Are FOTA a force for good in Formula 1?

Ferrari President Luca di Montezemolo is also the FOTA President

Ferrari President Luca di Montezemolo is also the FOTA President

The Formula One Teams’ Association meets tomorrow to discuss changes it would like to introduce in F1. Writing on F1-Pitlane Dan Brunell declared:

I hope with the teams having a new sense of power with FOTA, they can stand up to the FIA.

Are FOTA a positive influence in F1? Do they have the strength to impose their vision of F1’s future on Max Mosley and Bernie Ecclerstone? Are their ideas any good? Here’s how they’ve performed on some of the key issues in F1 today.

The F1 calendar

In the last two years F1 has lost the United States, Canada and France from the F1 calendar, and the German round is under threat as well.

In each case the circumstances are the same: Ecclestone wants more money, as he has grown increasingly accustomed to governments (mainly but not exclusively Asian ones) paying through the nose to bring F1 to their shores. Many ‘traditional’ F1 venues cannot afford the sharp increase in fees.

The manufacturers generally embrace new markets (China) but some are less valuable to them (Bahrain, Abu Dhabi). Despite plunging new car sales the North American market remains hugely important and having no Grand Prix there at all for the first time in five decades beggars belief. Several team bosses have said they want it back.

The German car manufacturers have expressed concern at the potential loss of their home race and supported the idea that F1 must keep events at traditional venues.

But so far FOTA have not shown any ability to influence Ecclestone’s choice of F1 destinations in line with their wishes. More’s the pity, in my opinion, as the USA, Canada, France and Germany are four countries that should always be on the F1 schedule.

Technical rules

FOTA’s first showdown came when representatives Luca di Montezemolo (Ferrari) and John Howett (Toyota) met Max Mosley in response to his demands for proposals from the teams on how to reduce costs.

Details of what was agreed at the meeting are here: FIA-FOTA agreement: Teams? proposals accepted as Mosley backs down on KERS

The original plan for manufacturers to supply customer engines at a cost of ??10m per season has since been revised to ??5m per season – in line with one of Mosley’s original requests.

At the same time, Mosley has been pushing for the adoption of standard engines all built to the same standard, which the manufacturers are strongly against. However a few of them (notably Honda and Renault) have proposed equalising the performance of the current engines for 2009.

Did Mosley play them – or is the battle still going on?

Pitpass reckons ‘the old Mosley magic’ was key in turning FOTA around on the subject of cheap engine supplies:

Following Tuesday’s meeting of the Formula One Teams Association, it is believed that, yet again, Max Mosley has worked his magic, leaving the teams thinking that they have made a decision whereby they are merely agreeing to what he really wanted in the first place.

When setting out his case for standard customer engines, the FIA President offered two other options, knowing exactly how manufacturers such as Mercedes, Ferrari, Honda, Renault and Toyota would feel about running, for example, a re-badged Zytek powerplant.

[...]

As long-time Mosley observers will have predicted, it appears that the teams are looking at the third option – better known as the more acceptable of the three evils.

Did Mosley force FOTA into accepting the solution he wanted? If so, then why is the FIA pressing ahead with its plans for standard engines which, Pitpass suggests, was only ever part of an elaborate bluff?

Sporting rules

FOTA proposed dropping refuelling, Mosley put his foot down

FOTA proposed dropping refuelling, Mosley put his foot down

Refuelling

One of the first suggestions of changes to F1 that FOTA wished to push for was the banning of refuelling. That got a positive reaction from me and many (though not all) of you.

But Max Mosley quickly quashed the idea, saying at the time he was not interested in implementing ideas that might alter the quality of ‘the show’.

Qualifying

Some FOTA members have expressed a desire to change qualifying. They propose an all-new ‘knock-out’ system where every car goes on track and the slowest car on each lap is eliminated, until a few cars are left which then have a shoot-out for pole position.

The proposal drew mixed reactions. Clive on F1 Insight was a fairly positive about the idea:

I suppose that it would be quite entertaining, with tension mounting as drivers dropped out and the survivors trying to avoid that bad lap that puts them in the danger zone… So I am guardedly in favor of the change.

Ollie on BlogF1 was less receptive:

I?ve never really been a fan of knock-out systems as it only reduces the number of potentially odd possibilities, one-off specials and rain-induced pole positions from the back-of-the-grid teams.

And I’m not keen either:

If the teams can agree to such a drastic overhaul of qualifying, could they not just as easily agree to amend the present system so that Q3 takes place with the cars using low fuel? That?s what I?d like to see.

Is it a good idea or not? Tomorrow’s meeting will show whether FOTA gets behind the plan and tries to get it approved by the FIA. Similarly, FOTA will discuss Ecclestone’s ‘gold medals’ plan in the same meeting (more on that tomorrow).

One for all and all for one?

Unity will always be a worry for FOTA. Their ten constituents represent different companies with different needs, and all are intensely competitive.

FOTA are ripe for exploitation: if one team manager feels he can gain a competitive advantage by selling out the other nine, he could be tempted. So far FOTA have proceeded cautiously and avoided falling prey to ‘divide and conquer’ tactics.

But it’s clear some of the business before them is only supported by some of the teams: equalising engine power and changing qualifying, for example.

In a bid to maintain unity they have set the bar for agreement on decisions quite high. Existing business must gain the unanimous support of all ten teams to be approved; new business requires a two-thirds majority, which means seven out of ten.

The potential downside to that is FOTA risks rendering itself incapable of taking tough decisions when the time calls for it.

Good or bad, weak or strong?

F1’s political sphere is especially murky and uncertain territory. Only a handful of people really know what goes on behind closed doors – which proposals are serious, and which are throwaway remarks to the press that get blown out of proportion.

I thought FOTA’s proposals in response to Mosley’s request for cost-cutting were sensible and I know from reading your comments how strongly many of you feel about the idea of standard engines in F1. I am not yet convinced that Mosley’s plans were a bluff.

But I was alarmed by FOTA’s qualifying proposal. It seems utterly unnecessary when F1 is faced with far more serious problems. Is it symptomatic of difficulties FOTA is having reaching consensus? Frankly I hope it is a minor suggestion that has simply received too much attention and will be largely ignored tomorrow while FOTA focuses on the more serious matters at hand.

What do you think of FOTA? Are they strong or weak? Are their proposals largely good or usually bad? Have your say in the comments.

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11 comments on Are FOTA a force for good in Formula 1?

  1. The FOTA has actually survived a lot longer and have done a lot more than I ever expected when Bernie announced it. I figured that they would be a puppet organization for Bernie to use as leverage against Max and the FIA to get what he want.

    To an extent that has been true. Bernie has been wise to let the teams take the led. It helps for once Ferrari and the rest of the teams are basically on the same page now. That alone shows how out of control many of the rules, regulations, and the sport in general has become.

  2. Bernie and Max have set up FOTA purely as an arena for the Manufacturers and Teams to squabble in. Bernie and Max are playing them all for fools and will refuse any sensible ideas they come up with, while implementing their own even sillier ideas on a ‘take it or get out’ basis. I know there is little proof of that yet, but none of the teams have refused to play as yet….
    Also, all the time Bernie says ‘I know everyone agrees with me’, he is forcing FOTA to come to an agreement, playing the political game very shrewdly, and making the FOTA members ask ‘who told him we agreed?’.
    Its a very clever ploy by Bernie and Max to use Ferrari to keep control of the other teams, and at the same time have a useful way of blaming everybody else if nothing gets agreed. Although both Bernie and Max will implement their proposals no matter what anybody else says, and apparently even if it means losing Teams, Manufacturers, Circuits, Fans and Drivers!
    (As an aside, shouldn’t Max and the FIA be more concerned with making the rules understandable and consistant than with the look of the ‘Show’?)

  3. Only time will tell with FOTA whether they are strong or weak. I hope they realise that their association can be a strong one if they all stick together and do what they believe is right for the sport and not be ‘pushed’ into using the same engine for every car.
    Yes the cost has to come down but the same engine in every car? What a sad day that will be for F1.
    Would a Ferrari be a Ferrari without a ferrari engine or a mclaren without a merc engine? etc etc
    I have more faith in FOTA than the ‘crazy 2′, i would like the manufacturers to still build their own engines with a price cap in place, surely that is better than ripping the heart out of the sport?
    Qualifying should be run with the same amount of fuel per car for each session and keep the same knock out system.

  4. Keith, Do you’ve have an article (or a link) which summarizes the entire 2009 rules & regulation changes?

  5. Can FOTA be a force for good? Yes, it can be but only time will tell if it will be. Unity is the key – the teams need to focus on the interests they share rather than those they don’t. One advantage FOTA has over the now defunct FOCA is that it represents all teams, including Ferrari.

    Max and Bernie are cunning negotiators who will often say and do anything to seize the initiative and get what they want. FOTA needs a similarly ruthless figurehead to dictate the agenda, or it’ll never be competing on even terms. If Max and/or Bernie can divide and conquer the teams then they will without a second thought.

    The standard engine gambit is, I reckon, a negotiating ploy to force the teams to deliver on their promise of cheap customer engine deals. The threat of a standard engine has to be kept real to ensure that the agreed alternative doesn’t falter. Low cost customer engines have been promised by the teams for some time but not delivered – Eddie Jordan recently cited this as his reason for selling his team to Midland.

    But that doesn’t mean that teams shouldn’t take a standard engine as a serious threat to their interests – if they don’t push on and do what they’ve agreed to on customer engines then standard engines may a reality. I can’t see Max backing down if he’s pushed into a corner on the issue – that Formula 2 appears to be going ahead for 2009 is a timely warning…

  6. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 3rd December 2008, 10:37

    Mani – I’m working on one at the moment, but there could still be further changes in time for next season. In the meantime you can find relevant articles here:

    http://www.f1fanatic.co.uk/category/issues/rules/

  7. SoLiD said on 3rd December 2008, 11:34

    I think they can be a force in F1.
    But Max and Bernie are very smart and they will play their cards like they want it.
    Like with the engines, they can propose a very very bad id to just get their original ‘not so bad’ id.
    Because they know that most teams won’t run a standard engine. That would be just too silly, and you want the likes of toyota, honda, etc to be happy!

  8. F1 needs someone to stand upto Max and Bernie, but can it be FOTA? I don’t think so. Max is the master politician and Bernire the shrewd businessman, and they still have most of the power. FOTA may win some small battles but sadly in the end Max and Bernie will probably still come out on top.

  9. Too Good said on 3rd December 2008, 15:10

    Just repeating what has already been covered in other comments. The manufacturers and team principles have conflicting interests (e.g. Briatore is demanding 15000 Kms testing cap be dropped, Ferrari never adhered to test limits in GPMA days and they were not part of GPMA). Bernie/Max have manipulated these conflict of interests and made their position safer. As such I won’t be surprised if FOTA goes in same direction as GPMA

  10. I was pleased to first hear of the creation of the FOTA, but I wondered just how much punch it would have when the teams were forced to square off with Max and Bernie. This meeting, in my eyes, is a golden opportunity to see just what the teams can do about several key issues. The calendar debate is one that I will be keeping a close eye on- not just because I am hoping for F1 to return here to North America, but mostly because the FOTA seems to have done little about it while GPs fall of the schedule at an alarming rate.

    As for the other issues, if the FOTA is to have any impact, it will take a united front led by the group’s powerbrokers (Hello, Luca!!!) to see them stand a chance of getting things done their way. Bottom line, the FOTA is a good deal and a step in the right direction, but it remains to be seen just how much it gets accomplished.

  11. A committee of competing interests will never out perform a dictatorship of one. Or in this case two (Max and Bernie).

    I’ve always maintained that the teams should set the bar for racing related interests, Bernie control the series scheduling, and the FIA with safety. Unfortunately the teams have never been able to form a united front on much of anything, with Ferrari usually leading the way in self interested cut outs.

    Will Ferrari maintain the unity required to get what FOTA allegedly want, or will the teams fall apart in spasms of self centered issues?

    The above is the only reason that Max can take the lead in foisting his blurred vision on the sport. The teams generally can gain no consensus on anything important.

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