Fresh evidence of the failures of the status quo in Formula 1 have emerged over the past few days.
Whether it’s the rumours about Max Mosley’s close ally Alan Donnelly’s involvement with Manor, claims the prospective 2010 entrants were denied a slot unless they elected to use Cosworth power, or Bernie Ecclestone praising Adolf Hitler, F1 is finding itself mired ever deeper in sleaze.
Getting things done
Bernie Ecclestone’s remarks to The Times over the weekend were certainly not the first occasion F1’s tycoon billionaire has criticised democracy and talked up the virtues of dictatorship. But it was the first time he tried to justify it with reference to Adolf Hitler, which is why he got his fingers burnt:
In a lot of ways, terrible to say this I suppose, but apart from the fact that Hitler got taken away and persuaded to do things that I have no idea whether he wanted to do or not, he was in the way that he could command a lot of people able to get things done.
I hate democracy as a political system. It stops you getting things done. I think people should have decisions made for them. Torture is just an old-fashioned way of getting things done.
The arguments about what exactly Ecclestone might have meant by his Hitler remarks have already begun in the forum. It’s not hard to see why Ecclestone’s words have been met with widespread revulsion – he is praising a man whose actions led to the deaths of millions. Ecclestone’s self-contradicting attempt to exonerate Hitler from his worst crimes is perhaps even more alarming. Nor is it any surprise that German politicians are now refusing to meet with him.
To the outside world, it now appears that F1 is run by a Hitler apologist and a son of a close friend of Hitler. Whatever spurious arguments are concocted to defend the supposed virtues of dictatorship, this is not a good image to project.
The Cosworth connection
The Daily Telegraph this morning reported that the F1 teams which submitted applications to compete in 2010 were refused entry if they did not select Cosworth as their engine supplier. Cosworth had previously won the FIA’s tender to supply discounted engines to new F1 teams.
Should we believe the story, which is based on quotes from an unidentified team principals?
I am inclined to. It matches another rumour I heard over the Goodwood weekend, that Prodrive’s entry for 2010 was rejected because the team had arranged a deal to use Mercedes engines instead of Cosworths. Added to that is this telling quote from Manor F1 team principal John Booth:
We wanted to be independent of a manufacturer because we don’t want to be used as a political pawn – it was a conscious decision not to approach them.
If he’d said “we picked Cosworth because they were cheaper” I’d’ve believed him. Instead this leads me to wonder who persuaded Booth’s team that choosing a manufacturer’s engines would be a “political” decision? I certainly don’t think his team has avoided becoming a “political pawn”. (Again, more discussion of this in the forum.)
The problem with dictatorships
On his blog, James Allen suggests we should look beyond Ecclestone’s eagerness to overlook Hitler’s crimes and instead take what he is saying at face value: that dictatorship has worked very well for Formula 1. Allen goes further, arguing this is and has always been what’s best for motor racing.
I don’t believe it is. The dictatorial leanings of F1′s leaders is at the root of the problems the sport now faces.
Under the Ecclestone-Mosley hegemony, F1’s commercial rights were surrendered by the FIA for a pittance – compared to what Ecclestone then extracted from CVC for its stake in the sport.
CVC now need to make huge profits from F1 in order to pay for the loan it took to purchase it. And so the huge revenues F1 generates are returned not to the competitors or the circuits, but a private equity firm that brings nothing to the sport.
Would the teams have allowed this inequitable deal to go ahead if they had a say? I doubt it. Would Ecclestone have been able to execute it if he had been accountable to interests other than his own? Again, no.
Has dictatorship harmed F1? Yes it has.
Update: Ecclestone has done the sensible thing and apologised in an interview with the Jewish Chronicle.