mark Webber , David Coulthard , Anthony Davidson , Dario Franchitti , Bryan Herta , Nigel Mansell , Mark Blundell , Ross Brawn , Dan Wheldon , Lewis Hamilton , Ayrton Senna , Paul di Resta , Jody Scheckter , Derek Warwick , Colin Kolles , Bernie Ecclestone , Martin Whitmarsh
Teams Team Lotus , Sauber , Force India , Bryan Herta Autosport
Tags bouman, fia, fota, wheldon, whitmarsh