How would a group F1 launch work?

Opera and Hemesferic - Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias © E. Patching / Suttons

Comments coming out of this week’s Motorsport Business Forum in Monaco have confirmed what I first reported back on October 5, in Issue 66 of GPWeek. Namely, that Formula 1 is not only considering but has now reached consensus over the concept of a group team launch in 2010.

Now there are many commentators who will say that this is a terrible idea, an unworkable idea. I can see their point, particularly if they’re writing for weekly motorsport magazines as the steady drip flow of news afforded by individual launches makes those early winter weeks far more bearable. The concept of 13 team launches all at once for daily newspapers is also something of a nightmare. How are they supposed to speak to Alonso, Hamilton, Button, Vettel etc all at once? Which team would take preference? Which team would be the focus and which would completely miss out?

It would appear that FOTA has been thinking about this, and that the body has ultimately chosen the best possible location for a group launch, if one is to happen at all.

The Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias (City of Arts and Sciences) in Valencia is one of the most tremendous venues in Europe for hosting big events. I’ve got firsthand experience of the place, having organised the 2006 GP2 launch and 2007 GP2 End of Season Awards ceremony at the venue. Its design, layout and multiple venues make it unique and, I believe, for what FOTA is envisaging, completely perfect for an F1 group launch.

But you can’t do it all in day. Oh no. Not even with all the venues available in Valencia would such a feat be possible. Instead, the only way I can see this working is by hosting a launch event over three days. You split the teams at intervals of three from the official entry list published by the FIA to ensure an even spread of teams from the top to the bottom each day, and ensuring that you don’t have one day filled with the new teams, and one day filled with all the top teams from 2009.

To my mind, it would make sense to limit team launches to a maximum of 30-40 minutes and get them all out of the way in the morning in one hour time allocations. By utilising the Opera House, the Hemesferic (which can be split into two launch venues) and the main Science building (which can be split into upwards of three separate launch venues), you have individual launch venues within walking distance of each other.

GP2 Launch 2006 © G. Bumstead / Sutton

Over lunch you make all the drivers of the teams launching their cars that day available for autograph sessions on the walkway that links the Science building with the Hemesferic. The fans get to meet their heroes in the flesh and it brings the city into the event.

Then, in the afternoon, its time for the media to get their interviews done in slots allocated for TV, two group sessions for journalists would be divided on national lines and within those chunks the time utilised as each team sees fit. Finally there’d be an hour for one on one interviews with key team personnel.

The event could run like this for three consecutive days, and on the final evening the event could be rounded up in style with a street parade around the venue by the 2009 teams in a style similar to the 2007 McLaren launch, as it is not definite that the new teams will have rolling chassis by the end of January date set for the launch.

It wouldn’t be difficult to keep everyone happy… at least I don’t think so. In this way the teams get an equal footing, the media gets the time it needs with the teams, and the fans get to meet their heroes and see the cars in action. And all this in the days before F1 2010 makes its debut at the Ricardo Tormo circuit down the road on the outskirts of Valencia.

To my mind, an event of this nature would create an enormous buzz and would be a fantastic way to start the season. DTM’s been doing it for years, IRL has a huge parade before the Indy 500, so why shouldn’t F1?

And the great thing is, it doesn’t need to cost a fortune. I know from my own experience what it costs to put on an event at this very venue in Valencia. Even renting the entire Ciudad for three days shouldn’t cost the earth. I know that McLaren blew a huge amount of money on their own launch, but so long as FOTA plays its cards right and actually barters this deal down, it could work out to be so financially viable and so fan friendly that it becomes a regular part of the annual F1 season build up.

And imagine that… every year a different city. Every year a different set of fans, coming out en masse, meeting their heroes. This could be the beginning of something truly fantastic.

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.

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.

The FIA makes its case

fia logo

The FIA has released a public dossier on its dealings with FOTA over the past few months, as both bodies strive towards finding a solution for the future of Formula 1.

I ask you to take a few minutes from your day and read the document through in full. It is fascinating reading, and with FOTA’s own document sure to be released soon, gaining a full understanding of the FIA’s position is, I feel, of great importance.

The FIA Statement in Full

The document makes genuinely intruiging reading, but it is concrete in its resolution.

The FIA and FOM have together spent decades building the FIA Formula One World Championship into the most watched motor sport competition in history.

In light of the success of the FIA’s Championship, FOTA – made up of participants who come and go as it suits them – has set itself two clear objectives: to take over the regulation of Formula One from the FIA and to expropriate the commercial rights for itself. These are not objectives which the FIA can accept.

It is this section of the document, perhaps more than any of the whys and wherefores, that matters. It is in this that the FIA sets out its stall and says, perhaps in stronger fashion than ever, that FOTA will not and cannot win this fight.

It’s over. Time at the bar. If FOTA stands firm, this sport as we know it is done. Finished.

The teams simply cannot win. The governing body and the commercial rights holder are now so steadfast in their position and their belief that the teams are trying to stage what, in their eyes, is a coup d’etat, that they will not give in and relinquish even the scantest element of their authority. The rules will not be changed. The budget cap will not be raised. It’s over.

Which means that the threat of a division, and of either the establishment of a new championship or of the manufacturers going their own separate ways, is now an almost certainty.

The only question left, it seems, is whether FOTA will remain united and do its own thing, or if its membership will start to capitulate to the FIA.

Unfortunately, and as a result of this document making public the instances of battle in a war that still rages between two bodies so fundamentally opposed to the existence and demands of the other, there seems little question that this Friday’s deadline could yet see the single most cataclysmic event in the history of the sport.

Fifty nine years ago, Formula 1 was born at Silverstone, with the running of the first ever World Championship Grand Prix. Could it be that at that very circuit, which itself is being ejected from the sport it helped to create, we receive confirmation that Formula 1, as we have come to know it, will cease to exist?

God, I hope not. But it seems as though there just isn’t any room left to manouevre.

No Movement: Budget Cap Stays.

cash money

FIA and FOTA financial representatives met yesterday to discuss the voluntary 2010 Budget Cap which sits at the base of the issue of a two-tier F1… the one that caused all of these arguments in the first place.

The news coming out of the meeting however, is not good.

An FIA Statement, released this morning, reads as follows:

As agreed at the meeting of 11 June, FIA financial experts met yesterday with financial experts from FOTA.

Unfortunately, the FOTA representatives announced that they had no mandate to discuss the FIA’s 2010 financial regulations. Indeed, they were not prepared to discuss regulation at all.

As a result, the meeting could not achieve its purpose of comparing the FIA’s rules with the FOTA proposals with a view to finding a common position.

In default of a proper dialogue, the FOTA financial proposals were discussed but it became clear that these would not be capable of limiting the expenditure of a team which had the resources to outspend its competitors. Another financial arms race would then be inevitable.

The FIA Financial Regulations therefore remain as published.

This news will come as a great disappointment to those hoping for peace, as just yesterday an FIA statement reported that the objectives of FOTA and the FIA on cost reduction were now very closely aligned. A resolution on the issue seemed imminent and yesterday’s meeting between the bodies could, and arguably should, have resolved at least this one issue.

FOTA’s reluctance to discuss the FIA’s regulations and debate instead only their own proposals means that a golden opportunity to make an important inroad into the political debacle that threatens to rip the sport apart at the seams has been thrown away.

Such a move by FOTA seems to add credence to the FIA’s suggestions that there are elements within FOTA that are trying to derail the peace process.

Their statement yesterday, regarding a meeting between the FIA and FOTA on the eve of the 2010 entry publication stated:

The FIA believed it had participated in a very constructive meeting with a large measure of agreement. The FIA was therefore astonished to learn that certain FOTA members not present at the meeting have falsely claimed that nothing was agreed and that the meeting had been a waste of time. There is clearly an element in FOTA which is determined to prevent any agreement being reached regardless of the damage this may cause to the sport.

This is a view shared by Bernie Ecclestone, who has gone as far as to name names in this week’s Auto Motor und Sport in Germany.

“Flavio Briatore wants to create a new series and decide everything,” the F1 supremo said.

“Luca di Montezemolo [FOTA President] has a problem with the FIA president. With John Howett [FOTA Vice-President], I wonder: what does he want? I’m not even sure he knows himself. Everyone else just wants it all to stop so they can concentrate on the sport once again.”

So what is FOTA’s game? Are they really prepared to take this all the way to the brink and to set up their own championship?

At the moment there is a lot of talk about the future of Formula 1, and that the current political mess is threatening to break it apart and potentially kill the sport we love.

Some blame the FIA and Max Mosley. Others are increasingly growing tired of FOTA’s stubborn position.

One thing that cannot be denied however is that, as things stand today, it is the FIA that is appearing to be making itself open to negotiation while FOTA is not. And if the factions within FOTA that the FIA claims are trying to disrupt the resolution of the crisis are indeed, as Ecclestone claims, those in whose hands the leadership of FOTA resides, it looks increasingly unlikely that any agreement will be reached by Friday.

And if that is the case, then the split that nobody wants may be the reality that we all get.

The lie of the land

So… a lot’s happened since my last post.

To be completely frank, with everything that started kicking off on Friday it seemed like a much better idea to let all the news wash in via email and on the ipod touch, and just sit by the canal with a beer, enjoying the British summertime.

As soon as the list was out, it was obvious that the war wasn’t over. Not by a long shot. So Friday was a day to chill out and and sit back and watch as all the statements and press releases came out.

Now, in the clear light of day, it’s become possible to take an overview of the situation… and once again it’s Max Mosley and the FIA that have come out on top.

The entry list released on Friday is a very clever ploy by Mosley. USF1 was no real shock, but the inclusion of Manor, and to a lesser extent Campos, was a surprise, particularly as the likes of Prodrive and Lola were not entered for 2010. Believed to have been two of the favourites, their non inclusion really was a shock.

As expected, Williams and Force India got their entries, and so too were Ferrari and the two Red Bull teams included on the list due to their specific contracts with the FIA to run in F1 until 2012. The other FOTA teams have until Friday to drop their conditions and enter. Ferrari and the Red Bull teams have sworn solidarity with their FOTA brothers.

So once again, the FIA has the upper hand. Once again it’s up to FOTA to make the concessions.

Mosley offered FOTA as much of an olive branch as he could last week, and they rejected it point blank. By doing so they now appear to be moving more and more out of touch. The fans don’t want the politics to ruin the racing, and with Mosley offering routes out and FOTA failing to take them, it remains to be seen how much longer fan sympathies rest with FOTA.

By standing firm Mosley’s position at the FIA is perhaps stronger now than at any point in the last decade. He is the man who has stood up for the FIA’s authority against the might of the manufacturers. To the FIA he’s a hero, and one whose re-election is now in little doubt. If FOTA wanted to make this about governance, all they have done is cement Mosley’s Presidency.

But back to the list for a minute… We can possibly expect Red Bull, Brawn and potentially McLaren to capitulate to the FIA’s demands this week as the three of them are teams that exist to race, not to sell cars. There’s every chance that by the new June 19th deadline only the auto manufacturers will remain in FOTA.

Mosley also knows that there’s a very real chance that two of those manufacturers will pull out at the end of 2009 anyway. So even if two out of the four manufacturers do drop their conditions, there could still be two free spaces in F1. At the most there will be four.

That leaves a large hole, but one that could easily be filled by Lola, Prodrive, Lotus Lite or N Technology. By keeping the trump cards of Lola and Prodrive in his pocket, Mosley has perhaps given us the strongest indication yet that he knows we will lose at least two F1 teams at the end of the season, because by keeping two of the strongest entries in his pocket, he holds the upper hand in the negotiations over the future direction of the sport.

So it’s not over yet. Ohhhh no.

The next challenge will be for FOTA to remain united. We’ve got another fascinating five days ahead.

One Day to Go

5 new teams

With just one day left until the FIA announces the 2010 Formula 1 World Championship team line-up, it’s anyone’s guess how things are going to work out.

The events of the last few days however have given us some insight into the political games, still afoot in Formula 1.

The relative silence with which the FIA had been dealing with FOTA following its conditional application for entry in 2010 was finally broken when Max Mosley wrote to the FOTA teams telling them that he understood that they were unhappy with the 2010 regulations. Their conditional entry however was no way to deal with this. If they didn’t like the rules, the best way to influence a change, said Mosley, was from the inside. He was willing to talk, and willing to amend the rules, but it couldn’t be done via a conditional entry. Enter the championship unconditionally, said Max, and we will work together in the correct fashion to amend the regulations.

It was an olive branch. Or as close to one as we were ever going to get.

Mosley wanted the remaining eight teams to enter unconditionally by Tuesday night. Suffice to say, they did not.

Max Mosley was never going to capitulate to FOTA’s demands, and his giving of an olive branch was a positive step in the right direction. FOTA’s reaction was said to have been “not entirely negative” but their conditions for entry, including the signing of a new Concorde Agreement by midnight tonight, are still in place.

So why can’t the teams agree to join and change the rules the right way? From within?

Yes, for them this is about governance, but they are also worried about the budget cap. That cap is here to stay, but if they do not include themselves within the decision making process, how can they possibly hope to influence the level at which it is set? At the moment they are on the outside looking in. They will make no real difference until they are back on the inside.

The budget cap is not, I must stress, a simple bargaining tool. I have seen, at first hand, the FIA’s Cost Cap Handbook and its two Appendices. They are enormous documents covering every conceivable possibility and eventuality of a budget cap. If FOTA want us to believe that the FIA is only using this Budget Cap as a political tool, they have got another thing coming. The FIA has got this Cost Cap worked out, and it is very, very serious about it. The Handbook is proof evident of this.

So FOTA and the FIA are still at loggerheads. But where does that leave us for tomorrow.

If my sources are correct, we are likely to see FIVE new teams unveiled tomorrow. My money would be on USF1, Prodrive, Lola and two others… to my mind the most likely being Brabham (Formtech), and either Campos or Lotus Lite.

Brabham is being set up on the remnants of Super Aguri, and if one team knew how to develop smart cars under a tight budget… it was Super Aguri. The double decker diffuser? Yep, that was an SAF1 concept, taken to Honda when Super Ag went tits up and Honda did the smart thing and employed all the clever bods at Leafield who’d turned a year old Honda into a better car than its replacement. There are some in the F1 paddock who are calling Button’s BGP01 the SA09 and claiming that if Super Aguri hadn’t been run into the ground, Takuma Sato and Anthony Davidson might well be leading the world championship right now. It’s not as silly as it sounds.

But I digress.

Brabham / Formtech’s credentials are pretty good, then.

Adrian Campos is a guy I’ve known for some time and I don’t believe for a moment that he would have entered his name unless he had the budget and the ability to make this thing work. With two F1 races in Spain, a Spanish team is not such a shabby idea. And if anyone can make it work, I think Adrian may just be that man.

And Lotus Lite? If we’re being brutally honest, Litespeed really are not much cop in F3 terms, but with Mike Gascoyne on board you’ve got to take them seriously… and there’s a buzz in the F1 paddock that they might actually have a shot… and a budget! Lotus cars have said they’re not a part of the entry, so it’s just the Lotus GP name. But it’s an iconic name, and one that could attract the sponsors.

Oh, if only fag adverts were still allowed. I don’t know an F1 fan alive that wouldn’t love to see a JPS Lotus in F1 next year. And while we’re on the subject of sponsors, if Brabham get in, I’m praying for a Martini title sponsorship.

Anyway, what this all means is that, if my sources are correct and five new teams are announced, two existing F1 teams will not make the cut.

There are stories doing the rounds today that the Renault F1 Team has informed its suppliers that it should not rely on business with the team to continue in 2010. It is further indication that the French manufacturer is seriously questioning its continued involvement in Formula 1.

One might also question whether Dietrich Mateschitz will still be willing to pay for two F1 teams. Toro Rosso is up for sale, and he may wish to sell on the Faenza base and cars to a new F1 entry.

Toyota are also said to be wobbling, although speaking to John Howett in Turkey he seemed to be adamant that the team were not going anywhere.

One thing that isn’t going anywhere is negotiation over the Concorde Agreement. The FOTA teams, as part of their conditional entry, made it very, very clear that if there was no Concorde there would be no entry from the FOTA teams.

With just hours to go until FOTA’s self-imposed deadline for Concorde to be signed, their tough stance may yet see their entry conditions broken before the 2010 announcement is even made.

Whether Max will even take any notice of their conditions however, remains to be seen. The next 36 hours will be fascinating.