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.

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…


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!


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.