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.

The FIA makes its case

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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.

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.

Is the Alliance Crumbling?

header09

It’s official then, Force India has capitulated and put in a late, unconditional entry to the 2010 Formula 1 World Championship.

Cue the wrath of FOTA, their impending suspension of Force India from the soon-to-be gang of eight, and no doubt a fair few extra statements and arguments over the weekend.

To be honest, Force India’s decision comes as little surprise. The team itself has, just as Williams before it, claimed that it still fully supports FOTA’s position, but that it has been forced to enter on its own due to “commercial obligations.” The question in the media centre had been of whom and when the next FOTA team would split from the umbrella body as the June 12th announcement of the 2010 grid draws ever closer. And now, with Force India’s unconditional entry and FOTA’s position once again compromised, the questions have moved on to who will join them.

The favourites are Brawn, then Red Bull (one or both fizzy drink teams) and McLaren. It is perfectly possible that, in the not too distant future, FOTA will be left with but four members.

The real problem for FOTA in all this is that it has played its hand. In making its block entry and applying conditions it has no further cards left to play. The position of strength now rests almost exclusively with Max Mosley and the FIA.

He knows it. FOTA knows it. And now we all know it, too.

Because if FOTA’s position really was as strong as they’d like us to believe, they wouldn’t be losing members. They’d remain as one, strongly committed to the cause, sure in their stance and in their belief that they would ultimately win the war.

But with every passing day and the continued silence over this entire issue, those teams who rely on Formula 1 for their existence are going to panic. And they are going to do their own thing.

Williams was the first, and Force India has shown its true feelings today. How long we have to wait before they are joined by their racing rivals is uncertain. But it may not be long.

What is perhaps no longer in any doubt however, is that Max Mosley is winning this particular war.

FOTA Enters as a Block

fota

I’ve just received a press release from FOTA, stating the following:

All FOTA Teams have today submitted conditional entries for the 2010 FIA Formula One World Championship.

FOTA confirms all its Members’ long-term commitment to be involved in the FIA Formula One World Championship and has unanimously agreed further and significant actions to substantially reduce the costs of competing in the Championship in the next three years, creating a mechanism that will preserve the technological competition and the sporting challenge and, at the same time, facilitate the entry in the F1 Championship for new Teams. These measures are in line with what has been already decided in 2009 within FOTA, achieving important saving on engines and gearboxes.

All FOTA teams have entered the 2010 championship on the basis that:

1) The Concorde Agreement is signed by all parties before 12th June 2009, after which all FOTA teams will commit to competing in Formula One until 2012. The renewal of the Concorde Agreement will provide security for the future of the sport by binding all parties in a formal relationship that will ensure stability via sound governance.

2) The basis of the 2010 regulations will be the current 2009 regulations, amended in accordance with proposals that FOTA has submitted to the FIA.

All FOTA teams’ entries for the 2010 FIA Formula One World Championship have been submitted today on the understanding that (a) all FOTA teams will be permitted to compete during the 2010 Formula One Season on an identical regulatory basis and (b) that they may only be accepted as a whole.

All FOTA teams now look forward with optimism to collaborating proactively and productively with the FIA, with a view to establishing a solid foundation on which the future of a healthy and successful Formula One can be built, providing lasting stability and sound governance.

This is an interesting, if not unsurprising development. However what shouldn’t be ignored is that the FIA is yet to comment on FOTA’s proposals and there is absolutely no guarantees that the FIA will amend the 2010 regulations as FOTA wishes. As was reported and correctly predicted in Monday’s GPWeek however, the teams have used the clever option of entering FOTA as a block so that if any conditions are not met, F1 immediately loses nine teams (all existing teams minus Williams.) It also means that if the FIA wants a full grid, it can’t possibly drop one of the existing teams in favour of a new team, as the block entry is for all nine teams as a unit.

The FIA’s response will be very interesting indeed, as FOTA has admitted that it is now ready to do a deal over the Concorde Agreement, something which Bernie Ecclestone will be keen to convince his old friend Max to agree to sooner rather than later.