Formula 1 pulls together

This time last year the world of Grand Prix racing was reeling from the damage caused by spy scandals and obscene $100 million fines. McLaren and Ferrari, Formula 1’s top teams, had seemingly reached a point of animosity beyond any plausible recovery, as the FIA stoked the unpleasant atmosphere with further rulings and insinuation that could only compound the division. How things have changed as we head into 2009.

Today Ferrari and McLaren have both contributed significantly to the most dramatic changes to Formula 1’s consuming mentality ever seen, in the wake of a brilliant season of racing that happily stopped short of spilling over into ugly warfare. Under the guidance of Luca di Montezemolo (below), Ferrari, McLaren and the other teams have joined forces to create the Formula One Teams’ Association, and remarkably it has actually achieved something beyond petty squabbles over a hotel conference table. It has taken a financial crisis the like of which we’ve never seen, and the loss of a valued manufacturer team, but F1 has finally united. How long it lasts is another question. But the fact it has happened at all deserves recognition.

The rulings FOTA agreed, which were then approved by the FIA, are outlined on page 12. It is estimated that team costs will be slashed by 30 per cent in 2009, while FOTA and the FIA have paved the way for more discussions that will shape F1 into 2010 and beyond. There is still much to concern the sport: teams remain vulnerable, race promoters are still doubtful, F1 is still owned by a venture capitalist whose sole regard for the sport is concerned with its ability to make money. But in these darkest of times there is room for optimism. The crisis has claimed Honda, but it has brought out the best in the other teams.

As for F1’s leaders, Max Mosley and Bernie Ecclestone, praise must always be muted. Mosley, don’t forget, chose to grant an unprecedented 100-year lease on F1’s commercial rights to his friend for a fraction of their value, and has then stood by as CVC Capital plunders the sport’s profits to pay off the outrageous loan it took out to make the actual purchase. Grand acts in a crisis are one thing, but it’s not enough when you are the one responsible for plunging F1 into such vulnerability in the first place.

Everywhere you turn, the gloom of the financial crisis has cast its long shadow. The credit crunch and other all too familiar related phrases are peppered throughout this magazine. We can’t avoid them.

But we haven’t forgotten that you need some respite – so do we, I can promise you. So perhaps our unrivalled stories from motor sport’s past will resonate louder than ever this month. In particular, I’d like to recommend Simon Taylor’s lunch with David Piper. If that doesn’t take your mind off economic meltdown for half an hour, nothing will.

The Porsche 911s pictured on the cover are another healthy distraction. They will also grace our stand at the Autosport International racing car show, held at the NEC in Birmingham on January 8-11. Do come and pay a visit if you head to the show. We promise not to mention the credit crunch.

Damien Smith, Editor