The sport’s governing body, FISA, and the top Grand Prix drivers crossed swords during the fortnight’s run-up to the Brazilian Grand Prix, over the introduction of success-related fees for Fomula One superlicences.
Without bothering to inform, let alone consult, the drivers, FISA’s Executive Committee took this decision last December. The fact that they waited until two weeks before the Brazilian GP to break the news to the competitors suggested that FISA knew full well there would be trouble.
When the tariff was published, the drivers reacted predictably. The basic charge of 5000 French francs seemed fair enough, but when 1000 francs per point scored was added, calculated on the basis of the 1986 Championship, a few of them went through the roof. Nigel Mansell, with 72 pts scored, faced a charge of 77,000 francs (about £8,000) while Derek Warwick, for example, only had to pay about £550.
World Champion Alain Prost was appointed to hold “talks” with FISA, but, once they have the bit between their teeth, there is precious little scope for “talking” with FISA’s Jean-Marie Balestre and FIA Vice President of Commercial Affairs Bernie Ecclestone. Between them, the two men completely control international motor racing. They talk, everybody else listens, . .
The drivers were indignant. They could well afford the money, but they felt a point of principle was at stake. Prost simply tried to get the point over that, if FISA got away with these arbitrary charges, perhaps they would quadruple them without warning in 1987.
At the end of the day everybody paid up, but the drivers at least secured an agreement that the fees would be index-linked to inflation for the next five years. Prost, diplomatically, called it a compromise.
However, neither Balestre nor Ecclestone felt so sympathetic. Through a FISA communique, Balestre trumpeted that this was no compromise, pointing out that the drivers merely conformed with the regulations.
Bernie let it be known that he thought most of them were overpaid and could well afford to pay up. He told Riccardo Patrese, his own Brabham team leader, that he could pay up by Thursday afternoon prior to the Brazilian GP or find another job. Ecclestone is not known for his overt sympathy towards drivers in general!