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.