F1 2009: Year of controversy (Part 2)

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

Mosley's budget cap demands drove F1 to the brink of destruction
Mosley's budget cap demands drove F1 to the brink of destruction

It was the year F1 almost split in two: the summer of 2009 was dominated by the row over budget caps.

When the FIA and the teams finally reached an agreement on reducing costs it briefly seemed F1’s season of scandal might be over. But then came word of some extraordinary allegations from Nelson Piquet Jnr

Budget caps and the FOTA crisis

F1 went into meltdown on the British Grand Prix weekend
F1 went into meltdown on the British Grand Prix weekend

Max Mosley’s attempts to force the teams to stick to a spending limit in 2010 briefly threatened to destroy F1 entirely, and ended up costing the FIA president his job.

The F1 teams’ association, formed last year, were almost entirely united in opposition to the budget caps. They also criticised Mosley’s governance of the sport and demanded a greater say in how it is run.

Wiliams and Force India broke ranks to support the FIA. They joined three new entrants, Campos, Manor and USF1, who are set to race in F1 next year.

The FIA selected the trio after inviting new entries to the sport – but there were complaints that only teams that toed the FIA line and agreed to use Cosworth engines were given approval. This row is still going on: yesterday N.Technology’s court case against the FIA was dismissed and another potential entrant – Zoran Stefanovic – has taken action against the governing body via the European Union.

Mosley resorted to increasingly desperate tactics in his efforts to break FOTA’s resolve. At the beginning of June he urged the teams to split from F1 and form a breakaway championship. Two weeks later, on the Friday of the British Grand Prix, it looked as though the teams were going to do just that, as they withdrew their offer to compete in the 2010 championship. A poll on this site showed 83% of fans supported the teams.

At the 11th hour, FOTA and the FIA struck a deal. Mosley agreed not to stand for election again, and to rescind the budget caps proposal, providing the teams agree to much greater cost reductions. Inevitably, Mosley quickly tried to abandon the agreement, firing off a letter to FOTA president Luca di Montezemolo complaining about being referred to as a “dictator” and threatening to go back on his promise to stand down.

Mosley never carried his threat out, but he got his way when it came to choosing a successor. Jean Todt, long favoured by Mosley as the man to take his place, duly won the FIA president election in October, after claims the FIA rigged the election in his favour.

Since the FIA-FOTA deal the loss of BMW and Toyota – and the threatened loss of Renault – has re-opened the debate about whether the teams were quitting F1 over Mosley’ belligerent governance or because they couldn’t justify the expense. Todt has already hinted the budget cap proposal could return.

Budget caps

Ecclestone and Hitler

F1 was back in the headlines for all the wrong reasons after Bernie Ecclestone voiced praise for Adolf Hitler in an interview with The Times:

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.
Bernie Ecclestone

Ecclestone’s remarks prompted outrage and he eventually retracted them. Martin Sorrell, board member of F1 owners CVC, was among those who criticised Ecclestone:

I am appalled by what he said about Hitler. His comments were disgusting. He issued a full apology after taking advice. Any other CEO in any other business would be gone.
Martin Sorrell

Read more: Ecclestone & Mosley under fire

Singapore scandal

Renault\'s 2008 Singapoe win was tainted
Renault's 2008 Singapoe win was tainted

During the Belgian Grand Prix weekend rumours began to surface in Brazil that recently-fired Renault driver Nelson Piquet Jnr had an explosive story to tell.

The claim that Piquet had crashed on purpose during the previous year’s Singapore Grand Prix – causing a safety car period that helped team mate Fernando Alonso to win – had been voiced jokingly as a conspiracy theory at the time. But that only made the revelation that this really was how Alonso had won the race even more shocking.

The telemetry traces from Piquet’s car made the charges irrefutable, and Renault chose to take the McLaren route of sacking those responsible – in this case Flavio Briatore at Pat Symonds.

The FIA decided that was sufficient to let Renault off without any meaningful punishment. But many were left wondering how the team which had committing one of the worst acts of cheating seen in any sport could be allowed to keep their ill-gotten win and not even suffer a points deduction.

Many suspected the decision was a sop to Renault in an effort to keep them in the sport. But the French team is still considering withdrawing before 2010.

Briatore and Symonds received lengthy bans and the former has taken the FIA to court in an effort to have it overturned.

The Renault Singapore scandal

Donington Park and the British Grand Prix

Last year the news that Donington Park had been given the contract to hold the British Grand Prix was widely greeted with scepticism. We’d seen this routine before – Eccestone had previously tried to move the British Grand Prix to Brands Hatch, to no avail.

Simon Gillett’s company succeeded in getting planning permission at the beginning of the year and construction work began at the track, causing some disruption to its schedule of race. But last month he conceded defeat in his effort to get the money in place to fund the development.

Ecclestone had originally said he would not offer the race to Silverstone if Donington couldn’t hold it. He changed his mind offered them a deal, albeit a very expensive one.

Once again the British round, one of only two events to appear on the F1 calendar every year, is threatened. Will Ecclestone finally give it the chop this time?

Donington Park and the British Grand Prix

Read the first part of this article: F1 2009: Year of controversy (Part 1)