Bernie in concord with the president
While the battle for the title between Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso has captured the headlines, discussions over the future of F1 have continued to keep the key players busy behind the scenes over recent weeks.
Jean Todt met with Bernie Ecclestone and the teams in Paris in late October where, in addition to the commercial details of the new Concorde Agreement, the bigger picture of governance was discussed.
A key element of the future is the Strategy Working Group, comprised of six representatives of the FIA, six from FOM, and six from the teams. The latter will be Red Bull, McLaren, Ferrari, Mercedes, Williams and whoever is best of the rest in the constructors’ table.
This group will vote on rule changes which will in turn be passed onto a new 18-man Fl Commission. This will incorporate representatives of the aforementioned six teams plus those who scored points in the previous championship (Force India, Sauber and Toro Rosso), as well as representatives of the FIA, FOM, engine manufacturers and six promoters.
Todt has been keen to streamline the process of promoting change, and in both cases votes will be passed by a simple majority, whereas previously the Fl Commission required 70 per cent in favour.
He has also been keen to raise more funds for the governing body, as indicated by a new sliding scale for 2013 of entrant and driver superlicence fees, based on points scored this season. The big prize remains an improved Concorde deal with Bernie Ecclestone, a goal he appears to have achieved.
“I’ve agreed everything with Jean,” Ecclestone told Motor Sport. “So everybody’s happy now. He’s got more money, so he can build a bigger office! He wants to be competing with the IOC and Sepp Blatter and be up there with them.”
Ecclestone says he has no problem with the FIA getting a bigger slice of what is, after all, an ever-expanding pie: “No, it’s alright. We are buying a little bit of freedom,” he added enigmatically.
Meanwhile, the issue of keeping a lid on costs remains at the forefront of discussions, especially as the approach of the turbos in 2014 is putting pressure on teams that are already strapped for cash.
While the teams continue to argue about the Resource Restriction Agreement, from which many areas of spending are excluded, Ecclestone has called for a blanket budget cap which will encompass all expenditure. However, the proposed $250m figure, (£155m) is beyond the reach of all but a handful of teams, so it remains to be seen what benefits it might have.
“I want a maximum amount that a team can spend on Fl, including drivers,” said Ecclestone. “Do what you like, but you mustn’t spend more than this. Maybe it’s a high figure at the moment, but once the principle’s established, we can bring it down. I think they will agree. I think they realise it’s probably the right way to go.”
Red Bull has long been one of the key critics of the RRA, the team pointing out that it doesn’t include areas where teams with manufacturer relationships — such as Mercedes and Ferrari — can benefit from R&D assistance.
“We are fully in favour of costs being controlled in the sport,” says Christian Horner. “We just disagree with the mechanisms at the moment, how they are presented to control those costs and our concern is that different entities, different organisations, are treated differently. It doesn’t include the engine, for example, so there’s freedom to spend, at the moment, on that, particularly the new power train in 2014.”
Clearly there are still some key issues to be resolved, but on the plus side the major players do seem genuinely keen to find agreement.
“The good thing is this isn’t the old era, which was, I think, very confrontational and probably good for the media but less good for the sport,” says McLaren’s Martin Whitmarsh. “I think people are recognising that now is not the time to have wars, now’s the time to be constructive, where necessary compromise, and find a way forward for the sport.” Adam Cooper
2014 Ferrari seat for Nico?
Nico Hulkenberg’s move from Force India to Sauber for 2013 is seen by many observers as a prelude to a possible future at Ferrari for the German.
Ferrari has extended Felipe Massa’s deal for one more season, leaving the door open for a change in 2014. Despite denials from all parties, rumours continue to suggest that Sebastian Vettel could be heading for Maranello, but if that doesn’t happen, Hulkenberg would be a logical choice. The Italian team can keep close tabs on him at Sauber, where he will use Ferrari engines.
Sauber has not yet named Hulkenberg’s team-mate, but Mexican sponsorship is likely to guarantee a seat for Esteban Gutierrez, who logged more miles when he tested for the team in Abu Dhabi.
Meanwhile, Scuderia Toro Rosso has announced an unchanged line-up, with Daniel Ricciardo and JeanEric Vergne staying on for a second year. The pair are potentially in contention for a 2014 Red Bull seat, should Mark Webber move on.
New Jersey door still ajar
Bernie Ecclestone says that he will “try and help” the promoters of the Grand Prix of the Americas to find the backing with which to hold the race in 2014.
The New Jersey street event has been dropped from the 2013 calendar, ostensibly for logistical reasons. In reality the funding was not in place and the original contract had lapsed.
“I’m disappointed, for a lot of reasons,” Ecclestone told Motor Sport. “I’m disappointed with the guys who couldn’t keep the commitment, which is a bit naughty. People shouldn’t make commitments they can’t keep.
“I think what happened was they thought they would get investment very easily. Also they pushed for 2013. The Russians were realistic and said 2014.”
Ecclestone has opened the door for a French GP to be added to the 2013 calendar, with Magny-Cours a more likely candidate than Paul Ricard, which is badly lacking in spectator facilities.
The problem is that the likely date of June 23 is already occupied by Le Mans, which was moved to avoid a clash with New Jersey.