The Future of FOTA

December 7, 2011

The news that both Ferrari and Red Bull Racing are planning to withdraw from FOTA has led many to suggest that this is the end of the team’s association. Clearly it is better for the teams to act as one if they wish to get a bigger share of the FOM revenues, but as seems to always happen, self interest is the decider at the end of the day. They are all agreed that they want to reduce costs – doesn’t any organisation? The important question is therefore how do you do it? When you’ve got your own bespoke test track then a ban on testing means you can’t use one of your key assets to improve your performance, so you can see why Ferrari would feel that being in FOTA isn’t in their best interests, RBR are in a different situation where their business model is a very different one to the other teams, so, again it may make better sense for them to go their own way. Of course we also have HRT who were the first to leave FOTA back in January 2011. The other reason rumoured for the departure of Ferrari and Red Bull Racing is the issue of third (or fourth) cars where constructors are allowed to sell/loan their cars to other teams, a practice well used in the 1950 and 60s. Stirling Moss’s legendary victory for Lotus at Monaco in 1960 was not achieved for Lotus Racing, but for Rob Walker’s private team using a Lotus 18. This is an issue which FOTA has been divided on and it could be argued that building more cars would effectively reduce the costs of certain teams such as Ferrari and also for RBR, whose original concept was to provide cars for Scuderia Toro Rosso. It’s just a very different way of achieving the same objective.

However regardless of the reasons for Ferrari and RBR to leave the team’s association, does this spell the end of FOTA? As history has a habit of repeating itself, it is interesting to note that in the controversies around previous Concorde Agreements, there were three teams who were united in refusing to sign up to the fourth agreement which was due to run from 1997 to 2002. They were McLaren, Williams and Tyrrell. In many ways it was this stand that led to the financial demise of the Tyrrell organisation, a team who had dominated F1 in the late sixties/ early seventies. Eventually a revised, fifth, agreement was drawn up which included the three teams and was to run from 1998 to 2007. The current (sixth) agreement is to run until the end of 2012, and this is where the negotiations are focused. The point of history is that the three teams who resisted the fourth Concorde Agreement are very much at the heart of FOTA today, McLaren providing the chairman, Williams a committed participant and the team that was originally Tyrrell Racing has now morphed into Mercedes GP (sorry Mercedes AMG GP!), via spells as British American Racing and Honda, with senior management team Nick Fry and Ross Brawn very much committed to FOTA. So even if FOTA doesn’t represent all the F1 teams, it may represent a significantly powerful voice that can influence the terms of the seventh Concorde Agreement, if it holds together.

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The Three Futures of #F1

December 1, 2011

With the 2011 season now at an end the teams are working even harder on their 2012 cars. We are also getting more clarity on driver line-ups, with F1 very much in tune with work practices in general – extending the retirement age with Kimi Raikkonen now returning to F1, this time with Lotus Renault, not sure if he’s having to make bigger pension contributions.

But while much of the media attention focuses on 2012, the movers and shakers: the Team Principals and FOTA, the FIA, Formula One Management and CVC are all focused on 2013. This is when a new Concorde Agreement should come into effect. Recently in the FT, Leisure Industries Correspondent, Roger Blitz aligned the politics of F1 to those of the Eurozone, with an intense battle emerging between the haves (Bernie and CVC) and have-nots (FOTA and FIA) – my definition not Roger’s. The complex web that is the governance of F1 is yet again going to be stretched and rewoven, and currently, no-one is quite sure how this will all end up. Certainly we will see Bernie at his best – he always enjoys a good fight – and will undoubtedly be focusing on divide and rule with the teams, not a new strategy, but always an effective one, but who knows perhaps Martin Whitmarsh and his peers will be able to keep FOTA united and carve out a good result? The key is going to be where the FIA end up. In the past they have traditionally aligned against the teams, but perhaps this time we will see a new permutation? Expect plenty of off-track fireworks during 2012.

However there are those in F1 for whom 2012 and 2013 matters not a jot: for the technical strategists in the teams work is well underway for the 2014 regulations which will require the cars to have 1.6 litre V6 power units and substantial Energy Recovery Systems (ERS) to harvest and reuse the energy to improve performance. The engine manufacturers are well underway with a variety of permutations and concepts and the teams will be keen to see how they can build the optimum package from this new powertrain.

All in all the next few years are going to be a busy time for anyone involved in F1, regardless of whether or not the Eurozone holds together.

With a few exceptions (mainly the desperately boring European Grand Prix at Valencia) 2011 has been a superb series of races. And of course we did have the rain factor in Hungary, but the excitement was already there, it was just the icing on the cake.

Winners

Jenson Button: What a great way to celebrate your 200th Grand Prix and the place where Jenson won his first race back in 2006. Jenson may not be Alonso material, but he’s a great character and on his day, unbeatable. It could have been very different, I actually think he may have pitted if he’d been in front of Lewis when the rain started to come down, but that’s conjecture on my part. A great result and who knows what will come next.

Sebastian Vettel: Although he didn’t win, he was ahead of both his main rivals for the championship – Lewis and Fernando. This was a good championship banker for Sebastian and still makes him the favourite. He is now almost 100 points ahead of both of them (notice I haven’t put Mark Webber down as a rival), and that means they need to win four races with Seb not picking up a single point to overtake him. Not very likely.

Martin Whitmarsh: Martin has come in for a bit of stick regarding McLaren’s performance, I have no idea why, as he is doing a brilliant job. McLaren have prided themselves on being the only team that can run two ‘number one’ drivers, however this has often been at the cost of much intra-team rivalry and friction (Senna/Prost; Hamilton/Alonso), and it has to be said that Ron Dennis’s partial approach to drivers has often appeared to fuel such tensions. Martin Whitmarsh has a different style and one which is about fairness, balance and the team. Undoubtedly there is a good relationship between Jenson and Lewis, but it is the team approach that will either build or destroy this, congratulations to Martin and McLaren for giving us such great racing yesterday. If McLaren had used team orders it would have been so much more boring and we wouldn’t have seen the best of Jenson or Lewis.

Losers

Lewis Hamilton: It was a big shame for Lewis as he deserved a far better result than he ended up with, but he took the outcome with stoicism and for that he probably should have been a winner as well! There is much more to come from Lewis in the second part of the season.

Team Orders: Towards the end of the Hungary race I was reminded of Austria 2002, the day when Jean Todt, oblivious to the views of F1 fans across the world decided to get Rubens Barrichello, who had outdriven Schumi all weekend, to pull over and allow the Schumi-meister to win the race. Undoubtedly Todt’s motives were sincere and for the benefit of the team, but in reality they did far more damage to the team and their lead driver. Contrast this with Lewis and Jenson fighting tooth and nail for every last piece of the abrasive Hungaroring circuit and you realise how much racing team orders can destroy. Let’s hope all teams reflect on this and think how they can get the best out of everyone and put on great racing, because that was what we witnessed yesterday.