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One of the teams I will be keeping a very close eye on this weekend is Toyota. When I went to the pre-season test at Barcelona, Toyota was one of the teams you would say was in the best shape. Jarno Trulli could barely contain his delight that he had what appeared to be a very good car, after several frustrating years.

Toyota: Making a god car bad?

Toyota: Making a good car bad?

And so it proved in the first four races, where the team averaged 6.6 points per race, putting them a strong third in the championship.

But since then they have really struggled and have blanked twice, in Spain and Monaco. The problem in Monaco was that they didn’t seem to be able to get the tyres working properly and suffered a lack of grip. That same problem hit them in Barcelona, particularly in the race, where their car was the slowest in the final sector of the lap, which is very tight and twisty. But what was alarming was that they were also the second slowest car in the middle sector of the lap. This is hard to believe given how competitive they were just a few months earlier on the same track. To my eye and according to the lap times from the test, they had the second or third fastest car at that stage.

When you look back to Bahrain, they had the pole and a great chance of winning their first race, but then they went for the less competitive tyre for the middle stint of the race and lost the initiative. I’ve spoken to the team in depth about this and grilled Jarno and he is adamant that he would still have lost to Button even if they had made the right tyre choice, because the margins were so tight that day.

If Bahrain was a tactical false move, then the team seems generally to have taken a wrong turn with its car since Bahrain. The new wing set up didn’t work for them in Spain and they are in danger of changing a good car into a bad one.

Of course part of the story is that the other teams who did not have the benefit of the double diffuser at the start of the year have caught up – remember the diffuser row? Seems like a lifetime ago now, doesn’t it?

Toyota team boss John Howett described the performance in Monaco as “unacceptable” – a catch phrase he’s picked up from Ferrari boss Stefano Domenicali – and has vowed that the team will bounce back in Turkey.

“We saw in Spain and Monaco that we were not good enough on slow-speed sectors and we have worked tirelessly to understand the reason for this,” says Howett. ” When I spoke to team members on Sunday in Monaco they admitted that they were at a loss to understand what had gone wrong. Timo Glock says that he has been to the factory to try to get to the bottom of it with the engineers and to give reassurance to everyone there.

“It tends to be influenced by traction and this was magnified by Monaco, ” says Howett. “We have conducted a straight-line aero test and that will give us the information we need to rapidly develop a solution. Turkey is a very different circuit to Monaco and I am very optimistic we will be strong.”

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I’ve been fascinated by the coverage of the FOTA teams’ entry for next year’s world championship in the last couple of days.

On Friday morning I was saying that something was going to come out of FOTA which was quite different from the convergence position with the FIA that was being widely reported. And so it proved. Then when the FOTA statement was made most commentators seemed to see it as Ferrari and the other eight teams signing up after all, which it was some way from being.

Ferrari obviously felt quite frustrated with this and so they issued one of those self-generated Q & A documents, with team principal Stefano Domenicali. The intention here was to SPELL IT OUT for those who hadn’t quite grasped the point of what FOTA is saying.

I won’t go over it again, because I’ve written enough about it already, but two things need to be taken away from Stefano’s comments.

First that all nine teams are willing to sign up to race in F1 until the end of 2012 (if their conditions are met). The importance of this point is that the teams are saying that the sport need not fear that it will lose any existing teams, they are making it clear they aren’t going anywhere. The fear of losing teams was one of the main drivers for the budget cap idea.

Second, whereas before Monaco weekend, it was only Ferrari, Toyota, Red Bull and Renault saying that they would quit F1 if the 2010 rules were not changed, now all nine FOTA teams are saying that, which is a much stronger proposition, as Domenicali spells out below.

“It’s very simple. The nine teams – Williams membership having been suspended – that currently make up FOTA, have put in entries for the 2010 championship that will only be valid if the Concorde Agreement is signed and if the regulations will be those currently in use, but modified as per FOTA’s suggestions. The action taken yesterday is completely in keeping with Ferrari’s principles, as stated at the Main Board meeting on 12 May and with those of FOTA.

Q. What will happen if these conditions are not met?

SD: Once again, the answer is simple: the entries from the nine teams will be invalid.”

This has moved the story on quite a bit from the Monaco weekend and is completely against the grain of what was being reported in the days following Monaco.

The FIA believes that Ferrari has a contract to race in F1 and that this was proven in the Paris court case Ferrari brought, seeking an injunction, before Monaco. If the FIA decides to play hardball and reject FOTA’s conditions, it may be that Ferrari, Williams and the new teams are the only names on the entry list which will be published on June 12th.

Meanwhile I note that Alex Wurz has tabled an entry with his Austrian chums from Superfund. Without a sniff of a new team on the horizon for years we now have five putting in entries, which means paying a £2.5 million engine deposit. Some of them have been planning this moment for years, waiting for the right circumstances, others are seizing an opportunity.

Fascinating times..

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At a meeting of FOTA teams in London today it was decided to suspend the membership of the Williams team, after they broke ranks and submitted an entry to the 2010 world championship.

“Fota’s decision, although regrettable, is understandable,” said team boss Frank Williams. “As a company whose only business is F1 with obligations to our partners and employees entering was unquestionable. In addition we are legally obliged under our contract with FOM and the FIA to participate in the world championship until the end of 2012.”

Williams acknowledged that the suspension of the team is temporary, pending ongoing negotiations with the FIA over the rules for next season. FOTA had no choice really and although their discussions concern the longer term issues which will also concern Williams, it is a sign of the irritation of the other teams that one of their number has been picked off, thus breaking the ‘all for one and one for all’ spirit which has made FOTA a force in F1 politics since its foundation last September.

It remains to be seen whether any of the other teams who signed up to a similar deal to Williams in 2005 feel that they are legally obliged to submit an entry by Friday’s deadline, particularly Force India.

The Williams team has been one of the staunchest supporters of the idea of the budget cap and believes that the proposed £40 million level is about right.

Meanwhile talks continue.

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The meeting between the F1 teams and FIA president Max Mosley and commercial rights holder Bernie Ecclestone failed to reach any conclusions today, but Ferrari has followed through on the threat of mounting a legal challenge. An injuction has been filed with the courts in France, where the FIA headquarters are situated, and will be heard on Tuesday.

If it fails then the negotiations can move swiftly towards finding agreement on a £40 million budget cap and from there setting the details of what is included (engines, drivers, specific research programmes?) and the process for checking the accounts. It sounds like a way might be found for auditing to be independently handled and therefore less intrusive.

If the injunction succeeds then things will get very messy. Basically the rules will have to be unpicked and new rules drawn up.

It is understood that Ferrari’s case is based on what it perceives as the breach of an agreement Ferrari signed with the FIA in 2005 in which it was given a right of veto over rule changes in Formula . This was done at a time when the FIA and Ecclestone needed Ferrari to split with the other manufacturers who were at the time threatening to start a breakaway series.

Mosley knew he would have to tread carefully when framing the 2010 regulations because of this veto clause and that is why the second class of entrant exists; the uncapped team which is allowed to run exactly as it has this season. The FIA’s argument is that as the same class in which Ferrari has been running still exists, their rights have not been infringed.

It will be for the French courts to decide if these special rights have been breached.

As he left the meeting in Heathrow, Mosley said,

“It was a friendly meeting but the teams have gone off to see if they can come up with something better than the cost cap,” Mosley said.

The teams then went into their own meeting, summarise the situation. This lasted half an hour. There will be no formal statement.

It sounds as though Mosley was quite conciliatory towards the teams who said earlier this week that they would not put an entry in for 2010. It also sounds as though Ferrari, Toyota and Renault have taken a strong position.

Mosley said that he would like to drop the two tier system and that he will listen to the teams, if they are able to come up with something significant,

“We explained we cannot put back the entry date, as this has all been published, and we cannot disadvantage the potential new teams who will come in. But we are prepared to listen to whatever they have to say.

“In the meantime, the regulations are as published. We have explained that we want everyone to race under the same regulations. We have explained that we would like all of the teams to come in under the cost cap and that is what they have gone off to consider.

“We have said that we cannot see why anyone wouldn’t want to operate under the cost cap, and it would mean a gradual relaxation of the technical regulations – which all the engineers would want. We said in the end the choice was between intellectual freedom and financial constraint, or intellectual constraint and financial freedom – which is what they have had up until now.”

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As the pressure builds in the powerplay between the FIA and the manufacturers, led by Ferrari, the Scuderia continues to push the idea that F1 is what it is today because of their unbroken participation over 60 years.

On the official Ferrari website they have posted a piece called, “The pride of making F1 great” and they go on to list all the great moments, which make up the sport’s history, of which Ferrari was the central protagonist.

Barcelona 09.

The intro to the piece reads,
“Since the year 1950, when the modern Formula 1 World Championship was held for the first time, Ferrari has been part of it as a player, approaching opportunities and difficulties with sporting spirit. The Scuderia Ferrari is the only team that participated in every championship. It is the only team that conquered 16 Constructors’ World Titles, 15 Drivers’ Titles and 206 victories.

That is why the Scuderia is loved and respected all over the world. Loved by many of its friends and fans, respected by its competitors. These are the stages of this extraordinary history..”

Elsewhere on the site they have wheeled out the two drivers, Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen, one of nine drivers to have won the world championship at the wheel of a Ferrari, to support the team’s position, despite the fact that if they follow through on the threat to quit, both men will be forced to choose between F1 and Ferrari.

“I understand the motivation, why the Company got to this point, ” says Massa. “The idea of having a Championship with two velocities, with cars, which for example are allowed to have flexible wings or an engine without a rev limiter, is absurd. We’ve already seen this year that the rules’ uncertainty not only led to a lot of confusion for us involved, but mainly for the fans. Imagine what might happen with what has been set up for 2010.

“For a driver racing a Ferrari in Formula 1 is a dream and I made mine come true. Since I was a child Ferrari has been the synonym for racing for me; that’s why I’m convinced that even if the Scuderia is forced to leave Formula 1, there will be other competitions, where it will be possible to admire the Reds on the track.”

Raikkonen says, “It’s difficult to think of a Formula 1 without Ferrari. When I drove for McLaren, the Scuderia from Maranello was the benchmark, the competitor you had to be compared with. Since I arrived here I understood that it is much more than just a team, it’s a legend, perpetuated via its road and racing cars.

I always had the passion for racing with everything with an engine and I always thought of Formula 1 as the pinnacle of motor sports, in terms of competition and technology. Obviously if there really were rules like the ones set by FIA, it would be difficult to imagine a Formula 1 we had until today.

“I can’t imagine drivers racing each other on the track with cars built according to different rules; that wouldn’t be good for the sport itself or for the fans. If that should happen, it would be too bad and I understand that a Company like Ferrari is thinking about racing somewhere else.”

The threat to race somewhere else is central here as is the DNA question, to what extent can you differentiate the DNA of Ferrari from the DNA of F1?

Whatever the outcome of this -and I am virtually certain a deal will be done for them to stay in F1 – this has been a useful exercise in reminding everyone of Ferrari’s importance and its brand values.

I was in the Ferrari story yesterday in Regents Street, shooting a report for Italian RAI TV on this story. It sits on that street alongside Jaeger, Hamley’s, Hugo Boss, Apple. The company has decided to really leverage its brand and make some money out of what is one of the world’s most famous and distinctive brands. When you look at how the team has pushed the button on licensing, marketing and merchandising in recent years, led by head of brand Danny Behar, who did a similar job for Red Bull for many years, you see that this current exercise in challenging the FIA is also an exercise in reinforcing the Ferrari brand.

We have all been forced to reflect in recent days on what Ferrari means to us. Many people will be more inclined, as a result of that reflection, to buy a pair of Ferrari branded Puma trainers for £70 than they were last week.

Did Ferrari make F1 great? Or is it the other way around? Or are both statements true proving the veracity of Bernie Ecclestone’s statement that Ferrari and F1 is the perfect marriage.

Next week this debate will move on to the other brand F1 cannot do without; Monaco. It’s the only track which does more for F1 than F1 does for it.

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There have been some fantastically interesting comments in the last couple of days on the Ferrari story. Most people think F1 cannot survive without Ferrari, but I sense maybe 20-25% think it can.

To me this boils down to an ideological debate about what F1 should be and how it should be governed. The manufacturers, having failed to achieve any change in the governance of the sport the last time they united – in 2004 – are now trying to finish the job off, knowing that this time Ferrari is on their side and is not going to be picked off as it was last time. It’s a test of resolve now.

Because it is an ideological debate, comments submitted here have ranged across the spectrum. I’ve picked out one from Jed which I quote in full below, but before I do the best line of the week has to be Bernie Ecclestone who said yesterday,

“I’m not one to talk about perfect marriages, but this is a perfect marriage. Formula One is Ferrari and Ferrari is Formula One. It’s as simple as that and it is not going to change.”

Anyway this is Jed’s view, from a comment posted earlier today, what I like is he’s trying to be positive and propose a way out of this situation

“I believe F1 can be made cheaper for independent teams and at the same time a technology showcase for the manufacturers by keeping things simple like:

1. The FIA should implement standardized floors, diffusers and wings-technology which really does not apply to road-cars.

2. Standardize the brakes in order to ensure that outbraking an opponent will not be impossible.

3. Regulate engines only as to maximum displacement and the type of materials that could be used to build such engines.

4. Re-introduce active suspension as this technology will be relevant for modern road cars.

5. development should be on the mechanical side of the car and not the aerodynamic side, which is a very big cost in todays racing.

All mechanical parts made by the manufacturers should be made available for a per season lease to any independent team who wishes to use it. This must be a package of engine, gearbox and suspension components. The price of this lease per season must be fixed by the FIA.

This way all teams will build a car around a floor and wings designed by the FIA. Use an engine and suspension package of a participating manufacturer at a fixed cost per season, wherein the engine, suspension and other mechanical components must be exactly the same as what the manufacturer’s team, if any, is using.

This would be better than max’s plan of standardizing the engine or this budget cap rule, and easier to police too.”

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Renault is to be the next manufacturer to declare that it will withdraw from Formula 1 if the FIA does change the rules as voted by the FIA world council on April 29th.

Following on from Toyota on Sunday and Ferrari yesterday, the French manufacturer will argue that the two tier system and the budget cap are not the basis for a sport in which it wishes to participate. BMW are expected to follow shortly.

I would not expect Mercedes to take their place in this queue, as they are more likely to keep their heads down after the recent disciplinary events in which they were involved with McLaren.

What is significant is that the manufacturers are not simply saying, “Ditch the budget cap and the two tier system or we are off.”

They are looking to go further than this and use this opportunity to question the FIA’s system of governance. Sorting out the budget cap and two tier system would be relatively straight forward once all parties agreed to talk. However the wider issue of governance is more thorny.

The manufacurers are also very concerned that the public should not get the impression that FIA president Max Mosley is the only one who is trying to cut costs in F1. They argue that many teams would not even be racing this year if the FOTA cost cuts to testing and engine use had not been agreed in December. They want to go further, but they want to be in charge of deciding how far and how quickly. And they want to keep the vital idea of technology and research, which carries across into their road cars.

Mosley’s point is that there is no time for that. The economic crisis is the trigger for all of this. He accepts that FOTA has tried to cut costs, but has two fundamental problems with their approach; the FOTA measures don’t cut costs by enough and they focus on restricting technology, rather than encouraging innovation under a ‘same for everyone’ budget cap. He sees an opportunity to redraw F1 into something more sustainable and useful.

Both sides have a point. It’s an ideological struggle which goes to the heart of what F1 stands for.

The key question here is, “Who’s benefit is this for?”

One of the key points Mosley makes is that he wants new teams to come in. The problem with the way this is evolving is that at some point the question is going to be asked whether bringing in new teams like Lola and I Sport is worth sacrificing Ferrari and the manufacturers for.

It is also worth noting that many of the independent teams who favour the budget cap, such as Williams, Force India and Brawn are currently dependent on the manufacturers for an engine.

Cosworth is on standby to provide engines should they be needed, but it is a few years since they were involved in Formula 1.

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Ferrari today decided to test Max Mosley’s assertion that “Formula 1 can survive without Ferrari”

Montezemolo: Raising the stakes

Montezemolo: Raising the stakes

It issued a strongly worded statement following a meeting of the Board of Directors which said that it would not enter the 2010 F1 world championship if the rules voted through by the FIA world council on April 29th are not changed.

It noted that the April 29th meeting was convened to hear a disciplinary matter (the McLaren lie-gate scandal) and that the decisions taken there brought into being a two tier system of rules “based on arbitrary technical rules and parametres.”

It goes on to say that “if this is regulatory framework for Formula 1 in the future, then the reasons underlying Ferrari’s uninterrupted participation in the world championship over the last 60 years..would come to a close.

“The board also went on to express its disappointment about the methods adoped by the FIA in taking decision of such a serious nature and its refusal to effectively reach an understanding with constructors and teams.”

Ferrari argues that the rules of governance that have contributed to the development of F1 over the last 25 years have been disgregarded, as have the binding contractual obligations between Ferrari and the FIA itself regarding the stability of the regulations.

But Ferrari’s beef goes beyond just saying that they want the rules on budget caps to be dropped. They want to use this episode to get a review of the way the sport is governed by the FIA.

Bernie Ecclestone worked hard over the weekend in Barcelona to get the teams to think about a way forward on this. Basically the manufacturers are all lined up behind Ferrari. Toyota’s John Howett paved the way for today’s announcement by saying effectively the same thing and now we will see if BMW, Mercedes and Renault follow Ferrari out of the trenches and declare that they too will quit if the conditions don’t change.

They probably don’t need to. Ferrari saying that they will quit F1 is a massive statement which will resonate all over the world. It is a real shame for all parties that it has come to this. As they say, their participation in F1 has lasted an unbroken 60 years and although they have threatened this in the past behind closed doors, to come out with such a strong public statement is in itself damaging for the credibility of the sport, even if the threat is not ultimately carried through.

Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo was due to meet Max Mosley later this week in London, but he has decided to massively up the ante ahead of that meeting.

In the interests of Ferrari and the sport, both men will have to climb down from their current positions. But there is more to this than merely hammering out a deal on budget cuts/caps. Ferrari has gone further and questioned the governance of the sport and the last two lines of the statement are heavily loaded,

“The chairman of the Board of Directors (Montezemolo) was mandated to evaluate the most suitable ways and methods to protect the company’s interests.”

This has several meanings in one. It means that they are looking into a legal challenge because they believe that ‘binding contractual obligations’ have been breached. These refer to a veto right which Ferrari negotiated into its deal when it broke ranks with the other manufacturers in early 2005 and signed up to stay in F1 until 2012.

Also it means that they are evaluating other sporting series, wither joining an existing one, like Le Mans, or starting a new one, with the other manufacturers.

This then is a test of which is the stronger brand. Is it Ferrari or is it Formula 1?

As a side note, it would be very interesting to know whether some broadcasters and promoters have a condition in their contracts with Bernie Ecclestone’s FOM that certain specific teams have to be in the field, one of which would surely be Ferrari.

When the manufacturers were thinking about that breakaway series in 2004/5, I know that this was discussed as a way of TV companies being sure they were going to be showing the right series..

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I’ve always been a huge Steve McQueen fan. I love the film Le Mans and I share his passion for moto cross bikes – if you haven’t seen the documentary he made about bikes, “On any Sunday”, treat yourself, it’s magnificent.

One of my proudest possessions is a TAG Heuer Monaco watch in the Gulf colours of the Porsche car which McQueen races in the film. You get the idea…

Anyway, someone at TAG Heuer has had the idea of putting Lewis Hamilton into a clip with McQueen from the film and I saw it today for the first time. The dubbing is a bit odd and it’s a shame that Lewis doesn’t say, “Steve, be careful out there”.. as his rival Eric Stahler does on this scene in the movie.

It’s also a shame that McQueen doesn’t flick the V sign to Hamilton, which he does ilater n the movie to Stahler. But it’s a fun and creative piece. And it seems to be part one of a series.

One of the things I like most about this piece is that it happened at all. Think about it – this features a Porsche, not a Mercedes and Gulf oil, not Mobil (McLaren’s oil partner). I like the fact that the team feel they can relax a bit on the corporate side and just tell a story. Hell, Lewis doesn’t even get top billing…

Check it out and see what you think.

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Vijay Mallya is bobbing in the harbour on his motor yacht, Flavio Briatore will have zoomed off in his private jet, like most of the drivers but the winner of today’s Grand Prix, was on the Easyjet flight to Luton with his team, Red Bull, Force India, me and a load of sunburned, happy fans.

Most of them couldn’t believe their eyes that Ross was on the same flight and he had to pose for photos with many of them. His only token bit of elitism – he paid €12 for Speedy Boarding!

Ross has always been a team player when it comes to travel. A number of times in the past when my family has been on holiday in Italy in summer I’ve cadged a lift on the Ferrari charter and Ross and Jean Todt always used to travel with the engineers and mechanics on the same plane. It’s part of the team building ethic, which also includes sending different members of the team up onto the podium, to allow them to feel that buzz and to motivate them to work hard to achieve it again.

Anyway, on the way out on Thursday morning the Easyjet plane was half full of hungover Barcelona fans on their way home after beating Chelsea in the Champions league. Ross got sat next to a guy who must have been 20 stone and who had clearly been in a bar all night.

Tonight he was on good form, relieved to have won another race and to have negotiated through all the potential little problems, surprised that Red Bull hadn’t done more with pit strategy to try to get Vettel away from Massa.

On the plane the atmosphere was good. The captain in his welcome speech congratulated the team for its success and wished them many more. Red Bull guys rolled their eyes..

Brawn has now won 11 trophies in the five races so far and Jenson Button has dropped only four points from a possible 45.

They are making it look Easy.

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