You can accuse Max Mosley of many things, but you can’t accuse him of being consistent. The next two years will see at least three reversals of major policy decisions taken by Mosley during his 17-year presidency of the FIA.
Why the U-turns? Is Mosley being forced to take decisions he doesn’t agree with? Is it an admission that past policies have failed?
Mosley demanded a switch from slick to grooved tyres in 1998 as part of a package of changes aimed at slashing cornering speeds in F1 and improving safety. But next year slick tyres will return to the sport after a 12-year absence.
When he announced the change in 1997 it brought a critical reaction from drivers including champion-elect Jacques Villeneuve. The Canadian criticised Mosley’s decision in the harshest possible terms, for which Mosley had Villeneuve condemned by the World Motor Sports Council.
But events have proven Villeneuve’s suspicions about grooved tyres were well-founded. Aside from their ugly appearance, they demonstrably failed to contain escalating speeds. No other major motor racing series bothered to use them, apart from GP2, which got rid of them after a single season.
The re-introduction of slicks for 2009 has come hand-in-hand with a massive reduction in aerodynamic downforce. At the time grooved tyres were brought in Mosley was urged to reduce the size of car wings. It seems that would have been the better decision to take in the first place.
Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems
Mosley has made an enormous fuss about allowing teams to use Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems (KERS) from next season. He is very keen to tout the role they will play in emphasising Formula 1’s contribution green technologies.
That wasn’t his point of view in 1999, however, when Ilmor produced a KERS for McLaren capable of providing a 45bhp boost. Mosley banned the device from being used.
Having reversed his position he’s now trying to argue that the 80bhp systems to be introduced next year are a case study in how F1 technology benefits ordinary drivers.
But how much more powerful might those systems be if F1 teams had been developing for the last nine years? Then Mosley might really have something to boast about.
One of the first major decisions taken by Mosley to change the sporting regulations was the legalisation of refuelling in 1994, which had been banned after the 1983 season.
Refuelling was an idea imported from CART (Indy Car) racing, which was enjoying a surge in popularity at the time.
It did create an element of unpredictability in its first few years in F1 as teams grappled with the different strategic options it offered. Michael Schumacher and Benetton were the masters of the new dimension in race management. But after a couple of years the ‘surprise strategic twist’ was largely consigned to the dustbin, with Hungary ’98 a memorable exception.
While the likelihood of fuel strategy to produce interesting races has diminished, the problems it causes have multiplied. Fifteen years since its reintroduction the safety and reliability problems it causes have not been solved, as the multiple fires at the Hungaroring this year proved, along with Ferrari’s dramas at Valencia and Singapore.
Refuelling has also caused difficulty with safety car periods and has led to the creation of one of the most ill-conceived and unfair rules ever brought into F1 – the ‘pit lane closure’ rule. Its a Sword of Damocles that periodically ruins drivers’ races. Without it, Fernando Alonso might be a three-times world champion.
Despite opposition from Mosley, the Formula One Teams Association has successfully got rid of refuelling from 2010. Mosley said afterwards:
I was against banning them because in my opinion they were part of the show.
Presumably he hasn’t watched ‘the show’ for quite some time. I’m glad he’s been forced to get rid of refuelling.
More U-turns ahead
It seems increasingly likely that the next U-turn on the agenda will be the F1 points system. Mosley had it changed in 2003 to give points down to eighth place and reduce the margin of advantage between first and second place from four points to just two.
Although he is not enthusiastic about Ecclestone’s proposed ‘medals’ system, Mosley admits his last change to the points was a mistake:
Extending the points-paying positions to the top eight by reducing the difference between first and second was a mistake, but I’m against changing the points system too often. It disorientates people.
If only he felt the same way about qualifying. That’s been a myriad of U-turns over the last two seasons, switching between one, two- and three-part sessions, aggregate timing, single-lap sessions…
What do you think these U-turns say about Mosley’s political position? Are these all just examples of him changing his mind? Or is his hand being forced by the teams because of political weakness – perhaps in the aftermath of the sadomasochism controversy? Have your say in the comments.
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