There’s no doubt that team unity is a fickle thing. It was in the 1980’s during the FISA-FOCA war and continued to be through the Formula One Teams Association (FOTA) age. Teams are interested in their own backyards and while FOTA was meant to gain a unified voice, ultimately Red Bull, Toro Rosso, Ferrari, Sauber and a MIA Martin Whitmarsh has placed the final nail in a coffin labeled Formula One Teams Association.
“I can confirm that FOTA has been disbanded, as a result of its members having re-evaluated their requirements in the face of a changing political and commercial landscape in Formula 1.” Said FOTA’s secretary general, Oliver Weingarten.
For many, FOTA represented a rare opportunity to consolidate team power in which to shape the future of Formula 1 and this seemed like a charter that was much needed given that Formula One Management had sold out the series to Kirch which eventually moved into BayernLB’s hands over insolvency of the German media group.
After an alleged bribe from Bernie Ecclestone, the series then roosted in the hands of CVC Capital Partners. CVC may not have known much about running the commercial side of F1 but what they do know is how to skim all the cream from the top and plunder their investments for stakeholder value. No re-investment, no marketing campaigns, no serious interest in future-mapping F1’s 20-year success plan—simply an investment in which to hold status quo and reap the rewards.
FOTA’s demise is unfortunate and potentially costly to the future of F1 but that’s not to say that teams couldn’t unify again should they feel the future is being misdirected. The big question is if teams can actually have a unified voice and Bernie Ecclestone has proven time again how disparate and selfish needs for their own organizations benefit and survival trumps the need for unity. Only when the stakes are great and the series is making sweeping, all-encompassing changes the teams cannot live with will there be a unified shout.
FOTA was eroded, naturally or helped by Ecclestone money, when the issue of cost cutting arrived in F1. Sure, threatening a breakaway series in light of the FIA and CVC’s lack of direction during the Sex Scandal days of the Mosely regime seemed logical but start picking at balance sheets and things get very touchy. This divisive topic ultimately stalled FOTA and Ecclestone’s politicking and deal-making ensured its destabilization by luring Red Bull, Toro Rosso, Ferrari and Sauber our from under the FOTA banner. Remaining FOTA president, Martin Whitmarsh, soldiered on but his ouster at McLaren during the recent Woking junta means that FOTA is dead.
The newly formed Strategy Group that the FIA announced this year is meant to take the place of FOTA and it remains to be seen how effective this group will be given it’s debut decision is double points, one has reservations as to if this group truly has the unified voice and clarity to see F1’s best interests.
FOTA was the right idea at perhaps at the right time. It’s demise is certainly unfortunate as the series needed this group if only to keep the players honest and to keep the team interests salient to the conversation when it came to big-rock issues that impact all teams in a more global fashion. Issues such as double points, regulation changes and commercial rights moves or IPO opportunities. In the end, the teams comprise the show and the show has had the gout for several years now. Sad that the teams failed to lend their unified voice to the diagnosis and treatment regimen.