Are FOTA a force for good in Formula 1?

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

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.