I posted here on Sunday morning that I had heard Williams were going to break ranks with the other Formula 1 teams and put in an entry for the 2010 season this week and they have done that.
I’ve been thinking about this, about why they have done it, what it will do to FOTA unity and where it leaves the other teams.
Williams have become the team closest to the FIA in recent times. In part this is down to a personal relationship between Williams CEO Adam Parr and Max Mosley. Both trained as barristers and I think they understand each other as a result. I also think Adam knows how to read Max pretty well. On a more basic level Williams need to stay close to the FIA because all they do is race F1 cars, they don’t sell energy drinks or road cars. So if they didn’t put an entry in for 2010 what would they do with themselves and their 500+ employees? They also stand to benefit from budgets coming down to £40 million. At that level they will not only be able to survive but to make a profit. And the technical department reckons that with many teams scaling down, they will do the best job on that level of money.
Williams signed a contract back in 2005, shortly after Ferrari, to stay with the FIA and with FOM, rather than join the manufacturers’ breakaway series being proposed at the time. The contract they signed then obliges them to race in F1 until the end of 2010. I don’t know what time frame is in the agreement Ferrari signed at the time, but Bernie Ecclestone referred to it the other day when he implied that he would sue them if they didn’t enter next year.
The question now is, will the other teams who signed up in 2005 also now be obliged to put an entry in for 2010? These teams are Red Bull, Toro Rosso and Force India (was Midland at the time). It is unlikely that their deals are all the same as Williams, because Ecclestone tends to like doing different deals with everyone.
For example, Frank Williams said on Friday that he knew Ferrari’s deal paid them more money than Williams but he did not know that they had a right of veto over the rules.
It has been reported in the last couple of days that the other teams within FOTA are angry with Williams because they signed a collective letter saying that they would not enter the championship. This isn’t quite true. They refused to sign that letter, but they did sign a second, modified letter, which did not commit them to that collective action.
Williams have painful memories of a time when they didn’t put in an entry; in 1993 they missed the deadline for entering the championship – a championship incidentally they went on to win with Alain Prost – and there was some pain to be taken over that.
Judging from the noises coming out of Toyota at the moment, governance and transparency are their big bugbears, more than budget caps. Toyota and Ferrari have been working closely together at all levels and if Toyota are to leave the sport, I’m sure that they will say that it is because of the governance.
There is another meeting of FOTA this week, so the story will move on quite a bit before the deadline for entry on Friday.