Before the season began the F1 teams’ association (FOTA) declared they wanted to co-operate with the FIA, as regulators of F1, and Formula One Management, as the commercial owners, to work for the good of the sport. Luca Montezemolo declared:
Every sport needs a strong political authority and regulator because we are not in a circus. We are in a sport with rules and credibility, so we need strong commercial activities and we need a strong unanimous commitment by the players. This is the triangle we have in mind.
The substance of FOTA’s proposals got short shrift from the two organisations, headed up by Max Mosley and Bernie Ecclestone respectively.
But FOTA could guarantee a friendly ear at the FIA if they successfully backed a candidate of their own in the presidential election. Will they do it – and who could they pick?
Problems with the status quo
The first two races of 2009 laid bare the shortcomings in the Mosley-Ecclestone status quo.
After an exciting start to the season in Melbourne the stewards brought back bad memories of the worst of 2008 with a pair of highly questionable decisions.
Handing Sebastian Vettel a ten-place grid penalty for Malaysia was widely viewed as needless interference in a racing incident where neither Vettel nor Robert Kubica were significantly to blame.
The FIA’s blunders in Australia were exceeded by a truly disastrous decision on FOM’s part ahead of the Malaysian Grand Prix. Namely, ignoring local advice and holding the race at a time of day most susceptible to severe rain storms, and when there was no time for a rain-affected race to be resumed. The race was abandoned before three-quarter distance yet Bernie Ecclestone still refuses to admit his mistake.
What the teams want
The teams have many vested interests of their own and have shown a refreshingly open attitude to canvassing public interest in the sport on relevant topics. Their proposal for a modified scoring system came off the back of a survey of F1 fans – yet FOM and FIA are adamant they will introduced a ‘most wins’ system that hardly anyone wants in 2010.
Top of the teams’ agenda at the moment will be Mosley’s plans for allowing teams to run to a voluntary budget cap under which they adhere to a different set of technical regulations to uncapped teams. There are understandably many grave reservations about whether such a complicated plan is feasible, and many who believe the whole scheme is a ploy on Mosley’s part to divide the teams.
If FOTA are serious about getting their point of view taken seriously, they need someone in the FIA who is on their side. And this autumn’s FIA president elections give them a chance to do that.
The FIA elections
The president of the FIA is elected by representatives of the 219 automobile clubs that that make up the organisation. Mosley won a vote of confidence in his presidency following the sadomasochism scandal last year despite not having the support of the largest clubs. This is because the size of the clubs is not represented in their voting weight, as in a representative democracy. (See the FIA’s website for a map of the different member clubs).
However the same block that voted against Mosley last year might be persuaded to do so again – though a new candidate would need to win over many of the people who supported Mosley in 2008. Mosley carried 103 votes against 55 on that occasion.
Mosley promised not to run for election again in 2009 if he survived the vote of confidence in 2008. Going back on that promise – as many expect him to – may lose him the support of some who backed him last year.
Who could stand against Mosley?
So who could FOTA put forward as a candidate? Many have suggested Jackie Stewart, who has been an outspoken critic of Mosley’s. He is ten months older than Mosley (who turns 69 today), so on the fact of it age is hardly any greater reason for Stewart to count himself out of the running than Mosley.
After a long career in the sport as a driver, team owner, commentator and businessman, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Stewart once again ruled himself out of standing. But perhaps the increasing vehemence of his criticism of the current regime is a sign he might be prepared to stand against Mosley, at least if no-one else does?
Another name that has been mentioned in connection with a bid for the FIA presidency is Jean Todt. The former Ferrari team boss severed his ties with the Italian team earlier this year. But it is hard to see him winning the backing of FOTA – indeed, the degree of co-operation we see between the teams today would probably have been impossible while Todt was at the helm.
A final potential candidate is Nick Craw. Craw became president of the Automobile Competition Committee of the United States at the end of 2005 and has made inroads into the FIA, becoming its deputy president of sport in November. Tellingly, Mosley has publicly questioned whether Craw might be preparing to stand for election:
He is the president of ACCUS, which controls all the different forms of racing in the United States. With all this to contend with, he is probably not exactly looking for work.
If anyone does choose to stand against Mosley they will probably assume his tactics from 1991, when he beat Jean-Marie Balestre to the post: fly under the radar, gradually amass support, and catch the incumbent unaware.
But if FOTA wants its agenda taken seriously by the FIA, it needs to get its weight behind someone credible, and soon: Mosley is planning to announce whether he is running again in two months’ time.
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