Bernie Ecclestone’s summit fails to achieve deal and the plan to make prize money fairer is defeated
Formula One descended into farce this week after a crunch meeting called to discuss a revolution in the rules produced no white smoke.
A summit of the sport’s Strategy Group — made up of the six leading teams, Bernie Ecclestone and the FIA, motorsport’s governing body — ended without any apparent agreement and the teams still at odds.
The FIA had been due to release a statement after the meeting at Ecclestone’s English headquarters but, in keeping with the tone of the day, it never emerged.
Despite a whole host of matters on the agenda, including banning wind tunnels or adapting the engines to save money, it is understood that no deal was reached. Instead, the sport’s executives returned to an idea first proposed more than six months ago, with little sign of progress in between.
As he did in Brazil last November, Ecclestone suggested that should one of the smaller, financially struggling teams go out of business, then Ferrari, Red Bull or one of the other big teams should run three cars.
It is also thought that a feasibility study will be conducted into whether the independent teams could simply buy a car from one of the bigger outfits at a cost of $NZ31.5 million a year — something Force India, Lotus and Sauber are opposed to.
“Customer cars” would mark the end of the great independent teams, in the tradition of Eddie Jordan’s, which prospered in the 1990s.
Sauber’s team principal, Monisha Kaltenborn, spoke for many fans when she said last year: “F1 needs in its DNA this challenge. It’s never been any different; you’ve always had manufacturer teams and smaller teams competing against each other. People like to see a Williams and Force India come really close to beating a really big team.”
The sport’s system of skewed prize-money payments was also briefly raised but this was never going to be changed. The contracts are locked in until 2020 and the big teams have no incentive to alter them.
Donald Mackenzie, the co-chairman and co-founder of CVC Capital Partners, F1’s owners, was at the meeting and is unlikely to have been impressed with what he saw.
The Strategy Group has been characterised by paralysis for almost a year, with Ecclestone himself warning beforehand that this meeting was likely to be a flop. The voting structure — six votes for Ecclestone, six for the FIA, and one for each of the six teams — makes consensus almost impossible.
At the last summit earlier this year all they could agree was a ban on drivers changing helmet designs during the year. But this week’s meeting apparently made little progress. Even those who attend speak of a committee full of back-biting and disagreement.
New ideas or direction are also in short supply.
Now, with audiences dwindling in some of its European heartlands, F1 travels to Monaco for its next race — and a fresh round of soul-searching.