Is Formula 1 bringing itself into disrepute?

The Safety Car - Valencia 2010 © http://www.sutton-images.com

What a difference a day makes. On Sunday morning we were all expecting a fairly dull race on a weekend in which F1 had finally seemed to find some stability. A feeling of calm had washed over the paddock with the teams all fairly happy and united under FOTA, the driver market pretty much sorted and the rules and regulations for the future cemented by the FIA.

But Fernando Alonso’s claims of a fixed race have well and truly rocked the fragile peace in the sport. Indeed there have even been suggestions that the FIA is acting with severe bias towards Lewis Hamilton and McLaren.

Now if you’re finding those comments odd, you’re not the only one. The FIA favouring McLaren against Ferrari? Really? Have we switched into a parallel dimension? Fair is foul and foul is fair and all that? There was a time, not too long ago, when the FIA was nicknamed “Ferrari International Assistance” after so many of the body’s decisions seemed to favour the scarlet cars over any others, particularly those from Woking.

Instead, after the European Grand Prix, there was something of a feeling that Ferrari and Alonso’s petulance and comments in themselves were the most damaging thing for the sport, and they could yet land them in hot water for bringing Formula 1 into disrepute.

But then again, you can kind of see where they’re coming from. Hamilton passed the safety car and finished second. Alonso didn’t and came eighth. So in essence, Hamilton cheated and yet wasn’t really punished harshly enough in Ferrari’s eyes as he pulled a better result out of the bag than the man who didn’t cheat. I like Lewis, I’m a big fan, but by overtaking the safety car he broke the rules. Simple.

Alonso said he’d never seen anything like it before. But I have, and I’m afraid that it won’t help Lewis’ cause, because he was the guilty party once again. It was 2006, in the GP2 race in Imola, and Lewis overtook the safety car after falsely thinking he was being waved through when in fact it was waving through the Campos cars ahead of him. Lewis was leading the race at that time and should have stayed behind the safety car. His penalty? A black flag and disqualification from the race. So I can see why Ferrari would be upset that a similar penalty was not applied to Lewis for this transgression.

Lewis Hamilton shortly before his black flag - GP2 Imola 2006. © www.sutton-images.com

I’m also failing to fully understand the brace of 5 second penalties handed out to the nine drivers who ran too quickly in comparison to the delta times when entering the pits under the safety car. Because if this is the precedent, then why on earth should drivers pay any attention to the delta times in the future? If a 5 second penalty is now considered the norm for such a transgression, sticking to race pace on an inlap under the safety car could very easily buy a driver far more than the 5 second penalty he’d incur for sticking to his delta time.

The result of the stewarding decisions in Valencia, therefore, have completely made a mockery of the safety car regulations. And if anything, is not the role of the FIA to ensure that the rules and their application are consistent, transparent and precise enough to instil confidence in the sport? What about the fans who watch the race, be they those who pay for their tickets or are simply watching it at home? If 9 drivers had been kicked further down the field hours after the race had finished, for their safety car transgressions, what sort of message does that hand out to the fans?

It says, don’t bother to tune in to the race. Just watch the news tomorrow morning when hopefully we will have had a cup of tea and figured out who should have won. It is little wonder Ferrari is kicking off. But their gripe shouldn’t be with McLaren or Hamilton because they simply made the best out of the situation they were placed in. They were handed a penalty and they rose above it beautifully, just as Mark Webber did in taking his first F1 victory at the Nurburgring last season. The issue here lies in the regulations, and more importantly in their application during the race.

There was another example of stewarding inefficiency in Valencia and it was for a moment in the first GP2 race when Alberto Valerio’s Coloni was released from the pits with the rear jack still attached. The team appeared not to tell Valerio to pull over, and for 5 corners the Brazilian ran at race speed with the rear jack lurching from side to side as a clearly edgy Sergio Perez tried to keep his distance. In the end the jack released itself at Turn 5 and crashed heavily into an FOM camera point, scaring the living crap out of Nicolo the cameraman on site. It smashed the crap out of the camera too.

The team was brought before the stewards after the race. And their penalty? A €1500 fine. Seriously. €1500 Euros.

Let’s go back 12 months to the Hungarian Grand Prix when Fernando Alonso was released from a pitstop with a loose wheel, which detached itself and bounced down the track. It didn’t hit anyone or anything, but the Renault F1 team was slapped with a ban for the next race. The ban was subsequently overturned, but the message was clear – you do not knowingly, under any circumstances, endanger your driver, the other drivers, the track workers or fans.

How on earth the stewards deemed that €1500 was a sufficient penalty is beyond me. A ban from the next race, or at least a fine that would have paid the tens of thousands of Euros that a new trackside camera will cost FOM, seemed a fairer decision.

They had a nightmare in Valencia, plain and simple.

Lewis Hamilton passes the safety car - Valencia 2010 © www.sutton-images.com

Their indecision and delay in the F1 race meant that the handing down of Hamilton’s drive through had nowhere near the level of effect which the application of a penalty should have. The precedent was a black flag but they applied a drive through. A simple look on a pocket calculator would have told them a drive-through wouldn’t change much in terms of race order, so if they had really wanted to penalise Hamilton why not give him a stop-go, or the black flag the precedent had already set down?

Given the level of data at their disposal, why did it take the stewards over half the race to figure out that 9 drivers might have gone too fast on their safety car in laps, and with all of that data on hand why therefore could they not have applied drive through penalties during the race rather than creating a potential “false” result, to use Ferrari’s words, after the event had been concluded.

For one of very few occasions in my life, I find myself agreeing with the sentiments of Luca di Montezemolo, who today has claimed that the events of the weekend have set “dangerous precedents, throwing a shadow over the credibility of Formula 1.”

The stewards decisions seemed to be too little too late and set a dangerously ineffectual precedent on the position of the stewards and their power or strength of character to make the correct call at the correct time.

Nobody wants to see a race decided in the stewards office after the chequered flag has fallen. As Lewis proved in Valencia, and as we have seen many times in the past, a driver can often pull out the most incredible races when he has an obstacle, or a penalty, to overcome. What is most galling for the fans of this sport and for the drivers themselves, is when they are penalised off the track for something they have done on it.

We need decisions to be made faster by the stewards during the races to allow the drivers an opportunity to fight back on track. We need the penalties, when applied, to be comparable to the offence, be that in their harshness or in their leniency. And above all we need consistency in the penalties and their application from case to case, weekend to weekend, driver to driver and team to team.

If we don’t get it the only thing that will bring the sport into disrepute, is the sport itself.

Whitmarsh – FOTA and McLaren willing to help new teams.

Martin Whitmarsh © http://www.sutton-images.com

McLaren’s Team Principal Martin Whitmarsh has pledged that Formula 1 will do all it can to help the sport’s new teams succeed, as the financial and sporting future of at least half of F1′s new entrants looks to be in jeopardy with a matter of days to go until pre-season testing gets underway.

His comments come just a day after Ferrari President Luca di Montezemolo reignited the discussion surrounding the provision of customer cars to new teams in order to aid their transition to F1.

“I think we, as McLaren and myself as chairman of FOTA, recognise that we will do all we can to demonstrate that new entrants are possible in F1,” he said at today’s launch of the McLaren MP4-25.

“It is clearly tough for the new teams to come into the sport. We know how difficult it is, with all the experience and resources we have, to be ready for the start of the season. So it must be very difficult for any new team. I don’t think we should apologise for that. F1 is the pinnacle of motorsport and if it was easy for anyone to get out their chequebook and go motor racing at the highest level next year, then we would really not have been working as hard as we should have been as established teams.

“We don’t want any team to fail, we should be doing all that we can within the F1 community. I think FOTA has been a coming-together of all of the teams for the first time in the history of F1. The spirit that exists in F1 is unique now, certainly in my 20 years of experience in the sport. So I think we will do what we can, but ultimately if there are teams that just don’t have the capability or resource or underestimated the task of being at the highest level of motorsport in the world, then some you can help and some you can’t.”

Whitmarsh maintained that McLaren remained open to the possibility of supplying customer cars, but expressed his surprise that none of the new teams, save for the as yet still mysterious Stefan GP, decided to take up the option of buying Toyota’s completed 2010 racer.

“I think philosophically McLaren believes that it is important F1 entrants develop their own cars, however, we are pragmatists and we have demonstrated in the past a willingness to provide customer cars. We remain willing, but I don’t know we are ready to do it quite before Bahrain if a team needs it.

“Ironically quite a lot of these teams had an opportunity to acquire a Toyota chassis. Toyota built two cars that were available from Christmas, and I am rather surprised that some of them did not do that – they rather looked a gift horse in the mouth. That was, perhaps, the wrong decision but nevertheless they had their own reasons for that decision. We have to see in the coming weeks or months whether we can help those new teams to be there to add to the flavour and diversity of F1.”

Oh bloody hell

crying child

Remember that agreement in Paris on Wednesday? The one between FOTA and the FIA that was going to save F1? You remember… the one in which Max Mosley promised not to stand for re-election and the future of the sport was assured by all the teams agreeing to carry on in F1 until 2012?

Yeah, well forget that.

Max apparently wasn’t very happy with the way the press conferences went, and was rather upset that it was announced that he was standing aside immediately from his F1 roles and that Michel Boeri would be taking over as F1 mediator for the next few months. He also wasn’t very happy with being labelled a dictator…. perhaps unsurprisingly.

So he’s written to the F1 teams, to tell them in no uncertain terms to apologise or all deals are off.

Given your and FOTA’s deliberate attempt to mislead the media, I now consider my options open. At least until October, I am president of the FIA with the full authority of that office. After that it is the FIA member clubs, not you or FOTA, who will decide on the future leadership of the FIA.

We made a deal yesterday in Paris to end the recent difficulties in Formula 1. A fundamental part of this was that we would both present a positive and truthful account to the media. I was therefore astonished to learn that FOTA has been briefing the press that Mr Boeri has taken charge of Formula 1, something which you know is completely untrue; that I had been forced out of office, also false; and, apparently, that I would have no role in the FIA after October, something which is plain nonsense, if only because of the FIA statutes.

Furthermore, you have suggested to the media that I was a ‘dictator’, an accusation which is grossly insulting to the 26 members of the World Motor Sport Council who have discussed and voted all the rules and procedures of Formula 1 since the 1980s, not to mention the representatives of the FIA’s 122 countries who have democratically endorsed everything I and my World Motor Sport Council colleagues have done during the last 18 years.

If you wish the agreement we made to have any chance of survival, you and FOTA must immediately rectify your actions. You must correct the false statements which have been made and make no further such statements.

You yourself must issue a suitable correction and apology at your press conference this afternoon.

Formula 1 is run entirely by our 25-strong team without any help from me or any other outsider. There was no need for me to involve myself further in Formula 1 once we had a settlement. Equally, I had a long-standing plan not to seek re-election in October. It was therefore possible for me to confirm both points to you yesterday.

So was any apology forthcoming in yesterday’s FOTA press conference? You bet your bottom dollar it wasn’t. And why? Possibly because FOTA didn’t want to apologise, or possibly because, as usual, Max had made his statement, or sent his letter, while those to whom the letter was addressed were deep in a meeting. It’s not unheard of for major announcements to be made minutes before press conferences on F1 weekends. His letter seems to have all the hallmarks of such a game, being sent at a time when he knew nobody would be able to read it, and thus making his request impossible to meet. It makes FOTA appear to be unrepentant.

It’s enough to make you scream.

While FOTA yesterday was talking about taking the sport back to the fans, listening to what the fans wanted and outlining a vision for a bright future, we hear that behind the scenes politicking from Mosley has thrown the whole thing back up in the air.

While Mosley is the FIA President, there is a general feeling within the sport that he considers himself to be the FIA. His agreement to stand aside from a Presidency which, in the words of Luca di Montezemolo, has had the hallmarks of a dictatorship, appeared to give peace a real chance. It was Mosley’s continued involvement that stood in the way of the sport’s future.

So why would he risk the deal he had done being scuppered by threatening to stand again for the Presidency?

Read the online bulletin boards and you will find little or no sympathy for Mosley. The boards scream that he is authoritarian, dictatorial, out of touch and running the sport on his ego alone. He may not like these accusations, and he may not see them as true, but they are the views of the fans of this sport and they are growing louder with every passing day. It is a sport he has helped fashion into its current guise, and a sport he has nurtured. But it is a sport which, through his continued involvement, he threatens to obliterate.

We had the smallest chink of light in this infernal darkness of a political mess on Wednesday. One hopes that light is allowed to shine, and is not snuffed out by silly gripes and playground politics which can be resolved as simply as they can be forgotten.

What about the fans?

When FOTA announced late last Thursday night that it intended to set up a rival championship to F1 in 2010, there was one sentence which stood out to me and many of my colleagues in the Formula 1 press corps.

This series will have transparent governance, one set of regulations, encourage more entrants and listen to the wishes of the fans, including offering lower prices for spectators worldwide, partners and other important stakeholders.

It was a noble ambition, and one which bought FOTA the support of a loyal and emotional fanbase. Read any bulletin board online, and you’ll be hard pressed to find a pro-FIA voice. FOTA was standing up for itself against the supposed tyranny of the FIA and, in particular, the authoritarian, some might say dictatorial, style of governance of Max Mosley. It was something that resonated with the fans, and the promise of lower prices to attend races, one would assume also through a fairer pricing structure for the circuits to host FOTA races, and that the FOTA championship would actually listen to the fans, won FOTA unquestioned support from the many millions of people worldwide who breathe life into this sport.

And yet in yesterday’s press conferences and interviews, there was not one mention of this small but very important part of FOTA’s reasoning for threatening to set up a rival championship.

So what’s happened?

FOTA has got transparent governance, it has got one set of regulations. By agreeing to help the new teams it can also argue that it will encourage more entrants. But where was the mention of lower ticket prices, and of listening to the fans?

It would be a cynical man who said that FOTA had simply included this line in their weekend statement to get the fans on their side and show a global groundswell of opinion against Mosley. But with little mention of this factor yesterday, one has to ask… has FOTA forgotten this important pledge?

It is obvious now that FOTA’s main intention, regardless of how many times it denied it, was to get rid of Mosley. He, and he alone, stood in the way of a resolution to the issues that threatened to rip this sport apart and his departure will allow a new direction and the promise of a new system of governance. But the toppling of Mosley should not, and must not, be the be all and end all of FOTA’s victory. There is a chance to make change, and one hopes that FOTA does not forget its pledge to the fans.

FOTA is meeting today to discuss its future direction now that it has achieved its important victory over the 2010 regulations. It holds the upper hand in the political spectre of Formula 1.

We all await a statement from FOTA this afternoon and I, for one, hope that the many millions of fans who pledged their loyalty and support to FOTA, and gave it the confidence and backing to push forward on its recent path, knowing it was in the right as far as the fans were concerned, are represented in its vision of the future. I hope that FOTA does not forget the promise it made to the fans not one week ago.

Because regardless of the FIA and FOTA and the battle they have fought, it should be the fans that win.

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.

So what now?

Another day, another development in the ever evolving mess that is Formula 1.

Yesterday’s news that FOTA intended to establish its own championship was met in the afternoon with the FIA’s own news that it intended to launch legal proceedings against the rebel alliance.

Their statement read:

“The FIA’s lawyers have now examined the FOTA threat to begin a breakaway series. The actions of FOTA as a whole, and Ferrari in particular, amount to serious violations of law including wilful interference with contractual relations, direct breaches of Ferrari’s legal obligations and a grave violation of competition law. The FIA will be issuing legal proceedings without delay.

“Preparations for the 2010 FIA Formula One World Championship continue but publication of the final 2010 entry list will be put on hold while the FIA asserts its legal rights.”

This statement is a fascinating one, and shows us perhaps for the first time that Max Mosley and the FIA is now on the back foot. As soon as FOTA announced its intentions to establish a rival championship, many of us expected the FIA to march forwards with its 2010 plans and to release an entry list for next season which included USF1, Campos, Manor, Williams, Force India, Ferrari, Red Bull, Toro Rosso and two extra new entries. That publication of this list has been delayed is the first signal of stalling.

Yes, with the announcement that this whole debate has gone legal, the issuing of the list was unthinkable, but in launching legal proceedings the FIA has at least bought itself some time… time to negotiate, time to reflect and time, ever so importantly, to save Formula 1.

The World Council will meet next week and there are differing views on what could happen when it convenes. Some areas of the paddock think that Max Mosley will suffer a heavy defeat in a vote of no confidence. Some think he will stand aside. Others believe he will hang on, defiant to the last. Personally, I wouldn’t be surprised if it is the latter.

The teams have reiterated that this argument isn’t about deposing Mosley. He, meanwhile, claims that the FOTA teams are trying to wrestle the governance of the sport out of the FIA’s hands and to steal Bernie Ecclestone’s business from under him.

The truth is somewhere in between.

The sport requires clear and transparent governance. It demands a fairer distribution of income. Both of these are essential for its future, but if either is to be achieved there will have to be casualties. And the longer this goes on, the greater that list could become.

The sport is dead… long live the sport!

breakaway_1

An F1 World Champion walked through the gates to Silverstone this morning and was mobbed by television cameras. His reaction to last night’s news was simple and forthrite.

“Formula 1 is dead.”

The reality that none of us wanted is here, and it is far more than an empty threat. FOTA will, unless earthshaking changes are made to the governance of this sport, start their own championship next season which will feature, in its own words, “transparent governance, one set of regulations,” the encouragement of “more entrants” and one that will “listen to the wishes of the fans, including offering lower prices for spectators worldwide.”

I’ve written much in recent days about the political war in Formula 1, and I have been cast in some circles as being an ardent supporter of Max Mosley. As I have written time and again, my observations have been based purely on politics. This battle stopped being about sport a long time ago. It has become a war over the governance of Formula 1 and has been waged on purely political terms, and as such, and to my mind, Max Mosley had played by far the stronger game. He sensed, as perhaps the majority of us did, that FOTA’s resolve would not hold, that by playing politics he had the stronger hand. He sensed that FOTA would not be brazen nor bold enough to split from the sport.

He was wrong.

He has backed FOTA into a corner, and one from which it looked as though they could not emerge victorious. By announcing their intention to set up their own rival championship, however, FOTA has played the only card left at its disposal. Mosley played the hardest game he could, but the teams have, against all expectation, stood firm. He insisted that there were elements within FOTA determined to disrupt the peace process and that they would not win.

But he underestimated the resolve of FOTA and the underlying resistance that exists in this sport to his Presidency.

When all is said and done, however, nobody has won. And certainly not the fans.

Division is an outcome that nobody wants. But it is the future we all have to face.

Pressure on Mosley’s Presidency will now come under enormous strain. From standing his ground and making a bold case for the FIA and its governance of the sport, Max Mosley now faces the prospect of being labelled as the man who has killed Formula 1. There are many within this media centre who now see his days as being numbered. Be there a movement from within the FIA to depose him of his Presidency, or whether, as he suggested he might one year ago, he stands aside rather than run for re-election, last night’s announcement by FOTA may yet come to be seen as the straw that broke the camel’s back.

I stated earlier this week that I believed Lola’s pulling out of the running for a 2010 F1 slot had been made so that they might be considered for entry to a FOTA championship. Today’s news that N.Technology has followed suit would seem to give credence to this. I would not be surprised to see a number of other prospective 2010 teams do the same before the end of the day.

I sit here now, at my computer, in the Silverstone media centre as Formula 1 cars run around this great track for potentially the last time and I feel drained. I have loved this sport for as long as I can remember, and today I look on, as a fan, and one privileged enough to work within this wonderful world, and I watch something that I adore crumble around me. Nobody with any love for this sport will take any satisfaction from what is going on at the moment. But accept it, deal with it and make the most of it, we must.

How could things have got this bad? And how can they ever be resolved?

This war of brinksmanship has reached a critical moment. As things stand the sport, as we know it, is destined to die.

As a journalist, as a privileged member of this community, but mostly as a die-hard, life-long fan of this sport, today just fills me with sadness. I pray common sense will win out. But I am reluctant to hold my breath.

A thought about Lola…

So, while sitting in the car this afternoon, something hit me about the Lola entry… or rather the pulling of their entry, to Formula 1 in 2010.

Initially perceived by many of us to have been one of the strongest proposals for entry to the 2010 F1 World Championship, it was a genuine surprise to see that it, along with Prodrive, did not make the FIA’s initial list of entrants for next season.

Many pundits, myself included, believed that Max Mosley had kept these two very strong entries in his pocket to act as a bargaining chip in his negotiations with FOTA, having gained wind of the fact that two manufacturers were potentially thinking about quitting F1 at the end of 2009 anyway.

But today we hear that, rather than waiting another 48 hours to see how the politics plays out and whether they’d get an entry to F1 in 2010 afterall, Lola has pulled out of the running, making the shortest of statements in which they reaffirmed the great expense they had already gone to in preparing for next year.

That cost is not just financial, but personal. Lola has been on a recruitment drive over the last few months. Martin Birrane was at the A1GP finale in Brands Hatch and reportedly approached many of the paddock’s leading lights over his 2010 F1 entry – amongst them a number of very well known names with recent F1 experience who, I understand, have been hard at work in Huntingdon over recent weeks.

Why would he pull his team out of the running, when it looks increasingly likely that there won’t be a resolution on Friday and we may yet lose a few F1 teams from the mix for next year? Why, after all that work and money, just pull the plug when Lola stood a very good shot of gaining the F1 entry it wanted?

And then it hit me.

What if Lola’s not just been talking to Mr Mosley? What if Lola’s also been in touch with Mr di Montezemolo? And what if FOTA’s proposed championship was a greater lure than what might remain of F1 if Mosley wins the fight and the FOTA teams all pull out?

The FOTA teams will need to replace Williams and Force India if they wish to keep a 20 car field and only run two car teams.

Could those two teams be the two F1 entries we thought Max was using as political pawns?

If this whole thing goes tits up on Friday, and we really do see a FOTA championship in 2010, might we also see Lola and Prodrive alongside Ferrari, McLaren Mercedes, BMW, Renault, Toyota, Red Bull, Toro Rosso and Brawn?

It’s only my own personal musings. But it would make one hell of a strong championship.

And a much more interesting one for sponsors than what would be left of F1.

Compromise? Or is it too little, too late?

FOTA today made a move towards trying to resolve the war over the future of Formula 1 in a timely letter to FIA President Max Mosley.

“The time has come when, in the interests of the sport, we must all seek to compromise and bring an urgent conclusion to the protracted debate regarding the 2010 world championship,” Reuters quoted the letter as saying.

“We hope that you will consider that this letter represents significant movement by the teams, all of whom have clearly stated a willingness to commit to the sport until the end of 2012.”

FOTA has proposed, among other things, that the Budget Cap be renamed a “resource restriction” and that its auditting be done by a group of independent accountants under regulations agreed by all the teams. FOTA also wants to ensure that a discussion over the governance of the sport takes place, and therefore that a new Concorde Agreement is agreed, and with negotiations protracted that the deadline for conditions to be dropped be moved back from this Friday.

The FIA’s response has not been overtly negative, but neither has it been overwhelmingly positive.

In Max Mosley’s view, the Friday deadline will stand. It won’t be extended any further because the debacle has already gone on too long. If the FOTA teams want to ensure fair governance they will therefore have to agree to a resigning of the 1998 Concorde in lieu of a new Concorde being agreed. Should the teams sign up to this agreement, then all parties can negotiate a brand new 2009 agreement which would over-ride the extension of the ’98 pact.

With regard to the Budget Cap, Mosley’s only real reservation was that FOTA had failed to set a level for the cap.

As such, and in line with previous comments, he has asked all remaining FOTA teams to drop their conditions and sign up for 2010, agreeing to the £40 million Budget Cap. Once in, they will be able to debate a resolution to the regulation debate. The two-tier system will be scrapped, says Mosley, although the new teams running Cosworth engines will be allowed to run engines to 2006 specification as their last minute call-up and continued delay in agreeing a firm foundation for 2010 means there is not enough time for the engine manufacturer to get up to 2010 standards.

So are we any closer to an agreement?

Well yes and no.

FOTA is clearly aware now that if it does not make a move in a positive direction, then Max Mosley really will not shed a tear if they pull out. Because of the brinksmanship used by the FIA President, he has placed the onus on them not to rip the sport apart.

FOTA has therefore suggested methods by which this mess can be resolved, which would make them and, they hope, the FIA happy.

Mosley, in turn, has replied that this is all well and good, but the only way they can seek to change the regulations is from the inside. And until they drop their stance and enter the 2010 championship unconditionally, FOTA is on the outside. Join, and we will talk this through.

But FOTA will be wary. For if they drop their guard and enter, there is no guarantee that the negotiations will actually lead to the changes they want to see. Promise of discussion is not a promise of revolution.

And with the news today that Lola has pulled its application for entry to 2010, one of Mosley’s trump cards has disappeared. FOTA may yet sense a weakening in his defences.

So while things appear to have moved on… they haven’t. We’re still at loggerheads.

Mosley has written to each remaining FOTA team individually and asked them to agree to his terms. Friday’s deadline still looms. Who falls in line, and who stands firm, we wait to see.