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Motorsport: Formula One's off-track tussles continue
By Bob McMurray • 16/04/2016
It seems that the great political battle between Bernie Ecclestone and Jean Todt versus teams, drivers, the media and the vocal army of the fans in the “you have got to be kidding” corner, has been won by the rare appearance of an outbreak of simple sense.
The qualifying format for a Formula 1 race will remain the same as in past years, starting with this weekend’s Chinese Grand Prix. Done and dusted. Simple solution really.
If this power battle over the qualifying format, which at it’s heart was the battle over who calls the shots in Formula 1, had gone on any longer it would have brought the sport and the players involved into serious disrepute.
So now perhaps we can get back into talking about the sport and the competition on the track rather than in a boardroom.
There is still the problem of the new rules for next year, which call for more downforce on the cars and more speed around the track, yet the drivers and that annoying band of dedicated followers, called the fans, are pleading for more racing and overtaking.
Let us all hope that the outbreak of sense turns into an epidemic and the racing element of the sport once again comes to the fore.
Perhaps we can go back in history and reintroduce the rules of the old days when, if a number one driver had a problem with his car, he was allowed to stop and have the team call in his team-mate — the number two driver — to the pits to swap cars and off he would go again leaving said team-mate to sit and watch the race from the pits.
I wonder how that would work out between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg?
World champion Lewis Hamilton driving his Mercedes during the Bahrain Grand Prix earlier this year. Picture/AP
In a more serious vein, the on-track element of the sport has always been fraught with argument and discussion about who runs it, who owns it and who wields the power.
Who is the ultimate boss of the sport and where is the governance based?
Until Ecclestone came along, accompanied by his barrister mate Max Mosley, the power was in the hands of the promoters and race organisers and rubber stamped by FISA (Federation Internationale du Sport Automobile), which was heavily supported by the ‘‘Grandee’’ teams made up of the manufacturers.
But Ecclestone and Mosley formed FOCA (Formula One Constructors Association), which was an amalgamation of the mainly British-based privateer racing teams, named the “Garagistas” by Enzo Ferrari, and so the decades-long gradual process of wresting power into the hands of Ecclestone and Mosley began.
The FISA-FOCA war years
This process seemed to be complete when Mosley won the election to become president of the FIA, the governing body for motor-sport events. Mosley set about modernising the FIA and in doing so ceded the commercial rights for Formula 1 to Ecclestone for 15 years.
An agreement still exists, signed in 2011, that gives Ecclestone, through the eponymous company name ‘‘FOM’’ (Formula One Management), the rights to host the Formula 1 Championship for the next 100 years at a cost of US$313.6 million ($452m).
So, despite the committees, the commissions, the working groups, strategy groups, who holds the power in Formula 1?
Technically the FIA but it cannot do very much without Ecclestone’s approval.
Todt, president of the FIA, is trying to reassert himself as boss of the sport but is severely limited in what he can do.
Ecclestone has the commercial power but he is 85 years old.
He cannot hold races without the teams and many of those teams are controlled by the manufacturers who hold huge potential power over the direction in which the sport heads.
Those manufacturers are very much aware that at some point Ecclestone will have to abdicate, be it because of nature taking its course or he being overthrown.
Those manufacturers are positioning themselves to fill that void when the inevitable happens and that concerns both Ecclestone and Todt greatly.
In the background are the financiers, CVC Capital Partners, the sport’s controlling shareholder and by definition the owner of the sport.
This complex and continual ebb and flow of political muscle-flexing between the principal players is destined to continue for some time — most likely until one of the players is no longer on the scene. This latest stoush has gone the way of the teams but Ecclestone and Todt are master operatives when it comes to the long political game and Ecclestone especially does not backtrack without having a master plan in mind.
Perhaps we will see a better Formula 1 come out of all these high-power, high-stakes shenanigans — but equally we may have seen the best days of the sport as it slides into public irrelevance.