Ultimately thatâ€™s the question. Was former FIA president Max Mosley right? Were his warnings of an untenable F1 due to outrageous costs the downfall of Honda, BMW, Toyota and Bridgestone? Could he have been sending the right message to the wrong crowd?
Ferrariâ€™s response to the Toyota decision has left me somewhat gape-mouthed to be honest. I was surprised at the strong words used and implications. I was also intrigued by the notion or precepts set forth by their diatribe and couldnâ€™t help thinkingâ€”what if theyâ€™re right?
No question the war for control of F1 was more dangerous and there was a lot more at stake than many of us realize. What would have precipitated Toyotaâ€™s departure as they are signatory to the Concorde Agreement extension through 2012? Drawing parallels to the summertime war, could it be said that the FIAâ€™s love affair with the privateerâ€™s (Manor, Lotus, Campos, USF1) was born from the intent to dilute the manufacturerâ€™s hold on the sport? There is little doubt in my mind.
Mosley insisted that an $80m budget cap was achievable and used blunt force in the 2010 application process with draconian regulations and heavy-handed tacticsâ€”just like he did in the recent election and his own personal vote of confidence debacle. The raking he gave the manufacturers for their extravagant lifestyle and pursuit of perfection was profound if not perfunctory. It was the kind of rant one reserves for desperate, back-against-a-thin-wall type of moments.
The message was met with disdain from all corners of F1 and thus formed the Formula One Teams Association or FOTA. A recent article leveraged that Toyotaâ€™s exit has left FOTA neutered as they are down to three manufacturers. But FOTA stands for â€œteams Associationâ€ not manufacturers. Campos, Williams and Force India are members. Still, the point is well taken.
I doubt anyone thinks the past spending levels could be continued in F1 but do you think the economy is really to blame for the exodus? The manufacturers live in a free market and the lack of funds will determine which programs are reduced in scope or eliminated. To those ends, the regulatory body has made F1 the voracious money pit that it is and while the teams didnâ€™t have to spend the money they spentâ€”they most certainly did as it was the regulations.
There is more to the story of the war that Ferrari has hinted at and FOM as well as the FIA knew they were in a tenuous position last summer having seen this model succeed before when both FOM boss Bernie Ecclestone and Mosley used similar tactics to wrest control of the sport away from FISA. Was Mosley right? How did he know so many manufacturers would leave F1? Was it his crystal ball showing him that the economy would force them to leave or was there something else?
The interesting part, and something I originally intended this op-ed to speak of, is the FIA response. SJ Skid has covered it impeccably here but please note that Jean Todtâ€™s FIA has the same, dog-eared response that the Mosley Regime would have. Notice the slap across FOTAâ€™s face with the insinuation that Mosleyâ€™s original cost-cutting measures would have worked to prevent this and that they have been paragons of virtue in warning the teams. In reality they loaded the deck with a sole-supplier engine, privateers and draconian regulations intended to neuter the manufacturers and that is precisely what they have done.
I hold little interest in seeing barely-funded teams putting around the tracks on an unproven lump and calling it F1. I apologize to all the new teams, as everyone knows I love a good privateer, but this 2010 new-team initiative of Mosleyâ€™s is using the approved entrants as much as it is attacking the established leaders of F1. What it FOTAâ€™s culpability in this? They should have worked together to create serious self-regulated cost cutting-measures while ensuring competitive racing at the highest level. That would have required regulation re-writes (which you might recall FOTA offering the FIA this summer) but so be it.
The lesson learned here is that Todtâ€™s FIA is a perpetuation of the Mosley regime. Why? Because Ecclestone is still in charge and needs a neutralized FOTA in order to retain control. Just as the FIA has control over cash-starved motoring clubs in Africa and thus receive their vote in any direction they need it, they also will have the small, privateers in a similar position. Todtâ€™s heavy-handed response and threat of litigation is directly from the mouth of the FOM and of that there can be no denying. His response was predictable and yet another reason Ari Vatanen would have made a better candidate for the teams and the fans but not for FOM or the FIA.
So where does this leave us? I suggest that Ferrari and FOTA may be building something behind the scenes and while Toyota were willing to brake their contract to leave the series, one wonders if Ferrari feels this strongly about itâ€”they too may still consider the possibility of a FOTA series. Anyone have Flavio Briatoreâ€™s mobile number?
So which is it folks? Leave your reply below. Tell us if you think this is the economy hammering manufacturers who are bad for the sport or if you think the FIA/FOM have caused this domino effect. We’d like to know your opinion.