The Ferrari board confirmed today it will pull its team out of F1 if the FIA does not back down on its controversial plans for the 2010 rules.
Toyota and Red Bull/Toro Rosso have already voiced the same objections and several F1 news sites are indicating that Mercedes, Renault and BMW are prepared to do the same.
Once again, F1 is threatened by the prospect of a split. Might it ever come to that – or is this just the sports’ governing body and the teams playing hard ball?
The FIA’s plan to introduce advantageous technical rules for budget capped teams is at the heart of the matter.
Ferrari’s statement makes reference to its displeasure at how the FIA has handled the regulations talks, which seems a thinly-veiled criticism of Max Mosley’s governance with the FIA president elections five months away.
The importance of Ferrari
It is hard to believe Mosley would seriously be happy with driving Ferrari away.
At the same meeting where the budget cap was announced the FIA confirmed it would ban in-race refuelling from 2010. The teams had lobbied hard for this because of the cost of transporting 20 refuelling rigs around the world.
Mosley stood his ground at first, insisting that refuelling was a vital part of ‘The Show’. If he can’t see that, for a large number of fans, Ferrari are a much more important part of ‘The Show’, then he shouldn’t be running F1.
One man who does understand how important Ferrari are is Bernie Ecclestone. He’s been conspicuously trying to build bridges between the teams and the FIA since last week when Mosley uttered those infamous – and patently incorrect – words that F1 would not suffer without Ferrari.
Similarly, Ecclestone understands the importance of keeping the major car manufacturers in F1. Not only do they bring a substantial amount of money into Formula 1, but there are suggestions some of his deals with broadcasting companies are contingent upon teams like Ferrari appearing at the races.
Can budget capping work?
The FIA’s Tony Purnell has admitted that £30m (the original proposed budget limit) is the minimum they calculate an F1 team can be run for. A sensible solution to get to that limit would involve the teams gradually cutting their expenditure from one year to the next.
Instead Mosley has chosen the route of maximum antagonism – demanding teams slash their budgets by 90% overnight to hit a £40m limit (excluding marketing fees and driver salaries).
But all that pre-supposes that budget capping is feasible to begin with.
The FIA cannot demand that all F1 teams adhere to a budget cap as it cannot legally assume the right to inspect their finances. That’s why it has adopted the ‘two-tier’ solution – offering teams that voluntarily choose the budget cap massive performance advantages.
But the teams were never going to accept such an obvious manipulation of the rules without a fight.
The danger of a split
Some fans have suggested they would like to see a FOTA-led split in F1, with the car manufacturers forming their own series.
They ignore the lessons of history at their peril. Such a split destroyed the open-wheel racing scene in America. The once strong Indy Car championship has been relegated to the status of a minor national championship in America since its 1995 division.
A split in F1 would not only be a tragedy for the sport, but the whole of motor racing. There are no other major international motor racing championships that are a fraction as popular. The fans, the teams, the FIA, the money men – we would all be losers in this scenario.
Instead of petitioning for a split (which rather smacks of turkeys voting for Christmas) fans should be campaigning for an outbreak of common sense in the upper echelons of the sport.
The only sensible way to resolve this is for Luca di Montezemolo, as head of FOTA, to hammer out an agreement with Max Mosley and Bernie Ecclestone. I do not believe that Ecclestone and Mosley are any more likely to let Ferrari go now than they were four years ago, when they handed over $100m to keep them in the sport until 2012 (Where was Mosley’s “we don’t need Ferrari” sentiment then?)
FOTA need to get their act together and find a candidate for the October FIA election who will work with them, not against them. It is time F1 were governed responsibly without every little disagreement making international headlines and destroying the sport’s credibility.