Is this F1′s worst crisis?

The FISA-FOCA war of 1980 had much in common with today's crisis
The FISA-FOCA war of 1980 had much in common with today's crisis

Hardly a day passes now without some new development in F1′s latest political crisis.

Formula 1 has had many similar rows in the past and, so far, it has managed to avoid disaster scenarios of teams withdrawing en masse and rival championships being formed.

So how concerned should we be about FOTA’s refusal to accept Max Mosley’s budget cap, and the threats to the future of F1? Is F1′s latest crisis worse than what it has been through in the past?

FISA versus FOCA

The FIA-FOTA row today echoes a similar dispute three decades ago between the governing body (FISA) and the Formula One Constructors’ Association (FOCA).

But there was one significant difference: back then Bernie Ecclestone, as boss of Brabham, headed up the teams’ association FOCA. Their legal adviser was a lawyer who had previously been involved in running an F1 team – Max Mosley.

Under Ecclestone’s guidance FOCA had made various advances for the teams – negotiating appearance fees, arranging travel to save money, negotiating TV rights (the fore-runner of FOM) and so on. But when Jean-Marie Balestre replaced Pierre Ugueux as President of FISA in 1978, he and Ecclestone soon found themselves on a collision course.

Over the coming years FISA and FOCA’s battle for authority over F1 was fought on many grounds.

Cancelled races

When the 1979 Swedish Grand Prix came under threat following the withdrawal of a sponsor Ecclestone announced at the 11th hour it was back on after the necessary money had been found. Balestre seized the opportunity to undermine Ecclestone, and refused to reinstate the event.

The following year a dispute over drivers’ licenses on the eve of the Spanish Grand Prix led to it being stripped of its status as a world championship event and proceeding without the participation of Ferrari, Alfa Romeo and Renault.

Breakaway championship threat

The same year an announcement by Balestre that FISA would take responsibility for paying start and prize money to the teams led Ecclestone to propose FOCA start a rival series – the World Professional Drivers’ Championship.

By now Balestre had the manufacturer trio plus Ligier on-side, while Ecclestone had his own team plus Williams, McLaren, Lotus and several other top teams. But Ecclestone’s plans for a rival championship fizzled out within a few weeks.

Events soon swung in his favour again as the technical rules became the next political battleground.

Cars with ‘ground effect’ aerodynamics had increased cornering speeds to unacceptable levels, contributing to huge and sometimes fatal accidents. Balestre declared the ground effect ‘skirts’ would be banned for 1981.

At first the FOCA teams insisted on competing with the skirts and turned up at the first round of 1981 in South Africa with them. The manufacturers kept their teams away, Balestre took away the race’s championship status, but the FOCA teams raced there anyway.

Finally the manufacturers’ resolve began to weaken. First Renault broke ranks, agreeing to compete at the ‘new’ season-opener at Long Beach, and soon the rest returned to the tracks too.

Then and now

In March that year the teams and FISA signed the first Concorde Agreement setting down the terms by which the championship would be contested. FOCA would retain responsibility for the financial management of the sport, and the FIA would be the regulator.

The precise division of those responsibilities has not remained consistent since then. Today we have Ecclestone in charge of the commercial arm of F1 – but no longer beholden to the teams – and Mosley is, of course, president of the FIA.

FOTA hope their refusal to enter next year’s championship under the proposed rules will force Mosley to accept their alternative suggestions to his ‘budget cap’ proposal. The Concorde Agreement – which has not been renewed for several years – is back on the agenda, and they want a new one signed by Thursday.

Mosley has explored various avenues of resistance to the teams. He has attracted a range of new start-up teams that claim to want to enter in 2010, presumably to show FOTA they are expendable. Ramming the point home, he told the world how F1 can survive without its oldest and most historic team, Ferrari.

He’s encouraged FOTA to sign up before the Friday deadline, and suggested – rather disingenuously – that he might listen to them in future if they do.

And he’s pressing the legal angle – insisting Ferrari are contractually bound to race next year, and threatening legal action against the other manufacturers.

So far F1′s political crisis has not spilled over into outright action. We have had no races cut from the calendar and no hint of a repeat of the Indianapolis 2005 farce.

But the present situation cannot go on much longer without having serious repercussions for the championship.

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84 thoughts on “Is this F1′s worst crisis?”

  1. I believe there are now 4 possible scenarios:

    1) The FIA gives in and accepts (most of) FOTA’s proposals for 2010 and beyond, and the FOTA teams commit themselves to F1 until 2012; most of the new teams cannot compete in 2010 due to the gliding scale budget cap.

    2) FOTA gives in and joins the 2010 F1 Championship on the FIA’s conditions, stating exsisting deals like Ferrari’s signed Concord Agreement as reason they could not go forward with their protest.

    3) The FIA announces the 2010 entry list with Williams, Force India and the likes of Prodrive, USF1, et al, alienating FOTA even further; FOTA pushes ahead with plans for a new F1-like championship starting in 2010, possibly based on (part of) the A1GP circuit and TV deals.

    4) The FIA announces the 2010 entry list like above, but there is no rival series, and the likes of Ferrari and McLaren opt for, say, Le Mans and the (A)LMS, while Renault and BMW Sauber are sold to Flavio Briatore and, say, Peter Sauber respectively, who join F1 on the FIA’s conditions, and Toyota closes up shop.

    1. Ferrari might be able to break away and do Le Mans etc, but I think McLaren would climb down and enter the FiA championship if it came to that, as would Brawn.

      That said I do agree that we could see Renault, Toyota and BMW leave the sport at the end of the season and their operations being picked up by new team owners, possibly except Toyota who’s overheads are probably on the high side…

    2. Judging by the egos involved I would imagine only scenarios 3 and 4 are possible – although I think in the latter Ferrari, McLaren, Brawn and RedBull would reluctantly join F1 leaving as you say Toyota to quit and Renault to become Briatore and BMW reverting to Sauber again.

      1. As an aside I hope FOTA do break away ditching both Bernie and Max in one go. They could create something like Formula A instead.

        They could then get all the commercial money for themselves to finance their campaigns which would mean they wouldnt have to go cap in hand to sponsors in the ongoing economic crisis – and they could probably afford to charge less than F1 as well. They would still have to reduce costs mind.

        Then they could also negotiate more reasonable fees with all the popular classic circuits that Bernie has bled dry like Silverstone, Montreal, Hockenheim, Nurburgring, Indianapolis, Magny Cours etc and abandon all the far flung ones like Turkey, Bahrain, Abu Dhabi and Malaysia where there is no interest and are only in F1 to fill Bernie’s back pocket.

        This could then translate to lower ticket costs for the fans as well.

        Finally they could implement some decent rules such as their points system instead of the awful medals proposals.

        Whats in a name? The Premiership has swiftly eclipsed Division 1 which has disappeared from memory. Its the ethos of a sport that counts.

        1. I’m not a football expert but wasn’t division 1 just re-named the premiership? It wasn’t a case of a breakaway championship being formed, which would be extremely risky and in all probably hugely damaging for Formula 1.

          1. I’m no football expert either, but I actually think the above poster’s is quite apt.

            From Google:

            At the close of the 1991 season, a proposal for the establishment of a new league was tabled that would bring more money into the game overall. The Founder Members Agreement, signed on 17 July 1991 by the game’s top-flight clubs, established the basic principles for setting up the FA Premier League.[9] The newly formed top division would have commercial independence from the Football Association and the Football League, giving the FA Premier League license to negotiate its own broadcast and sponsorship agreements. The argument given at the time was that the extra income would allow English clubs to compete with teams across Europe.[10]

            In 1992 the First Division clubs resigned from the Football League en masse and on 27 May 1992 the FA Premier League was formed as a limited company working out of an office at the Football Association’s then headquarters in Lancaster Gate.[5] This meant a break-up of the 104-year-old Football League that had operated until then with four divisions; the Premier League would operate with a single division and the Football League with three. There was no change in competition format; the same number of teams competed in the top flight, and promotion and relegation between the Premier League and the new First Division remained on the same terms as between the old First and Second Divisions.

            So in essence the FOTA teams could form another series, possibly Formula Premier or similar and set themselves up in a similar way to the Premier League, being above F1 and F1 could become just another feeder series.

            This is not what I want to happen, but I could see how it could work, if done right…

      1. Did they lose it for Ireland then?
        I remember when I heard a few years back that Setanta had got the pay-to-view contract that I tried going for it as we get Setanta under Sky. Sadly, it was only for Irish viewers (because ITV had the UK presumably).
        Who has the F1 contract in Ireland now then?
        I know there are many very unhappy DTM viewers since Setanta got that contract.

        1. Setanta Ireland does still have Formula 1 coverage but I’m not sure how long Setanta will last. It owes money to the Scottish Football League (€3 million i think).

          I, for one, prefer the BBC coverage anyway. The BBC’s coverage is far far better, except for a certain race commentator >:(

          Can you guess who it is??

          I’ll give you a couple of hints….

          1) It’s not Martin Brundle.
          2) Brawn from Red Bull from Ferrari from Mclaren.
          3) Awkward silence……

          1. it’s more annoying when he says: “brawn from brawn, from redbull from red bull, from ferrari from williams from ferrari”

  2. I think the biggest problem here is that people are making up their minds before they know all the facts. I was just arguing this very case on another forum, where a guy said that if it came down to a choice between Mosley or a breakaway series, he’d take the breakway series. When I explained to him the half-dozen excellent reasons why a breakway series would be doomed – ie FOTA cannot compete and play at the same time, that a championship could not be organised in six months at the same time as new cars get developed and so on – he still claimed that Mosley’s comments about joining now and negotiating later would mean the teams “might” be listened to later on.

    The problem is that rather than take each decision on its individual faults and benefits, people judge Mosley in a snowball fashion. I’m no fan of the man, but occasionally he talks sense: if the teams were to join now and negotiate later, they’re establishing their place in the 2010 World Championship, but they are not conceding defeat. and they will have more time to work everyhting out rather than rush it all in the last week.

    Most of the fans, however, are clamouring for any excuse to see Mosley kicked out. The problem is that no-one has thought so far ahead as to who might be a viable repalcement, and naturally they cannot offer assurances that Mosley’s successor would not be any worse than he is.

    1. Jean Todt is your viable replacement. He wont be able to break Mosley’s hold on the FIA whose governance structure is as flaky as the one in early 1900s Britain.

    2. A replacement for Mosley is easy – Nick Craw is FIA vice president and the obvious successor therefore. He is the USA’s representative to the FIA and important for the future of F1 in that he has a long history of involvement in motor sport on both sides of the Atlantic.

      Your reasons for denying the possibility of a breakaway series are precisely why the possible involvement of Carmelo Ezpeleta in such an endeavour is so interesting. There is no need for FOTA to oversee a new series although they would be the driving force in setting it up.

    3. I agree completely P.M.

      FOTA is not in this for the fans, or for the “spirit of F1″ or any other romanticized garbage. They are in it for FOTA. They want a bigger piece of the money generator that is F1. Both Max & Bernie lose with their ascendancy. I don’t think that any true F1 fan wants the team bosses sitting around at the beginning of the season, deciding the rules & therefore pecking order for the year. I want competition to happen on track! I hate to say it, but so do Max & Bernie. After all if their product is boring, who will buy it? IMHO the FIA’s vision for 2010 = new teams, new rules, new technology. Sounds great to me.

      1. They are in it for FOTA. They want a bigger piece of the money generator that is F1. Both Max & Bernie lose with their ascendancy. I don’t think that any true F1 fan wants the team bosses sitting around at the beginning of the season, deciding the rules & therefore pecking order for the year. I want competition to happen on track! I hate to say it, but so do Max & Bernie.

        If you’re trying to sell the idea that there is someone more interested in making money than Bernie Ecclestone then let me be the first to say I disagree!

        1. Actually I think that they want Bernie’s money (not saying that I disagree with the FOTA teams on this matter – he should pay out more IMO). Bernie is simply protecting what he sees as his. The big teams need more money (Bernie is potentially a very lucrative source) to feed their ridiculous budgets & something has to give for this sport to be sustainable.

          Again, unless I’m mistaken, the teams want performance based payouts from Bernie’s management company drastically increased, while currently this will favor Brawn & Red Bull, look back at the past 10 years, who gets the extra cash? Ferrari & McLaren.

          I don’t for a minute believe that anyone out-greeds Bernie, but for sure, no comes close to taking every advantage possible both on & off track as Ferrari (the ‘F’ in FOTA;).

  3. We find ourselves really concerned – more on a gut than on an intellectual level, but nonetheless – that something is going to happen to mess up the “last” British Grand Prix to be held at Silverstone. That would be unforgiveable and would send us off for a rebrand into tintops and sportscars quicker than you could say “I want a Brawn painted silver, thanks.”

    But despite that we still maintain that reform is desperately needed in F1. Maybe not Mosley’s current politics-driven games-playing and Bernie’s bid to recover the last few remaining coins down the back of the sofa, but reform nevertheless.

    Costs have to come down, in a way that doesn’t dump half the Motorsport Valley workforce into the dole queue. Grids need to be full, if not oversubscribed. David Richards commands a fair amount of respect in the fan community – if he repeatedly turns down the chance to enter Prodrive under the current regime, isn’t something badly out of kilter?

    And are the people that are so thrilled to have Brawn GP to support really arguing that others should be denied the same pleasure in the future when new teams enter and make a real success of that entry?

    It’s a tragedy that KERS is falling by the wayside in terms of the wider benefits that technology could have had (although we freely admit it didn’t seem to help the racing that much). If you missed it, a technical director on the London Underground said he was amazed with its potential. F1 couldn’t buy positive publicity like that.

    It’s no use looking to the past or trying to hang on to an unsustainable present – F1 needs a future, and that inevitably means new teams. Personally, we’re not too impressed that they’ve all decided to start calling themselves Lotus, Brabham or whatever. We would prefer them to have the confidence to establish their own branding and make their mark on the same terms as Frank Williams, Bruce McLaren or even that bloke – what’s he called, now? Oh yes, Enzo Ferrari.

    Perhaps the era of the manufacturers is coming to an end. And, if F1 isn’t to follow it, the sport needs to find a sustainable model for the future.

    Our two pennyworth, anyway.

    1. ‘And are the people that are so thrilled to have Brawn GP to support really arguing that others should be denied the same pleasure in the future when new teams enter and make a real success of that entry? ‘

      Despite the good story it makes even Ross Brawn himself has emphasised that his team can not be considered ‘a new team’. It is coming off the back of a massive budget input by Honda that far exceeded the £40 million Max wants.

      1. This is a perfectly good point – especially given the fact that Brawn has thrown his hat so thoroughly into the manufacturers’ ring in the FOTA row.

        But does that mean we should totally discount the energy that new teams can bring into the sport because this isn’t an example that perfectly matches the circumstances? Surely not.

        1. I’m going to take a wild guess that Honda have a repurchasing clause which is possibly why Brawn has thrown his hat back into the manufacturer’s ring.

      2. Excellent summation! Couldn’t agree more now that you have clarified what I have been struggling to have F1′ners explain to me. Now it all makes sense as to why Brawn are doing so well. Is it then also possible that Ross Brawn had played a part in Honda’s down fall, once he’d built a team he could win a championship with? Has this already been discussed?

    2. While I disagree with your reasoning I do agree on one thing.
      A series called F1 can take whatever form the FIA decides & there lies the problem.
      The series I have known & think of as F1 has never been a low budget, low technology environment. Just as the new Lotus & Brabham teams will only be trading off the names of the great teams of the past, Max` new F1 will be nothing like the glory days & will only be trading off the name that those historic teams helped to build.

      1. £40million is NOT low budget, it’s what they were spending back in the late 80′s and 90′s and no-one then was complaining that F1 was a low-budget, low-tech sport.

        I fully support the idea of capped budgets with much more freedom in the technical regs so that the teams will have the chance to come up with new ideas…

        1. £40million is a lot of money, but to me it seems too low for the budget cap to be set at. We can’t really base the current level on 1980’s or 90’s levels because of inflation and also what was cutting edge technology then obviously won’t be now and the modern day equivalent technology probably will cost more too.

          But considering the proposed cap doesn’t include things such as engine costs or driver salaries the actual running cost for a team could be double that I suppose.

          I remember watching a programme on some new fighter jet a few years ago and it commented on how each generation on plane costs more and more, and they said a joke going around was that in the future planes would cost so much the military would only be able to afford to buy one. In the morning the air force would have it, in the afternoon the navy and in the evening the army.

          Anyway back to F1, the team which has the best idea of what the budget cap should be is Williams. They are an independent team with a long history in F1 who exist only to race, they are also the only team who have been on the grid for a few years and are not owned by a billionaire or backed by a manufacturer.

          If Sir Frank Williams stated what he think the budget cap should be I would take a lot more notice of what he said than anyone else in F1 either FOTA or FIA.

        2. Sorry Adrian the 1980′s was some time ago. I remember paying 45 cents (Australian) for 1litre of petrol in the mid 80′s now you’re paying $1.20 that nearly triple. So on that basis alone 40million in the 80′s is more like 110million today.

  4. I imagine Mosley will announce the entry list as:

    1.Williams
    2.Force India

    3.Prodrive/Aston Martin
    4.Campos
    5.USGPE
    6.Lola
    7.Litespeed/Lotus

    8.Ferrari
    9.Mclaren
    10.Red Bull
    11.Brawn
    12.Torro Rosso
    13. A slot for FB either as Renault or Force Flav ;)

    If the teams don’t buckle today then Mosley will do it and be damned.

    However I think that FOTA will blink first on this one – even though they seem to have everyone else on their side. They will sign up to safeguard their future then keep bitching about this until The FIA elections.

    1. I don`t think the core FOTA members will fold so easily.
      At root the question is why should they waste 40 million on something that gives them no real tangible benefit other than a form of advertising which could quite easily be doomed to link their names with an utter farce?

      1. I believe the manufacturers submitted an entry to the FIA whereby the Powers That Be have to accept all of them or none at all.

    2. If indeed it is the list for 2010, then I am with it!
      It will have traditional forces in the likes of Ferrari, McLaren and Williams joined by newly formed teams, which could indeed give their big brothers a run for their money (Like Brawn this year).

  5. All I know for sure is that there will definately be one loser out of all of this; us, the fans. The situation that F1 is stuck in now owes little to logic and what’s best for thesport, but pointless politicking and a battle of egos.

    Personally, I’m fully behind the stance of FOTA and think that FIA/FOM have pushed their luck/the teams too far.

  6. I think Bernie would rather get rid of the FIA mangaging F1 than lose all of the Manufacture teams.

    In reality Bernie and FOM have the most to lose here.

    1. Very true, FOM face many courtroom battles and a financial crisis should they lose the likes of Ferari. The Italian TV rights holders have told Bernie they will cancel already should Ferrari leave.

    2. From what I understand, FOTA has been asking for a much bigger piece of Bernie’s FOM pie hence his notable silence regarding this issue. He definitely won’t favor the greedy car companies over his old buddy Max. FOTA wants control of the rules, control of the rights & control of the money. Thus he who controls FOTA, controls F1 (should FOTA get what it wants). IMHO this would be bad for those of us who enjoy the sporting nature of F1 & likely bad for the quality of racing as well.

  7. I just hope FOTA do not fold, they cannot be seen to lose any more ground, I fully understand why Williams and FI submitted to 2010 but the remaining 8 must remain solid. For me F1 stands for the ultimate in technical development and driver ability, it must not lose this identity, it’s why most of us follow it. Granted to those that argue that we must cap costs, perhaps things were getting out of control, but the reason teams do not survive in F1 is not always cost based. The current economic climate is fairly unique, and once this subsides we will see considerable investment return to the sport. Personally for me the answer at least in part should come from the distribution of wealth, and proper future exploitation of revenue streams, not just TV rights but F1 brand rights and useage, as the pinnacle of motorsport and with the sheer number of viewers/fans more should be made from the image. New teams could then be given extra incentives and aid to compete. Giving new teams a leg up must be preferential to cutting existing teams down.

  8. CVC are paying £2mil/week interest on the loans they took to buy into Bernie’s empire. Someone somewhere is effectively holding a £2billion mortgage on the asset that is F1!

    Meanwhile Max and Bernie appear to be trying everything to shoot the golden goose!

    Max and the FIA are fine, F1 being just one small part of the whole thing.

    Bernie would probably quite happily let the whole house of cards fall down, getting CVC and whoever is behind them off his back. He’s probably got enough cash stashed to remain comfortable for a couple of years and would take no blame for the collapse, pointing to the spat between FIA and FOTA.

    The only losers would be CVC and their faceless backers. A few would wake up to horses’ heads as bed-mates!

    FOTA could then get on and organise their own championship – might even get Bernie on board for his experience and contacts!

    New F1 and without the huge debt to service, the organisers wouldn’t need to charge circuits stupid amounts then maybe Silverstone, Spa, Interlagos, etc. would start to look a whole lot better!

      1. I hate to say this but the Royal Bank Of Scotland have supplied most of the loans to CVC so in reality the real losers would be the UK Taxpayers (seeing as they have a majority stake in RBS)

        1. Or in otherwords if CVC go bust the the commercial rights holder to F1 is the Royal Bank of Scotland(?)

          Does that mean the UK public just bought out F1 lol

        2. CVC would still have to pay off their debts to the bank, even if F1 collapsed.

          CVC are a huge multinational investment company with an annual turnover of over $80billion.

          While the collapse of F1 would hit their profits it wouldn’t threaten the parent company and they’d still be able to afford to pay off their debts, the UK taxpayers are safe from this one.

  9. A lot of truth in what you say there, SteveK.
    Bernie has so many other ties to F1 (apart from just being a CVC employee) by way of his companies that I think he would still want to see some sort of decent sport come out of this. Whether that’s with the FIA is another matter, of course. He still stands to be the biggest loser of the 3 “sides” if F1 just goes completely down the drain, though.

  10. i dont get why they all cant (on both sides) reach a compromise for the good of the sport!
    INDYCAR is a good enuff reason to do it, as it didnt happen there and look at that series now………

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