Posts Tagged ‘FOTA’

Team boycott threatened in Oz?

I’m surprised more hasn’t been made of the stories in the last day or so about the meeting between Flavio Briatore, Ron Dennis and Bernie Ecclestone, where Flavio is supposed to have threatened a FOTA boycott of Melbourne if the teams were not paid some money they claim BE owes them under the terms of the extended Concorde Agreement.

According to Ecclestone in the Times, “Flavio said, ‘We’re not going to put our cars on the plane, we’re not going to Melbourne.’ He started it aided and abetted by Ron Dennis.”

The pair are reported to have backed down after Ecclestone called their bluff and rang the freight company to cancel the planes.

Bernie was left unimpressed that the pair had not followed through on their threats,
“If they come in here with a gun and hold it to my head they had better be sure they can pull the trigger, ” he said. “And they should make sure that it’s got bullets in it because if they miss they better look out.”

I’m in the lounge at Kuala Lumpur airport at the moment, half way to Melbourne and unable to ask the relevant people about this story, but I shall when I get to the paddock on Thursday morning.

It comes on the back of the fall out from the ‘winner takes all’ points fiasco last week, where the teams were being fingered for playing a disruptive role. FOTA boss Luca di Montezemolo keeps saying they want a calm atmosphere to move the sport forward, but instead the message is coming out that the aggro is being ramped up, with the teams portrayed as the agitators.

This is setting the tone for the season. I’ve a nasty feeling the racing is going to be incidental.

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It was all looking so good, Ross Brawn saves the Honda team, the car turns out to be a rocket ship, David threatens Goliath, a shake up of the old order was in prospect. The racing was shaping up to be really close, with many teams on roughly the same pace. In other words a great season was in prospect, as many of you have said in your comments on this blog.

And now with a week to go until the first race, we have the FIA backtracking on the winner takes all points rule, because the FOTA teams did not unanimously agree it and then there is the virtual certainty of a messy technical protest into the legality of the diffusers on some of the cars, including Brawn, which will dominate the weekend and be well beyond the understanding of most of the fans and the media.

F1’s capacity to shoot itself in the foot is to the fore again.

As I’ve been saying in my recent posts here since the Barcelona test, the Brawn car is seriously fast, perhaps fast enough to stay out front for quite a while before teams like Ferrari and BMW catch up. It would be intriguing if one of the Brawn drivers got a good head start on the field with four or five early wins.

It would then be tough for one other driver to get beyond that total. With McLaren seemingly out of the picture at the start of the season and the two Ferrari drivers likely to share the wins between them across the season, the way is clear if one of the Brawn guys can gain supremacy, to open up a bit of a lead, which under the winner takes all system might make him champion.

Ed Gorman in the Times today writes that this is the suspicion of the FIA as to why the teams are now refusing to sign off on the new winner tales all system for deciding the champion.

Brawn’s pace is certainly not going to encourage the other teams to sign up, but I think the real reason the teams have kicked back on this one is simply because they can.

To bring in a new rule at short notice requires the teams to sign off on it unanimously and, stunned by the FIA’s budget cap move, they’ve said, “You know what? We aren’t going to to that, Max.”

Mosley must have known that there was a risk of this and the blame appears to be being deflected onto the teams, but also onto Bernie Ecclestone, who allegedly told Mosley that the teams were on side with the new system. Maybe they were at the time, but given the opportunity to put the brakes on an FIA initiative, they’ve taken it.

In other words its another step in what is now clearly going to be a drawn out battle
between the FIA and the FOTA teams. It’s not what anyone wants or needs, for a sport to be seen to not know what the hell it’s doing eight days before the start of a new season. One of my old heads of sport at ITV, a football man, used to say that he quite liked F1 as a spectacle, but that it too often it opened itself up to ridicule. And that’s what we have again here.

The FIA brought out some stunning material on Tuesday, particularly the £30 million budget cap, which would oblige the top teams to shed three quarters of it workforce, and would encourage a gold rush for new teams to come in to the sport.

This blocking move by FOTA and the embarrassment caused to the FIA, is likely to harden the FIA’s resolve to leave the capped figure at £30 million, rather than negotiate it up to the £50-60 million, which is more feasible.

I was also interested to see Lewis “No comment” Hamilton commenting quite strongly yesterday on this. His words, especially the second paragraph below, read like they were drafted by a FOTA or McLaren speechwriter, but as the reigning world champion, who has hitherto kept his opinions to himself, his words carry real weight,

“It’s a shame what is happening to Formula One. It’s hard to believe that these recent decisions will improve things for the trackside spectators and TV viewers, who should always be our No1 priority, but I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

“For the first time in recent years we have the teams, drivers, sponsors and fans all working together for the good of our sport – now we just need the governing bodies to listen to us and help us.”

Yesterday’s short statement by the FIA that the new system would not be introduced if the teams did not all agree it, sits oddly for me. Max Mosley is famous for planning everything meticulously. Something has gone wrong here.

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From a fans’ point of view the big story from yesterday’s FOTA press conference was the changes they’d like to make to shorten the races, change the points and boost the TV coverage.

Martin Whitmarsh spoke about the desire to change the points system to reward the winner and podium finishers and to shorten the races by fifty miles, which for the average race will take about 20 minutes off the race time. The points thing will exaggerate the difference between the top teams and the rest and is possibly a payback for the big guys agreeing so many cost cuts and giving cheap engines and gearboxes to the smaller teams for the next three years.

All of this is in response to a huge public survey FOTA conducted. Unlike the recent ING/F1 Racing survey, this one asked people who are mildly interested in F1, not the diehards and the proposals are a response to that. These are the right people to be having that dialogue with because they represent the potential for growth.

Flavio Briatore picked up this theme, talking about how the TV show needed improving. And here we get into some difficulties.

FOTA propose to spice up the show by revealing the weights of the cars after qualifying, opening all radio conversations, showing which cars are fuelled to the finish and showing predictions of where a car will slot in after a pit stop.

Removing all suspense in other words, which I have to say might be a mistake. Telling people right away how much fuel everyone had when they set their fast lap makes qualifying even more meaningless than it is already and takes all the suspense out of the opening phase of the race. The not-knowing sometimes is the best bit. There were quite a few times when I was a TV commentator that I knew more than I let on because it was clear to me that by revealing the information I would ruin the sporting suspense.

The problem here is that they want to make it more accessible to the casual fan, which is laudable and they have some very good ideas like constructors’ championship points for the fastest pit crew. There is some fantastic information the teams have which would be of massive interest to viewers, like a graphic which shows the different lines drivers take around a corner, the radio traffic of course and things which only they see at present.

But to reveal many of the things proposed today would make F1 races less a sporting spectacle and more like a scientific process, with a predictable outcome. I think they need to be more selective, not give all the goodies away too soon.

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Behind the scenes at FOTA

Yesterday was frantic. I got up at 4-30am in London and got the 6-50am BA flight to Geneva with a load of excited people who were going skiiing. Geneva was cold and wet, the motor show is on, but there isn’t much enthusiasm from (or for) the car industry at the moment.

The FOTA press conference was held in a kind of transport museum, not far from the airport. There weren’t as many media there as I’d expected. The usual faces from Italy, Germany, UK, but not the hundreds I thought might come. It’s a sign that the credit crunch is affecting the budgets of many media organisations and I’m sure that the press office at the GPs will have a few more empty seats.

It’s also because FOTA is a slightly odd story in a way I guess. I’m not sure many people have fully appreciated the significance of FOTA and of this day, the first time the teams have all got together with Ferrari at the heart of it and put on a show to say how they want F1 to be run both in terms of governance and commercially and how serious they are about it. They feel they can shape the rule and have more of a stake in the revenues.

For such a big moment, it was a very calm atmosphere. Ferrari and FOTA president Luca di Montezemolo was very much the star of the show, he was centre stage and everyone else played second fiddle, including Ron Dennis. Montezemolo was aware of this and towards the end he asked Ron to say a few words, introducing him by saying that many people would be astonished to see him and Ron together on the same platform, but it was a sign of how FOTA was about togetherness and so on. Although he’s a few years older than Ron he cheekily introduced him as ‘the oldest man on the stage’ but Ron quickly came back with, “But I date younger women..:!” Which he most certainly does.

Some of the behind the scenes chat was about who will follow Montezemolo when his one year term is up. the logical next man in line is Dennis, but there is a feeling that he might prove more devisive and lack the ‘we’re all equals here’ charm of Montezemolo.

Ron had looked quite awkward on the back row. The front row was made up of the chairman (Montezemolo) the deputy chairman (Toyota’s John Howett) and the people who were speaking, Mario Theissen from BMW, Renault’s Flavio Briatore and McLaren’s Martin Whitmarsh. The other team bosses were on the back row.

After hearing all this talk of the dramatic cost savings they had made I was sorely tempted to ask for a show of hands of who had flown in on a commercial airline, but I thought that would be churlish. There is no doubt that a huge amount of work has been done behind the scenes in a very short space of time and the measures announced today are pretty impressive. But I can’t see many of these guys dropping the private jet.

Montezemolo spoke about how they wanted to preserve the DNA of F1, it’s technical challenge, but how they wanted to balance the costs and the revenues and improve the show. He admitted that the credit crunch had forced them all together, but said that this was a positive thing. It certainly is from the point of view of the former Honda team, which would have died without FOTA and some of the others who might well have pulled out. They were all serious about FOTA from July onwards, but when Honda pulled the plug it galvanised them into action.

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The Formula One Teams Association held its first press conference today here in Geneva and the show of strength from the teams underlined how united they are.

The headlines are that they have agreed to measures for 2010 which will cut budgets by 50% compared to the 2008 season. This will mean teams like Force India needing a budget of around £50 million and a top team like Ferrari and McLaren operating on £150 million. It’s impressive progress, but still some way short of what FIA president Max Mosley is looking for. I think the FIA will probably accept these proposals when they are put to them in the next couple of days. Montezemolo told me afterwards that he thinks they will go further in 2011 and 2012 reducing costs, but also looking to increase revenues, particularly from the internet.

They have achieved the 50% saving for 2010 by going through the costs and making savings they are all comfortable with like a 50% cut in aerodynamics work, more savings on gearboxes, a reduction in the number of updates allowed on the car in a season and a further cut in testing. They will also cut the cost of engine supply for small teams by another 37.5% (ie from £5 million per season to £3.2m, so engine and gearbox will be under £5 million total. They also agreed unanimously to standardise the KERS systems and a tender will go out shortly to that effect. It will be very interesting to see what Max Mosley thinks of that…

They have also called for two significant changes to the racing for this season – they want races to be shortened to 150 miles from the current 200 (so Felipe Massa gets his way, see post yesterday!) and for the winner to be better rewarded with a points system which goes 12-9-7-5-4-3-2-1.

The manufacturer teams will make gearboxes available to privateers for £1.5 million per season.

FOTA chairman Luca di Montezemolo also confirmed that all the manufacturers in F1 have committed to stay in the sport until 2012, putting to bed any suggestion that Renault or Toyota might pull out and it was confirmed that the former Honda team will be on the grid in 2009, (see separate post).

It is quite clear that without the FOTA initiatives of the last few months, Honda would have been dead and maybe one or tow more teams would have followed.

All the teams will now sign the Concorde Agreement by March 18th and that will provide a lot of stability to the sport.

They have also committed to provide more information for viewers this season to make the races more entertaining to watch, such as all the fuel data after qualifying, the radio conversations will be totally open and they want to make a graphic showing which cars are fuelled to the finish. Whether Bernie Ecclestone chooses to use these graphics on his TV feed is another question….

I’ll post later on the mood here, the details of the proposals etc, but these are the headlines.

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FOTA faces the public at last

I’ve just been invited to a press conference in Geneva on March 5th, where FOTA president Luca di Montezemolo will outline what the members of the Formula One Teams’ Association have been discussing lately. It’s been very intense behind the scenes, with all the teams heavily involved in discussions covering all areas of the sport.

The invite says, “Luca di Montzemolo, the FOTA president, will make a speech in which he will unveil FOTA’s plans for the future of Formula 1.

These plans are the result of a series of meetings held over the past few weeks and months, all of them with a common goal: to make Formula 1 commercially sustainable, environmentally friendly and compellingly attractive for spectators, TV viewers and internet consumers alike for years to come.”

As I see it, FOTA want to work together with Bernie Ecclestone’s organisation to improve the show, the turnover and the media reach of the sport and collaborate with the FIA and Max Mosley to come up with rules which make F1 sustainable and entertaining. The vibes I get are that both men think that there are some big advantages to dealing with one man, Montezemolo, who represents all the teams, it takes out a lot of the politics and nonsense of the past. That said, the teams’ demands are more than either Mosley and Ecclestone want to give away, so there is a serious negotiation to be had here. Rules wise it’s about 2010 and the longer future, money wise it’s about 2013 onwards, when the current deals expire.

On paper FOTA is the best thing that’s happened to the sport in decades and now FOTA has decided to become more than just a private members club for F1 team members and to become a public facing organisation at last.

Initially the senior FOTA figures I spoke to back in September were not sure whether they would ever become public facing, but now they have decided to deal out on the open, which can only be a good thing for you the fans.

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