A break from the old routine

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My phone rang just after midnight on Friday June 19.

A radio station wanted a comment on plans for eight of the 10 Formula 1 teams to form a breakaway series, in defiance of the FIA and its dictator’s uncompromising imposition of a budget cap for 2010. So they’d finally done it. United, they’d stood up to him. Thank goodness.

Later that day at Silverstone, there was a sense of quiet determination among the team bosses, of relief that they’d taken the plunge. Motor Sport shared those feelings. We’d always thought splitting Formula 1 in two, diluting it, could only be wrong (we’d seen what division can do in Indycar racing). But this was different. This was the right decision, the only decision, open to eight teams sick of being patronised, bullied and overruled by a president of a regulatory body that has run amok with the sport of Grand Prix racing.

Then on Wednesday June 24 the unexpected happened. Having stated just the day before that he would stand for re-election in the autumn in defiance of the teams’ desire to see him gone, president Max Mosley announced that a deal had been brokered to save F1 from a split – and that he would be leaving his post after all. Once again, thank goodness.

Mosley was always the problem at the centre of this crisis, which could have ripped Grand Prix racing in two. His autocratic governance of the sport, coupled with his condescending attitude to the “loony” teams who make F1 what it is, has created a climate of fear and suspicion in the world’s paddocks and press rooms. He has taken the remit of his role at the head of the sport’s regulatory body right to its boundaries – and way beyond.

Now our attention turns to what happens next – or perhaps that should be who happens next! Mosley’s successor – assuming Max doesn’t pull another u-turn and change his mind between now and the autumn, of course – will have a huge task on his hands to rebuild the FIA’s relationship with the teams and motor manufacturers who invest so much in racing. The reputation of the governing body and the sport is in tatters thanks to Mosley. F1 has been dragged through political scandal after needless controversy during his time in power. Yes, his record on safety is admirable, but the avoidance of fatalities in F1 since May 1994 is not what Mosley will be remembered for. His legacy could have been a great one. Instead, his era will be remembered for inconsistencies in governance, political infighting – and lurid tabloid headlines. In other words, he blew it.

So will we get a conciliatory FIA president come November? Impossible to say right now. Perhaps it’s too much to expect. Especially if Jean Todt gets the job…

Enough. Right now change, finally, is in the air. Refreshing, isn’t it?

*****

Le Mans, a week before Silverstone, was hardly free of its own brand of in-fighting (see page 26). But the 24 Hours remains a spectacle and an ‘event’ that transcends the sport. Luca di Montezemolo was suitably impressed, although perhaps we shouldn’t hold our breath for that Ferrari works team just yet.

Audi has served sports car racing so well and deserves credit for its technical innovation. But Peugeot’s surprisingly dominant victory can only be good news for the old enduro. Now Audi will be out for revenge and we hope the French giant will return to meet its challenge.

Motor Sport would also like to doff its proverbial cap (not of the baseball variety, I can assure you…) to David Brabham, who at the age of 43 and at his 16th attempt finally chalked up an overall Le Mans victory. Great driver, great bloke. Good on yer, Brabs.

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