Ferrari gives the game away

One big family - Hockenheim 2010
© http://www.sutton-images.com

There will no doubt be a lot of media chatter today and in the short break before we arrive in Hungary about what happened in today’s German Grand Prix. I don’t want to go on too much, as there’ll no doubt be a million articles like this, so I will keep it short.

I won’t debate the merits of whether it was the right decision, because of course Fernando is ahead in the championship and the team’s considered best shot for the title. I’d wager Felipe could fight for it too, but as we’re into the second half of the season, the team has to make a choice.

Here’s the thing, though. Team orders have always been a part of Formula 1, but that doesn’t make it any more comfortable to witness when they are played out in such blatant fashion.

We know it goes on in code over the radio, via “botched” pitstops or preferential treatment for one driver over another, but we also all thought, or rather hoped, that the regulations had been changed to stop this kind of thing from happening so blatantly on track; to stop teams from manipulating the race in a style that short changed F1’s billions of fans around the world. They had, but this time it didn’t work and Ferrari is set to feel the wrath not only of the World Motor Sport Council, but of this sport’s global, passionate and very vocal fanbase.

Ferrari will, and is, claiming innocence in the affair.

But I ask you this. If the team felt it had done things by the book, why the need for the shambolic post podium podium? Why did Stefano Domenicali (in whom I will admit I have huge respect), see it necessary to drag his drivers, one of whom clearly did not wish to be there under such circumstances, onto the top step of the podium to share the win?

And why, in the post race TV scrums, was Felipe Massa in posession of the winning driver’s Bridgestone cap, clearly marked with “1st”?

In one moment with that laughable podium show of “unity” Ferrari showed the world just how embarrassed it was about what it had done to its driver and to its fans. That one moment simply oozed with an overwhelming sense of guilt.

Remind you of anything?

Rubens Barrichello lifts the winner's trophy after team orders robbed him of victory - Austria 2002
© http://www.sutton-images.com

Todt’s influence clear as FIA rings the changes

Jean Todt © FIA

Praise the lord and pass the ammunition. A brace of changes lie in store for Formula 1 next season, as Jean Todt made good on his election promises and helped push through some much needed alterations to the manner in which the sport will be run in the coming years at today’s FIA World Motor Sport Council meeting.

First up, a new points system. 25 for the winner, 20 for second, 15 for third, 10 for fourth then 8, 6, 5, 3, 2, 1 going down to tenth place. The increase in the number of drivers scoring points reflects the increase in grid size and is, frankly, an excellent idea. The points differential for the top three also does what Bernie Ecclestone had wanted to do through his bonkers medals idea, which was to make a win mean considerably more than second place and thus improve the prospect of somebody pushing that extra bit harder to overtake.

Second, and long overdue, Mr Todt has managed to unite consensus within the WMSC to overhaul the outdated and ineffectual stewarding process which had thrown up so many dodgy decisions over the past few seasons. Spa 2008 anyone?

Here’s the official blurb:

A smaller permanent group of F1 Stewards will sit with experienced former F1 drivers to provide a permanent panel of three FIA stewards, together with one steward representing the National Sporting Authority, to deal with F1 at each Grand Prix.

There will no longer be a non-voting Chairman and each group of stewards will elect their own Chairman amongst themselves for each race. Utilising video and radio exchanges they should aim to reach decisions very efficiently.

The current observer programme for F1 stewards will continue, and training, distribution of decisions, and an annual meeting will be encouraged to raise the quality of decisions in this permanent group.

What does that mean? Basically it means Max Mosley’s bezzie mate Alan Donnely (non-voting, but hugely influential stewards Chairman) is out of a job. It also means that the cry of the media, the sport at large, and even the drivers has been heeded and former racers will sit on a stewarding panel. Seems such a simple idea, doesn’t it? And the fact it has taken a new President to push it through gives us a small glimpse of just what a barrier to the advancement of common sense in the sport Max Mosley really had become in the latter stages of his Presidency.

There will also be newly appointed F1 Ambassadors, pulled from the membership of the World Council for each event.

The Ambassador will liaise with the National Sporting Authority (ASN) and organising team at the circuit. He will also meet with the ASN President, FIA VIP guests, Formula One Management, F1 Teams and other stakeholders and act as an Ambassador of FIA sport.

Anything else? Well actually, yes. One of Todt’s biggest election pledges has been incorporated into the FIA’s structure at the first opportunity with the announcement of the creation of the role of Comissioner for each FIA championship. Here’s the official blurb again…

Commissioners for the FIA World Championships will be appointed by the World Motor Sport Council on the proposal of the President of the FIA.

The commissioners report directly to the President of the FIA and, at the request of the President, to the Deputy President of the FIA for Sport or to other members of the World Motor Sport Council.

The commissioners will be present at each event of the World Championship for which they have been appointed and their role is to serve as permanent liaison for the various stakeholders involved (ASNs, promoters, organisers, manufacturers, teams, officials, suppliers, etc.).

They are also tasked with supervising the general running of the Championship and its development on behalf of the FIA.

The commissioners are not empowered to take decisions or to perform any other act of a regulatory nature which may come under the remit (sporting, technical, organisational or disciplinary) accorded to the officials of the event by the International Sporting Code.

The appointment of the commissioners will allow the FIA President to focus on the strategic development of the FIA and in particular to further encourage the synergies between mobility and motor sport.

The Calendar was also confirmed, with Abu Dhabi switching places with Brazil to become the final round of the season, as it was in 2009.

But the biggest and best news is that Jean Todt’s reign as President of the FIA is having an immediate impact. His suggestions for change have been sensible and structured and in some cases have righted problems which have existed within the sport for far too long. Most importantly of all, he is already respected enough within the association to be able to get his amendments voted through with little fuss.

All in all, it has been a good news day for Formula 1. Not only has today’s meeting of the world council reinforced the feeling that a new era of governance has swept over the FIA, but that in Jean Todt the body has a President with the strength and motivation to push Formula 1 in a direction that will benefit the sport first and foremost.

Flav and the FIA: Round 2

Tomorrow morning Flavio Briatore will begin his fight back against the lifetime ban imposed upon him by the FIA World Motor Sport Council for his part in the 2008 Singapore scandal.

His appeal against the decision will be heard at the Tribunal de Grande Instance de Paris, at the Palais de Justice. Justice has been handed out on this site since medieval times, and the Palais was once the seat of the French parliament.

But will Briatore get the justice he craves and that he believes he deserves?

Little is known about what Flav will argue but his options appear limited. We know, thanks to leaks to the press, that he will seek €1 million in compensation and to have his lifetime ban from FIA competition overturned. We know that he will argue that the case had been decided before it had even been heard and that he was made a scapegoat for the situation due to the personal vendetta of Max Mosley. But, as I said, how he hopes to argue this is, and may remain due to French judicial procedure, a mystery.

One of Flavio’s strongest arguments may well be the simple fact that both Nelson Piquet Jr and Pat Symonds were offered immunity to testify against Briatore. This could quite easily be argued to signal that the FIa was only intent on prosecuting Briatore and could give credence to his claims of a witch hunt. That Symonds ultimately chose not to take that offer, however, led to his own downfall. He will also be arguing his five year ban tomorrow.

Briatore and Symonds will try to argue that the case was heard without them being present, despite both of their testimonies to FIA investigators being used in the hearing at the WMSC. Had they wished to have been present to represent themselves, they could easily have done so. Their choice in not attending may thus stand their claims of a decision in absentia void.

Personally however, I do not believe that Briatore expects to win his case tomorrow. Frankly I don’t even think he wants to.

Had he wanted the decision overturned, he could have appealed in the first instance to the FIA’s International Court of Appeal. A body separate and independent of the WMSC and one filled with legal minds, he could easily have argued his case here and stood a good chance of being reinstated.

He has gone a different route however, taking his appeal through the French court system. But why? And why do I think he will lose?

He will lose because if he wins, the regulation of sport… any sport… could fall into chaos. Sporting bodies have always been and must continue to be free to punish those who break their rules.

We are not, for the most part, talking about legal issues when it comes to sporting penalties. Take the Bloodgate controversy in English rugby. While it is not illegal to bite down on a blood capsule, the fact that a player in a match of rugby did so to initiate a “blood replacement” led to him being suspended and his manager and physio being banned from the game for a period of some years. The Renault Singapore scandal isn’t too dissimilar.

So what happens if Flavio wins tomorrow? It essentially tells anyone who has been handed a penalty by a sport’s governing body that if they want to get it overturned they should appeal the decision through the courts. Can you imagine what that would do to world sport? Every yellow card, every red card, every sending off, every touchline ban, relegations, promotions, points dockings… every sporting penalty in every championship on earth could be appealed through the courts. It could create an enormous mess, and one which effectively strips the world’s sports’ governing bodies of any real power to govern their own sports.

But, as I said, I don’t think Flavio even wants to win this one. For me, tomorrow’s case was always one he was going to lose, and I think he knows that.

Flavio has gone the route he has because he expects to lose the case so that he can appeal to a higher body. And ultimately, when all other appeal courts in France have been expended he will take the case to where he really wants it to be heard… and that is the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

He will take his case to the highest court in Europe and he will argue that the FIA has stripped him of his basic human rights. In doing so he will seek to further discredit the reign of Max Mosley at the FIA, and to smash any chances Mosley might have had at entering European Politics, if indeed that is where Max had wished to end up after his FIA Presidency, as has been rumoured for many years.

I will not be surprised in the slightest if Flavio loses his appeal tomorrow. Afterall, if my hunch is right, it’s exactly what Flavio wants.

Blast from the Past…

walken

There’s a great passage in the movie “Blast From the Past” delivered by one of my all-time favourite actors, Mr Chritsopher Walken. Admittedly the film isn’t great, but Walken, as always, is just brilliant. The movie essentially revolves around a family who have lived in a fall-out shelter for 30 years, erroneously believing in the late 1960s that the Cold War had become Nuclear and thus they had saved themselves from perishing by going underground. It is at the end of the movie, however, that the father, Calvin (played by Walken) discovers from his son who has been up to the real world, Adam (played by Brendan Fraser) that the nuclear war never actually happened and that the Soviet Union fell without any fighting taking place…

CALVIN: You’re sure?
ADAM: Positive. The Soviet Union collapsed without a shot being fired. The Cold War is over.
CALVIN: What? Did the Politburo just one day say – “We give up?”
ADAM: That’s kind of how it was.
CALVIN: Uh-huh. My gosh, those Commies are brilliant! You’ve got to hand it to ‘em! “No, we didn’t drop any bombs! Oh yes, our evil empire has collapsed! Poor, poor us!” I bet they’ve even asked the West for aid! Right?!
ADAM: Uh, I think they have.
CALVIN: Hah!!! Those cagey rascals! Those sly dissemblers! They’ve finally pulled the wool over everybody’s eyes.

It’s a scene that’s been running through my mind today, ever since Max Mosley walked out of the World Motor Sport Council meeting and announced he would step aside and that FOTA had, essentially, won the battle without even having to go into the basics of setting up their own rival championship. Even Jean Marie Balestre held out until a rival championship began back in the early 1980s… and yet Mosley, the most astute of politicians, the hardest nosed of all brinskmen had simply capitulated?

It took a little while to sink in.

And yet it genuinely does seem as though we have peace. The essentials of the 2009 regulations will be carried over into 2010. New teams will receive technical assistance from established teams. A FOTA suggestion of a gradual limitation of budgets to early 1990s levels will come in over the next two seasons. The 1998 Concorde Agreement will be resigned until 2012, before which date a brand new agreement will be discussed and signed.

And Max Mosley will stand aside. He will not run for re-election. And his day-to-day dealings with Formula 1, if we understand correctly from the rumours currently circulating, will be taken over by Michel Boeri, head of Monaco’s ACM.

It is a complete and total victory for FOTA. Without a comparative shot ever being fired.

It is brilliant news for Formula 1. It means we have one championship, and one championship alone. It means no division and no fears over the end of something we all adore.

But it also means the end of Max Mosley and his reign as FIA President… something that few within the sport will be truly sad to see.

However, just as Christopher Walken’s character found it hard to believe that the Communists had simply given up without a fight, so there will be those in Formula 1 who view today’s statement by Mosley with some trepidation.

In the past what Mosley has said and what he has done have not always been closely aligned. Just last year he said he would not stand for re-election as FIA President, and yet this week claimed that he would do exactly that. Only a last minute U-Turn has changed his mind.

What’s to stop him from turning again? With Formula 1 saved and the teams all committed to a future in the sport, what happens if no suitable Presidential candidate emerges? Would Mosley stand again? Would he claim force majeur?

Given how close F1 has come to the brink over the past few weeks, I’d doubt it. Maybe this really is the end of Max Mosley’s reign as President of the FIA.

But after so many political battles, and so much deception… it’s just taking a while to sink in.

An important day in Paris

The World Motor Sport Council will meet today in Paris, and the result of this meeting could have a huge impact on the future of Formula 1 as we know it.

Perhaps most important of all, is that today, for the first time in a number of weeks, FIA President Max Mosley will come face to face with FOTA President Luca di Montezemolo. It will be a face off, and I, along with many colleagues, would love to be a fly on that particular wall today.

Mosley’s hardline position over the past month will have won him many friends within FIA circles. There are many within the halls of power at the governing body who look upon Max as a Knight in shining armour, who has stood up for the authority of the FIA against the rebelious FOTA teams who, in their view, are trying to wrestle control of the sport away from them.

Mosley and di Montezemolo’s exchanges will thus be fascinating. For if di Montezemolo convinces the FIA that FOTA’s gripes rest not with the FIA, but with Mosley’s system of governance, then he may well start a groundswell of negativity towards Mosley from within the very body over which he presides. What the FIA doesn’t want is to see FOTA taking control of Formula 1 away from them. However it will also be only too aware that without the FOTA teams, there will be very little left of Formula 1 to govern.

Mosley wrote yesterday to all FIA Clubs, informing them that he had little option but to stand again for re-election to the FIA Presidency, owing to the unprecedented attack the body was enduring from FOTA. This announcement comes despite his assurances last year that he would NOT stand again.

So the exchanges between di Montezemolo and Mosley will be crucial today. If di Montezemolo comes out on top, and Mosley does stand for re-election, there is every reason to believe that somebody out there within the FIA may be bold enough to stand against him. If di Montezemolo can convince the FIA that FOTA’s gripes rest not with the FIA, but with what Mosley has turned the FIA into, then Mosley’s position could become unstable.

But if Mosley wins today’s confrontation, not only will he stand again for re-election, but he may do so unopposed. Worst still, if today cements his position as FIA President, Formula 1 as we know it will die.

It seems now that only Mosley’s stepping aside, or being forced aside, can begin the negotiation process between FOTA and the FIA.

FOTA is not averse to the FIA, nor is it averse to Ecclestone. All it wants to see is a new system of governance and a fairer distribution of revenue. Mosley currently stands in the way of the first of these demands, and until that is resolved there will be no movement. The breakaway will remain.

Which is why today’s meeting in Paris will be so important.