Matters of Moment, October 2013

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On the morning of qualifying at the Hungarian GP, Bernie Ecclestone and FIA president Jean Todt were all smiles when they shook hands for the cameras. As they did so, it was announced that the pair had “signed an agreement setting out the framework for implementation of the 2013 Concorde Agreement”. So the new deal by which Formula 1 will henceforth be governed was done, right? Erm, no.

Let’s not be hasty. They’d simply agreed to agree how it should be agreed – or at least that it certainly should be agreed sometime in the near future…

Sir Humphrey Appleby would doubtless be proud.

It was at least encouraging to see the promoter and regulator edging closer to accord on the sport’s future – which you’d be forgiven for considering fairly vital. But the fact remains that, as I write ahead of the Belgian GP, F1 has been run without a legally binding agreement between governing bodies and competing teams for eight months now. And despite the bonhomie in Budapest, that remains the case.

Meanwhile, we await an imminent decision from German courts on whether Ecclestone will stand trial following his indictment for bribery in the case of the jailed banker Gerhard Gribkowsky. More pigeon steps as the world of F1 holds on to discover its own fate, but we can at least be thankful this legal shadow isn’t of Italian origin. The German system tends not to linger once it commits to act.

Last month I suggested that the ongoing malaise in motor racing’s governance dates back to the FIA’s decision to offload F1’s commercial rights for 100 years, a deal struck during Max Mosley’s reign. This invoked a thoughtful response from one well-informed reader. Ex-racer Mike Knight, perhaps best known as the man who ran France’s influential Winfield Racing School for so long, argues the problems began many years before that.

“The sale of the commercial rights for a fraction of their worth will be seen as more of an effect, less so its root cause,” he wrote. “I think time will show motor sport’s instability results from the terms President [Jean-Marie] Balestre agreed to settle what was described at the time as the FISA/FOCA war [in 1982]. If that proves correct the FIA is itself the real problem. No governing body other than our sport’s has seen fit to divest itself of the power to determine a calendar for its premier product; not where, nor when, nor the terms.

“[The FIA] further argues that not to arbitrate in commercial matters is an enlightened position. Not so. These are all unique, extraordinary concessions and over time have done damage to the sport. That the FIA has no interest in ensuring that circuits hosting their world championship rounds do so profitably is, I think, indefensible. Perhaps we can put it all down to the growing pains of a very young sport, but in one as complex as ours the
challenge to get on top of it is enormous. The banking calamities prove what happens when regulators fail to act as they ought. But we don’t say ‘forget them’. We tell them to do the job they are there to do.”

He continued: “Without a logical chain of command, organisations cannot prosper in the long term. Every now and then an individual will come along and make things happen, we have all seen that. But to pass the baton consistently requires a structure that at least gives a succession a chance.

“Our little organisation had some first-hand experience. We ran two race schools based in France that for 25 years received financial support from Elf. They were the base from which about 30 mainly French F1 drivers emerged. Elf’s resident genius was François Guiter. When he retired Elf’s operation fell apart. For reasons only M Guiter knows, he made no effort to ensure it continued under enlightened direction. There has barely been a French F1 driver since.

“So I conclude by suggesting our sport urgently requires a governing body to manage as others do; that whoever represents the interests of the sport’s players – at any level – are both transitory and subordinate parties.” We won’t argue with you there, Mike. Whatever happens in the German courts in the coming months, F1 deserves and requires a proper succession plan for the AB (‘After Bernie’) era. The existing promotional rights holder, private equity firm CVC Capital Partners, clearly cannot be trusted to lead the process, and neither can self-interested teams or car manufacturers.

Under Mosley, the FIA’s management of motor racing beyond its regulatory function was enduring and largely damaging. But it doesn’t have to be that way. An opportunity for a new start could be on the horizon, especially if Ecclestone falls. It’s certainly needed. The question we now ask is this: where’s the individual with the authority, vision – and integrity – to lead it?

September approaches, so naturally we look forward to the Goodwood Revival Meeting, a highlight of any racing season and certainly a welcome antidote for anyone jaded by Formula 1 politics. To mark the occasion this year, we have come up with something a little different.

To get into the true spirit of the Revival, Motor Sport has produced a special limited-edition ‘retro’ cover for this issue. Yes, that means the stripes are back! These copies, which we hope will become collectors’ editions in years to come, will be available to buy from the fabulous Tesco ‘time-warp’ store in the tradearea on the outside of the circuit. Fittingly, Jim Clark is pictured on the front, drifting a Zagato Aston Martin through Madgwick in the 1961 TT: perfect for an issue dedicated to the British marque’s 100th birthday and the Revival’s tribute to the Scot on the 50th anniversary of his first world title. I’d also like to invite you to save the date for the Le Mans Classic on July 4/5 2014. Motor Sport is teaming up with our friends at Speed Chills, this time to offer special camping packages for the biennial historic racing bonanza.

Following the success of our Speed Chills campsite at this year’s Le Mans 24 Hours, we’re planning a special cavalcade to the Classic to mark our own 90th anniversary in 2014. More details will be released soon, but for now you can register your interest at www.motorsportmagazine.com and we’ll tell you more in due course.

Damien Smith

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