Team Principals and Driver Managers

September 23, 2009

Heikki Kovalainen, one of the drivers currently managed by Flavio Briatore's Company FFBB

Heikki Kovalainen, one of the drivers currently managed by Flavio Briatore's Company FFBB

One of the aspects of Formula 1 that has troubled me for some time has been the development of Team Principals getting involved in driver management. It seems to be such an obvious conflict of interest, and I hope that with the fallout from the Renault judgement we will see an end to this practice.
Jackie Stewart was one of the first drivers to get a professional agency to manage his affairs. In 1968 he signed to Mark McCormack’s IMG group who appointed a very young Martin Sorrell (who went on to found and become CEO of the WPP Group) to look after Stewart. But even before this drivers had managers to handle their affairs – Bernie Ecclestone managed Austrian Jochen Rindt up to his fatal accident in Monza in 1970. But in recent times we have seen Team Principals getting more involved in the process, with Flavio Briatore managing a number of the current drivers through his company FFBB. Two were employed by his own team (Fernando Alonso and Nelsinho Piquet Jr.), and others employed by McLaren (Heikki Kovalainen) and Red Bull Racing (Mark Webber). Clearly this gave Briatore a great deal of power and knowledge in the goings on of the drivers market, but it was a fundamental conflict of interest with his role of Team Principal of Renault F1 as was highlighted by the whole sequence of events that led up to ‘Crashgate’, it is inconceivable that an independent driver manager would have acquiesced to his charge (and major asset) deliberately crashing his car. There was also a similar situation at Ferrari with former CEO  Jean Todt’s son Nicholas managing Ferrari driver Felipe Massa as well as former Toro Rosso pilot Sebastian Bourdais, perhaps it was Luca di Montezemolo that did the negotiating with young Todt regarding Massa’s contract, but either way it suggests a possible conflict of interest.

If there’s one good thing to come out of the Renault debacle it will be if the FIA makes a clear ruling that we no longer see Team Principals managing drivers.

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