The Max and Bernie show

The Max and Bernie show

It seems the FIA was in such a hurry to change the points system for this year's Formula One season that they completely forgot about their own rulebook. On Friday, completely out of the blue, the FIA produced a press release which stated that if...

It seems the FIA was in such a hurry to change the points system for this year's Formula One season that they completely forgot about their own rulebook. On Friday, completely out of the blue, the FIA produced a press release which stated that if the teams were not happy with the new "winner takes it all" points system, its implementation would be deferred until 2010.

FIA Place de la Concorde headquarters in Paris.
Photo by Eric Gilbert.

But let us not be fooled by the possible withdrawal of the Ecclestone promoted wins-only system, the FIA just realized they didn't do things by the book, and are not, in any way, impressed by the point of view of the teams, drivers and fans. Neither are they impressed by the media stir the new F1 as envisioned by Max Mosley has caused. Mosley called the reaction of the FOTA "weak", and Bernie Ecclestone told the Italian newspaper "Il Giornale" that the opposing teams "should wake up". It seems nothing has changed, teams should do what Ecclestone thinks is right, and nothing else. Someone else needs a wake-up call.

Ignoring the whishes of the teams, drivers and fans

I have never seen such a degree of arrogance as displayed by the FOM and FIA this week. For the first time in Formula One history teams, drivers, and fans are united and are willing to work together to improve and safeguard the future of F1. In my view this is the best thing that ever happened to F1, it is a unique situation and you will not find it in any other sport.

But FIA and FOM are not interested, they have their own plans. They have been telling porkies about what they would do, for months they have been talking about cost-cutting measures that would guarantee a trouble free F1 future. The FIA promised a new Formula One, as Max Mosley put it: "at a fraction of the costs".

They came up with nothing, just a silly plan to divide F1 and FOTA into two camps, capped and non-capped budget teams. Teams can still spend as much money as they like until 2012, or, voluntarily go for the capped budget option, giving them more freedom in designing a car. The FIA did not publish any rules or regulations regarding the technical freedom of capped and non-capped teams, so it is impossible to tell what "more freedom" really means.

We did see a few of the plans of the FIA, and they don't involve cost- cutting: In 2008 a driver had to pay 1,725 euros plus 456 euros per point won for their Super License, but FIA president Max Mosley has increased it to 10,400 Euros and an additional 2,100 Euros has to be paid for every point won. That is a rise of more than 500%.

The FIA also announced a rise in the yearly entry fee for Formula 1 teams. Fees will go up from 300,000 Euros in 2008 to 740,000 Euros this year. There is still a mind-blowing 48 million Euro deposit for new teams who want to enter the wonderful world of Formula 1, and there are no signs that this will change. A new team, for instance the new USGPE team, will also have to pay that deposit.

Teams want a bigger share of the F1 revenues than the 50% they now get. FOM however - they probably believe teams don't need the extra money anymore due to the self-imposed FOTA cost cutting programme - doesn't think it is necessary to pay the teams more. Even worse, Ecclestone warned teams that it is more likely they will get less money in the future. And now we are at it, maybe Mr. Ecclestone would like to tell us where the other 50% is going to?

FOTA Meeting.
Photo by LAT Photographic.

The FOTA on the other hand, did come up with cost-cutting measures, not only that, they already applied them and are willing to take it even further next year. Ferrari, McLaren, Renault, Williams and Toyota have taken measures to operate their team this year at 50% of the costs of last year. Unlike the FIA, the FOTA realizes that the millions of F1 fans are important for the sport, and only want changes which are supported by the fans.

About the changes - Capped and non-capped budgets

In the new Formula One era, we will have two kinds of teams, teams with capped and non-capped budgets. Because the FIA didn't produce any details regarding the technical regulations, which itself is very weird, it is therefore impossible to tell what it really means. But I think it is safe to say that it is impossible to work with two different kinds of regulations in one competition.

The name "Formula One" also suggests "One Formula", and not two. Formula One will be split in A (non-capped budget) and B (capped budget) teams, A and B drivers, A and B regulations, A and B fans, and could ultimately result in an A and B championship.

What we do know is that capped teams for instance can use an engine with no limitations (like a rev limit and development freeze), while the non-capped teams must use an engine limited by the new regulations. Can you imagine Mercedes building a restricted engine for McLaren, and at the same time build a non-restricted engine for Force India, which could enable Force India to beat McLaren on the circuit? Mercedes A beaten by Mercedes B?

Mosley told the press that there will be a fine balance between both regulations, to make sure both the A and B teams are equally fast. And there is the whole problem, how are you going to do that?

We'll be witnessing protests from A or B teams, and many races could be decided in court. And since the FIA is the one who decides which restrictions will be imposed on the non-capped teams, and also decides how much freedom the capped teams will get, I fear we will have a never ending discussion about every nut and bolt on the car. If all A teams are faster, B teams are going to say they want more freedom, and then what, change the rules during the season so the B teams will win more races - and the A teams will protest as a result of that? That's an impossible situation.

Brawn GP diffusor.
Photo by xpb.cc.

And there is proof that this could really happen, this year we have seen that Brawn, Toyota and Williams have developed a diffuser which is - according to the other teams - illegal. Two weeks ago teams asked the FIA for an explanation, the FIA told the diffusers are within the rules. But the opposing teams are not satisfied about the explanation of the FIA, and will probably lodge an official protest during the Australian GP. That protest will go to the FIA Court of Appeal, and they will decide whether the diffuser is legal or not. If they decide it is illegal, teams using the diffuser could lose the points they may have scored during the Australian GP.

But there are more problems, many people say it is impossible to run a Formula One team with the proposed budget of $42 million. The budget cap will include everything from toilet paper to driver and team principal salaries, only the team's motor home (if they still can afford one) and fines imposed by the FIA are not included.

It will be very difficult, maybe even impossible, to check what teams have spent during the season. Teams are good in exploring loopholes in the technical regulations, they will do the same with the budget cap rules. Mosley said they will be using the services of forensic accountants and financial experts. They probably will need a whole army of accountants, and who's going to pay for that? I see...

Another problem is the fact that you can only check what a team has spent at the end of the year, meaning after the championship has been decided. And what will happen when a team has spent too much money, will they lose their points or possibly the championship title? The thought of a championship that could be decided behind the green table of the FIA Court of Appeal gives me the shivers.

Drivers and public relations

I know Mr. Mosley is very familiar with the "master/slave" concept, but there is no reason to apply that same concept to Formula One drivers. With the latest proposals they could become media slaves.

FIA wants drivers to attend autograph sessions in the pitlane during the first practice day of a GP weekend, all drivers eliminated in qualifying must make themselves available for media interviews immediately after the end of each session, a driver who retires from the race must be available for interviews when he returns to the paddock, and after the race, all drivers who finished outside the top three should also be available for interviews.

Pedro de la Rosa, GPDA chairman and McLaren test driver.
Photo by xpb.cc.

It's true that drivers could do more to enhance contact with the public, but at the same time I can perfectly understand it when a driver doesn't want to talk to the media for the next 30 minutes when he just blew up his engine and has lost the race. It is true that they make a lot of money, but that doesn't give you the right to force them to do whatever you please.

The FIA should have discussed these issues with the GPDA, but they choose not to do so. I'm sure the GPDA would have been prepared to discuss these things with FIA. Drivers are human beings just like you and me, and not emotionless robots sitting in a F1 car just for the entertainment of the crowd.

The role of Max and Bernie

From what we have seen so far this week, it seems Bernie Ecclestone and Max Mosley are the guys who run the show and decide about the future of Formula One.

Ecclestone should be representing F1's commercial rights, and not be involved in rule- and regulation making. They have a name for that: conflict of interests. And that is a very undesirable situation to say the least. Perhaps I should say, it's an impossible situation and should never be tolerated. Unfortunately the FIA is more than happy to go along with anything FOM wants or "proposes".

Bernie Ecclestone, President and CEO of Formula One Management.
Photo by xpb.cc.

Of course FOM can make propositions regarding the future of F1, but not in the way they did this week, they already made the decisions without consulting the other parties involved, and that is absolutely not correct.

Today, eight days before the start of the Australian GP, Max Mosley confessed he was "led to believe" that the teams agreed with the new proposals, because his friend Bernie Ecclestone told him he had talked to the teams and said "they all agreed". Doesn't Mr. Mosley read the newspapers; doesn't he read what is going on the Internet for the last three months? Is he blind and deaf at the same time? Shouldn't he at least have checked with the FOTA whether Ecclestone's words were true? It makes you wonder whether Max Mosley is still suitable for the job, doesn't it? I have serious doubts whether FIA and FOM have even thought about the consequences their plans will have. But having said so, maybe they did think about the consequences, and purposely want to divide the power of the FOTA by splitting them into two camps, capped and non-capped teams, thus making it easier to keep the Max and Bernie show on the road. Divide and rule.

I think Formula One should take over the old but proven concept of democracy, all parties involved (including the fans) should respect each other, work closely together, think together, listen to each other, make decisions together, and at the same time continue to compete at the highest possible level. And this is not a dream, it is possible, but it will take lots of willpower and doesn't have anything to do with money.

All parties involved should sit around the table, discuss the future of Formula One, and should not leave that table before they have come up with a plan that is good for Formula One and is acceptable for all parties. Max and Bernie (and this is your wake-up call), the teams, drivers and fans are not happy with the game you played last week, especially the fact you decided not to listen to them and ignore their whishes hurts a lot. If nothing changes, you'd better watch out for incoming eggs and tomatoes the next time you show your face in the F1 paddock...

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About this article
Series General , Formula 1
Drivers Pedro de la Rosa , Eric Gilbert , Bernie Ecclestone
Teams Force India , Williams , Brawn GP