Teams split over F1’s controversial Strategy Group

2013 F1 season

The FIA’s new Strategy Working Group has driven a wedge between F1 teams, provoking concerns it will allow the richest competitors to set rules that favour them.

The discussion and planning of future Formula One rules, which previously involved the input of all teams via the Sporting Working Group and Technical Working Group, is now controlled by just six of the predominantly wealthiest entrants.

The six teams are represented on the new Strategy Working Group along with six further representatives each from the FIA and FOM. Decisions taken by the Strategy Group have to be approved by the Formula One Commission, on which all the teams are represented, plus a further seven representatives in total from the FIA and FOM.

The five F1 teams on the Strategy Group by right are Ferrari, McLaren, Mercedes, Red Bull and Williams. The sixth team is the high-placed outfit in the previous constructors’ championship, which was Lotus last year and will be again next year.

This has prompted concern from several teams not represented that they no longer have a voice in how F1 is governed. Representatives from all the teams have faced questions over how shutting out almost half the grid from the rule-making process can be justified.

Here’s what each of them had to say. Those constructors who are represented on the Strategy Group are marked with an asterisk (*).

Red Bull*: Christian Horner

Christian Horner, Bernie Ecclestone, Bahrain, 2013“The strategic group obviously is a group of teams, the FIA and FOM and it’s part of a process that’s been introduced. It’s a group that previously didn’t exist and it’s to try and make more headway and a speedier way forwards for forming and creating regulations.

“All the teams still sit on the Formula One Commission that still very much exists, that has the right to reject or approve regulations to be introduced but the strategic group is made up of teams that have made a firm commitment to the sport for many years to come and it’s a way of hopefully effectively introducing changes with the consultation of others because other groups will still exist but it’s hopefully an efficient way of introducing changes to the sport in years to come and I think that it is a positive thing.

“Time will tell if it works or not.”

Sauber: Monisha Kaltenborn

Monisha Kaltenborn, Sauber, Buddh International Circuit, 2013“Clearly Sauber is not so comfortable with it because we are not on it.

“We have nothing, as such, against a group that looks at certain matters and can bring up ideas and also maybe say that this is the right way to go ahead but what matters is that all interests should be represented.

Teams like Force India or Sauber are part of the competition and we cannot be happy by being excluded by this group because we do feel that we have to ensure that that’s where the danger lies that there’s a proper representation of interests in there.”

Toro Rosso: Franz Tost

“I have a good relationship with Christian Horner from Red Bull Racing and therefore we are a little bit involved, but nevertheless, the Strategy Group does not approve new rules because this comes from the Formula One Commission and in the Formula One Commission all the teams are involved and there’s a working process; there I don’t see any problem.”

Ferrari*: Stefano Domenicali

Stefano Doenicali, Ferrari, 2013“I’m sure that everyone knew about it and by everyone I assume that because they’ve signed the agreement, they have accepted this way forward and for sure we have the big responsibility to make sure that all the systems of Formula One will go and take the right way for the future and for sure, we feel this responsibility.

We don’t want to say ‘listen, we don’t care about the others’ because that’s not really the case. So, we take that on board and I’m sure that time will tell if we’re doing a good job or not.”

Mercedes*: Ross Brawn

“Well, I think the responsibilities of that group are the general interests of Formula One. I think it’s vital that that group acts and takes decisions which are in the interests of everybody in Formula One. The structure of the group is something that I think was proposed by the FIA and the commercial rights holder and everyone in Formula One signed up to it. I think it’s just important that group does take the proper view on all the interests in Formula One.”

Marussia: Graeme Lowdon

Graeme Lowdon, Marussia, Singapore, 2013“I think it’s disappointing not to be included, that’s one thing for sure. If we’re looking at sports’ governance then sport is fundamentally built upon the ethics of fair play and everything that goes with it.

“And so, when you’re looking at a body that is making really the strategic direction then it would certainly be nice to have some inclusion. You would look for some form of democracy, some transparency and some accountability.

“From our point of view, we’re not too sure how it’s all meant to work or is going to work because we’re not part of it, so it’s really quite difficult to even say whether this new body is going to be able to make the correct strategic decisions, but inherently, you have to think, when you’re outside of a group, you have to think ‘how can that group be making a decision that could be beneficial for everyone involved, including us?’ So it’s quite an enormous leap of faith, I think, that the teams who are excluded from it are being asked to make, that the structure will work.

“Obviously only time will tell and the group has an incredibly onerous role to play, because it has the future of the sport that so many of us depend upon and our employees and the wider supplier base. So it has a very very important task and you would intuitively think that in particular an element of democracy would be good but I guess time will tell.”

McLaren*: Martin Whitmarsh

Martin Whitmarsh, McLaren, 2013“I think that we’re in an evolving process at the moment. The full governance of the sport hasn’t been defined in the new Concorde. I agree with many… there’s as much inclusion as you can have in the sport is a good thing and I think we’ve been consistent in that. I think McLaren endeavours to be a good citizen within the sport.

“…we haven’t done enough contemplation of the strategy or the strategic development of our sport. I think we can do a better job together in that regard. Let’s see what happens.

“I think it’s going to evolve over the next few months and hopefully it will evolve to a shape and a form where everyone feels comfortable.”

Lotus*: Eric Boullier

Eric Boullier, Lotus, Spa-Francorchamps, 2013“We are not a permanent part of this group but we are lucky enough to be part of this group now so sitting between these two chairs, I think there are some positive and some negative points. I can understand being there and not participating.

I understand the frustration of the teams not being there. It’s true that it was a wish from the FIA and FOM to have another group, let’s say, before the F1 Commission to try to maybe go for decisions.

“For sure the proposal is to bring it to F1 and make it better and then bring these suggestions to the F1 Commission where they can be debated.

“We will see in the future if it works.”

Force India: Vijay Mallya

Vijay Mallya, Force India, 2013“When this was first mooted, I definitely did question whether the intention was to restrict decision-making to the six teams, to the exclusion of the smaller teams but when I was assured that that was not going to be the case, that the Strategy Group was to advise on future strategy concerning Formula One, to be then debated or voted upon at the Formula One Commission where all teams are represented, that obviously was a source of comfort.

“I’ve spoken individually to many team principals who are part of the big six as I call them, and all of them have assured me… that they will look after the interests of all, which includes the smaller teams and on the basis of that assurance, I actually voted to approve this new structure at the World Motor Sport Council, so so long as things work out the way they are intended to, only time will tell.”

Caterham: Cyril Abiteboul

Cyril Abiteboul, Caterham, 2013“I think an F1 Strategy Group is a good thing. I believe it’s something that was missing generally in the landscape of Formula One; that’s – to a degree – running the risk of upsetting some people. Maybe it’s a bit too technocratic.

“Having said that, I think we need to preserve the working group that will properly execute and follow up any decision that is made by the F1 Strategy Group. So I think generally that to have a group that is also thinking of the marketing side of things, the commercial side of things, ensuring the final consequences of the decisions that are made by technical sporting people, is the right thing to do.

“And maybe we will not come up with some situations in which we are… for instance, the engine which is quite expensive – so that, in itself, is a good thing looking ahead. Having said that, I think that regarding inclusion, I would totally share Graeme’s view and more than anything, I just simply don’t understand why all teams are not represented. I think we would not want a situation whereby one team can block a process and we need to make sure that we are progressive and that’s one of the things in any democracy but that, in itself, does not justify the fact that half of the grid is not represented.”

Williams*: Claire Williams

Claire Williams, Williams, Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, 2013“I think that from the outset we would like to say that Williams as a team, we’re pleased that we are on it. Clearly it’s important that we are and the reason being is that we’re an historic team in the sport, we’ve been racing for 36 years.

“But Graeme talking about the democratic process around it, I don’t necessarily want to comment on that but I think from our perspective, certainly, we will be going in there, clearly representing Williams but also, I hope, representing the other teams and the greater good of our sport as well.”

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51 comments on Teams split over F1’s controversial Strategy Group

  1. Ayrton Senna, Monaco 1984: Formula One is political, it is money. And when you are still small, you have to go through this.
    And apparently not much has changed in 30 years…

    • JackL said on 7th November 2013, 12:59

      Its sad, but true. F1 is becoming more and more of an old boys club. Its ironic that that’s exactly where Wall St was that in 07 right before it collapsed and now most of it is gone. I seriously hope the same doesnt happen to F1.

    • Carlitox (@carlitox) said on 7th November 2013, 17:37

      None other than Ayrton could sum it up better. I am really sad to see F1 turn into an oligarchy of the richest, ditching rules that could equal the field, bring more competitors (even carmakers) in favour of keeping themselves at the top. The way I see it, it doesn’t matter much that you’re at the top if you have done nothing and beat no one to deserve it. Really really dissapointing.

    • @gdewilde He did won our hearts with that even if by that meant that he then became one of them by manipulating our hearts. I have a hint that we will miss Bernie in the future, because he has always kept Formula 1 away from self destruction but his latest woes pared with this, may end up in WWF1.

  2. Fer no.65 (@fer-no65) said on 7th November 2013, 12:26

    Why just 6 teams? it’s not like there are 30 teams and it’s impractical to have them all. It’s just 11 teams… can’t they just add 5 more members and be it all “democratic”? the wealthiest will still be more equals than the others, but at least the smaller teams (“smaller”… Sauber’s been around for 20 years and they’ve got the better out of Williams for 8 years) would be there when they are kicked from behnid.

    • Gordon (@gfreeman) said on 7th November 2013, 12:31

      Money talks. I guess they think (and I don’t agree with it) that there is no guarantee that the “smaller” teams will be around for years to come due to their financial situations. Even well established teams like Sauber and Lotus (name changes aside) aren’t in good shape financially. Still, I can’t help but think that maybe potential sponsors/investors (that aren’t linked with drivers) for these teams might be slightly put off by this exclusion.

      • Fer no.65 (@fer-no65) said on 7th November 2013, 12:34

        @gfreeman that’s exactly a reason why they should be involved. If they are struggling to keep the factory open, then that’s a massive problem, and it should be taken care of. Specially well established outfits like Enstone team and Sauber.

        Good point about sponsors.

      • BasCB (@bascb) said on 7th November 2013, 14:34

        Its not just about money talks @fer-no65, @gfreeman but also, and probably more so, about power. If you have 6 representatives from the FIA and FOM and 6 teams, and you want a majority vote wins, so it makes it far easier to push changes through when the others would not be all too happy. The other way round it also works so the FIA and FOM together can easily block things if they want.

        If you have 11 teams with each having a representative, that means that the teams ultimately are the ones deciding because you need a large part of them on board. This is far more behind it than allowing the richest teams to sit in. Off course that one was part of bernies strategy – offer the double carrot of big money AND a bigger say in where the sport was going relatively to the past.

  3. GeeMac (@geemac) said on 7th November 2013, 12:32

    “Clearly Sauber is not so comfortable with it because we are not on it.”

    This sentence, for me, sums up what is, was and always will be the problem with decision making and politics in F1. Each team is out for themselves and only looks to approve and support proposals if they are in their own, short term interests.

    • Todd (@braketurnaccelerate) said on 7th November 2013, 22:46

      Of course. I’ve been saying that for 2 years! :)

      The problem is, most (with the exception of maybe the top 3 teams) are working with budgets that are for here-and-now. They can’t really plan for the future, as they don’t have any clue as to their finances for the next season. Everyone needs to win and win now in order to secure financing/sponsors for the future.

      The only way to eliminate the here-and-now ideology, is to reduce the parity in the WCC championship prize money, and to increase the total money given to each team. The money is split 50/50 (IIRC) with FOM. In all reality, it needs to be about 30/70, where teams take the majority of the money. Giving the teams more money, while reducing the parity between the payments, would make it possible for the bottom 7-8 teams to operate in the black, rather than taking losses year after year. Pay every team entering $60 Million, then give the remaining out in a similar WCC fashion with some mindfulness.. DONE. No heritage payments (Ferrari, McLaren). Nada. FOM/CVC raked in $2 Billion last year. How they can’t raise the prize money, let alone pay the 11th place team is absurd. It simply shows how twisted Bernie and the CVC really are.

  4. Red Andy (@red-andy) said on 7th November 2013, 12:35

    Instead of giving the sixth seat to the highest-ranked team not otherwise included, they should get the non-represented teams to agree (by voting or otherwise) which of them gets the seat. That would allow the smaller teams to look after their interests better, rather than having no voice at all.

  5. electrolite (@electrolite) said on 7th November 2013, 12:58

    I hope this actually does something good for the sport – something concrete, not just a facade. At the minute, all I’m reading from the top team principals is hollow, PR drivel.

  6. Bookoi (@bookoi) said on 7th November 2013, 13:08

    What concerns me most about this is that the big teams saying they’ll act in the interest of the smaller teams also think that customer cars would be good for those smaller teams.

    I hope I’m wrong, but customer cars feel like an inevitability at this point. It’s fortunate that Williams are in the group and though I hate to see it, their recent struggles should mean that the lower end of the grid is represented.

    • Lucas Wilson (@full-throttle-f1) said on 7th November 2013, 15:37

      I actually like the idea of customer cars. When this was discussed a few weeks back, their were some great ideas that make the idea work.

      Mine was to have Customer cars supplied with a basic chassis (so this means the team still gets experience in developing) and that they could only have a maximum of 3 years on the customer chassis, that’s how it was a few decades ago, I know Frank Williams is against the idea, but he began his team on a customer chassis. The idea of 3 years would help ‘new’ teams settle in before they can build their own cars.

  7. Millirem (@millirem) said on 7th November 2013, 13:28

    I really don’t understand why everyone hates this so much. Its just a committee which still has to bring its ideas back to the Formula One Commission for debate and vote where all teams are represented. Mallya is the only one with his head on straight.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 7th November 2013, 23:48

      @millirem From the make-up of the Strategy Group and Commission it appears a small group of the richest teams could, providing their wishes align with those of the FIA and FOM, create and impose a set of rules which the rest of the teams can neither give their input into (because they aren’t in the Strategy Group) nor block the introduction of (because they will be outvoted at the Commission stage).

      A current issue which seems ideal for such a treatment would be customer cars, which the richest teams and FOM want but many less wealthy/smaller teams fiercely oppose because it could destroy their commercial model.

      But let’s keep in mind Force India’s Vijay Mallya professes to vehemently oppose customer cars yet approved the Strategy Group at the World Motor Sports Council. I’m not about to suggest he’s a turkey voting for Christmas so he must believe they can prevent the Strategy Group from dictating the future of F1.

  8. PeterG said on 7th November 2013, 14:09

    Sounds very much like CART.

  9. TMF (@tmf42) said on 7th November 2013, 14:21

    FOTA showed that if you have all on-board then it’s doomed to fail. With the teams that are currently on they at least represent F1 in different ways – the manufacturers, the big private teams and with Williams the smaller private teams on a budget + the team finishing highest in the WCC from the remaining teams, which should be another private team on a budget.
    So I’d say they should at least look at it and see how it works – since the commission is still there, they can’t cause too much damage, can they ?

  10. Sauber (@mumito) said on 7th November 2013, 15:44

    The problem is that there are few really “independent” teams.
    Toro Rosso is in F1 just to fill a blank. And to copy other brands motors. Its useless. You can say the exact same thing as Caterham.
    Then you have Marussia and Force India. They are both butt lickers of British motorsport.

    So the only team that was “really” hurt is Sauber. Sauber didnt want to become Ferraris child. Personally…I think that was a big mistake.
    Sauber 20 years are nothing,,,soon enough we will dissapear.

  11. HoHum (@hohum) said on 7th November 2013, 20:28

    F1 is supposed to be the pinnacle of motorsport, it cannot be the pinnacle of motorsport if it has to be regulated to allow budget operators to succeed without contributing to the development of the cars and this is why the the teams with a track record of success and the resources to continually improve performance have to be the driving force and cannot be fettered by having to dumb down the technology to suit the back-end of the grid.
    Drivers who can’t perform have to move down to lesser competitions, I see no reason why team owners should be protected more than drivers.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 8th November 2013, 0:01

      @hohum Which is all well and good until we’re left with a single team with a billion dollar budget wondering why they’ve got no one left to race against.

      What you’re proposing isn’t a solution, it’s an invitation to let the wealthiest teams spend the sport into oblivion. The ITC in 1997 or the FIA’s GT1 class in 1999 provide instructive examples of how well that usually works.

      • HoHum (@hohum) said on 8th November 2013, 0:52

        @keithcollantine, I think you are being a bit hard on the top 6, they know that a full and competitive field is required to attract viewers and therefore sponsors, and they themselves don’t want an out and out spending war, in the past we have lost, Cooper, Vanwall, BRM, Lotus, Brabham, March, Tyrell,Jordan, Stewart, Jaguar and more, yet F1 has survived and grown, to be truly F1 it will have to continue to evolve without becoming “just another one-design series”.

  12. obviously said on 7th November 2013, 20:29

    So 6 votes on one side and 6 votes on the other side, and Bernie’s man Chris planted among the teams to always cast a vote that makes sure things go Bernie’s way.

  13. Paul (@frankjaeger) said on 7th November 2013, 21:54

    I don’t know if I’m missing something here but can’t they just include all the teams in the committee? Its not like they’re all competing in the same championship and abiding by identical regulations…
    I fail to see why wealth is a significant indicator in who decides how to better F1

  14. PMccarthy_is_a_legend (@pmccarthy_is_a_legend) said on 7th November 2013, 22:47

    This is so wrong. F1 is getting worse every season. Just get all the teams in. It is only 11 after all.

    • HoHum (@hohum) said on 7th November 2013, 23:05

      But it is the poorer less succesfull teams that most want to stop innovation and development, they want the prestige of F1 on the budget of GP2, if the poorer teams that spend less and contribute less get an equal say in the future direction of F1, F1 will continue it’s slide towards a virtual 1-design series and be no different to Indycar, GP2, AutoGP etc.

      • And how many of the top teams of today started out as poor and unsuccessful teams of the past?
        Jordan Grand Prix, the forerunner of Force India, was on the point of bankruptcy for several years in the early 1990’s, yet in the late 1990’s Frentzen was, for much of the season, a major player in the WDC. Sir Frank Williams famously had to fight adversity for many years before his team finally came to dominate the sport, Ferrari spent decades as little more than a glorified midfield runner and the currently dominant Red Bull Racing were, in their first four seasons in F1, a relatively uncompetitive midfield outfit themselves.

        Asides from that, your logic that the smaller teams are keen to kill off innovation is flawed. Adrian Newey openly stated that he felt that it was Sauber, a mere midfield team, who were one of the most innovative teams in 2012 – he spent a lot of time studying the C31 in parc ferme and later admitted that a number of features on the RB8 were basically copied from the C31 (the ramp exhaust concept, the slotted floor, ducts through the nosecone and some of the front wing cascades are some of the features Newey copied).
        Innovation has flowed up the grid from other midfield teams too – Williams pioneered a new type of front brake duct system a few years ago that has lead to a major shift in philosophy in that area, whilst Lotus (who, in terms of resources, are a midfield team) have pioneered advances in suspension design that they have now patented for wider use in the automotive industry and has since been copied by Mercedes (the passive interlinked suspension system).

        In fact, even the smallest minnows in the sport have produced benefits that far outweigh their small budgets. Marussia are the smallest team right now, but it was their design for an advanced new side impact structure that the FIA is now making mandatory from 2014 onwards because its performance in angled impacts was far superior to the proposals put forward by the rest of the grid.

        The logic that, because they are small now, that they will always be insignificant, is what is causing the real damage to the sport. The idea that big innovations can only come with big budgets is an utter fallacy – sometimes it is necessity that is the mother of invention, and I would much rather that support was given to a cash strapped but innovative midfield team like Sauber than bloated corporate behemoths like Toyota that spent so much on the sport to achieve so little.

        • Dave (@raceprouk) said on 8th November 2013, 20:06

          Williams pioneered a new type of front brake duct system a few years ago that has lead to a major shift in philosophy in that area

          They were also first out the blocks with seamless shift gearboxes, which I believe all the teams now use.

        • HoHum (@hohum) said on 10th November 2013, 0:52

          @anon, great response and in no way am I suggesting that small teams are worthless, only that they are in such desperate financial straights that they are opposed to any form of change, and F1 desperately needs change, and being so desperately poor financially are easily swayed by by Bernie to accept a short term gain (or bung) whilst ceding Bernie greater control of the revenue.

    • Dave (@raceprouk) said on 7th November 2013, 23:12

      If you include all 11, there’s no point in making a Strategy Group – there’s already FOTA.

  15. Sorry teams but either mature and agree on some fair sporting rules (with EVERYONE contributing to discussions) or let the FIA decide for you. It’s slightly ridiculous over how little progress is being made towards reducing competition costs, and I feel Red Bull are rather big contributors to the speed of proceedings.

    • Gordon (@gfreeman) said on 7th November 2013, 23:46

      …either mature and agree on some fair sporting rules (with EVERYONE contributing to discussions) or let the FIA decide for you.

      Exactly. I think the latter would happen, providing the FIA do a reasonable job at it (since it’s far too much to hope for them to do a good job of it lol).

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