The Formula One Strategy Group was faced with a choice yesterday: confront the issues facing our sport, or stare meekly at their combined navel and plough forward on a road to ruin. It has been said by many, myself included, that the anti-democratic think tank is a scourge on this sport, its ranks filled overwhelmingly by the self-interested. Competing entities, it has been argued, will never vote for the greater good. There’s too much for them to lose. Turkeys, it has oft been said, don’t vote for Christmas.
They just have.
With an opportunity to debate meaningful steps and solutions to the cost of the sport and measures to attempt to ward off the financial failure of any more teams, it appears that the only meaningful agreement taken yesterday at Biggin Hill was to “improve the show” by actually raising costs via the reintroduction of refuelling.
Forget, for a moment, the bracketed minutiae that maximum fuel allowance will still be in place. For it follows that, unless that allowance increases, the ability for drivers to push beyond the levels at which they currently do will only marginally be increased as they will still have to conserve fuel to make it to the end of the race. Forget, for a moment, the boring races that were the norm under the past era of refuelling, where races were decided on strategy in the pits far more than they are today. Forget, for a moment, the safety implications that a return of refuelling creates.
And think instead about what the FIA and its President are supposed to be doing for the sport. Two bold headlines underwrite Jean Todt’s reign over Formula 1: Cost reduction and a move towards a more environmentally sound Formula via fuel management.
Indeed, when, in April 2009 and under the previous regime, refuelling was outlawed for 2010, the World Motor Sport Council gave its reasoning thus:
“It was confirmed that from 2010, refuelling during a race will be forbidden in order to save the costs of transporting refuelling equipment and increase the incentive for engine builders to improve fuel economy.”
By re-introducing refuelling, it therefore follows that neither of these objectives are any longer of importance to the sport or to the President.
Indeed, in his own 2013 re-election manifesto (if one forgets for a moment that in his original running for office Todt promised to only stand for one term), the President promised: “In the coming years our goal will be to continue to pursue this agenda of delivering stable, fair, safe and competitive championships, while at the same time enhancing the FIA’s position within those competitions in order to ensure best practice and standards.”
The return of refueling does none of these things.
Today’s release stated that tyre allocation for next season would be free for teams to choose their own compounds. But, from the objective of “improving the show” just as with the reintroduction of refuelling and the ability for teams to start with different weight cars, the introduction of yet another variable will not serve to close the field, merely to space it out even further. And Pirelli has already stated that such a freedom will not happen under its watch. Might we see a new tyre manufacturer having to enter the sport to make good on these plans?
From 2017, however, we are promised cars that will be faster. Much of this will come from weight, admittedly some from lower fuel loads but some from fatter tyres and some from aerodynamics which we have been promised will be “aggressive.” A typically vague assertion, if ever there was one. Are we to expect painted snarls on the front wings? Or, perhaps something akin to Ferrari’s mock-up. To be honest, I’m not terribly sure what constitutes an aggressive design, short of the Mad Max car Lotus rolled out in Spain.
What we are actually talking about here is an aerodynamics overhaul, a car with a smaller fuel-tank and thus a complete chassis redesign. This will, once again, only pull costs up, not reduce them as hoped.
Of course, teams will still be allowed to use wind-tunnels to design these new cars, something which had been on the table for being banned in order to… yep, save costs. So perhaps no surprise that this alteration didn’t get passed.
Power units will remain unchanged (thank heavens), however engines will rev higher and noise will be louder… but how many cars will even be on the grid?
The FIA finished their statement off with news that, “following a constructive exchange, a comprehensive proposal to ensure the sustainability of the sport has emerged.” It is expected that this will cover the issue of Customer Cars. And it will have to.
The potential cost hike for the teams could be catastrophic. Manor / Marussia is already on its uppers. Lotus, Force India and Sauber are doing OK for now, but financial bombs like this will send shockwaves throughout their boardrooms. How will this affect the new Haas F1 team, who never signed up for this Formula?
When the smaller teams are gone, the top teams will have to run third cars. When one manufacturer keeps finishing last, they will pull out, before the next one does, and the next, and the next, and all we are left with is a one-make series with one team. Either that or we will end up with a two-tier championship split between manufacturers and customers. Which nobody wants.
The clowns are running the circus. The lunatics have taken over the asylum. The Turkeys have buttered themselves up, coated themselves in bacon, cranked up the heat and thrown themselves into the oven. Pitch it however you want. There is no way in which these proposals, if implemented, end well. For the teams, for the sport or for the fans.
There was a chance to have a proper debate yesterday. A chance for real, meaningful change. But it went begging. Again.
Yes, these proposals must still be voted through by the F1 Commission, but the message the decision of the Strategy Group sends out could not be clearer. The future of Formula 1, as we know it, is in tremendous peril.
I don’t blame Bernie. He has a set vision for the way in which he believes the sport should be headed. I don’t blame the teams. For a start they shouldn’t even be making these decisions. Why? Because they’re all motivated by self-interest and so why should they, the majority of whom who could no doubt afford the changes, care about those who couldn’t? And besides, if Ecclestone and Todt really did reach an accord as expected, the teams couldn’t out-vote such an entene-cordiale anyway.
When Jean Todt was originally elected to the Presidency of the FIA he did so on the promise that he would appoint an F1 Commissioner, who would take responsibility for the sport so that the President could cast his net wider and be more effective in his role. Todt’s net has been flung wide. Wider than many realise. But he never did appoint that commissioner. He never did hand that responsibility over to anyone else. He abandoned the idea in 2011.
The culpability, then, lies with the President of the FIA. He has lost all control, all authority and all respect. It would be wonderful to ask him his views on the mess, but he rarely holds court… instead choosing to hide in his motorhome at the few races he attends, refusing to stand accountable for his inaction.
His was the power. His, the responsibility. His, thus, the blame.
Until our sport finds itself a leader who can lead, we should all fear for its future.