There may have been conspicuously less money in evidence in Monte Carlo this year, but still the emphasis of the weekend was on little else, for there remained the vexed – and as yet unresolved – question of budget caps in F1.
A week before Monaco FOTA (Formula One Teams Association) met at a London hotel to discuss the matter, and then had a meeting with FIA President Max Mosley to put forward their points of view.
They got nowhere. Mosley was adamant there had to be a budget cap next year, and several FOTA members – Ferrari, Toyota, Renault, Red Bull and Toro Rosso – replied that they could not enter for the 2010 World Championship in that circumstance. The closing date for entries, let we forget, is May 29 – and if you want to know why it should be so early, Max will tell you that, ‘It’s vital to give possible new teams as much time as possible to prepare’.
As nothing was settled in London, new meetings were scheduled for Friday in Monaco. Again there was a FOTA get-together first, and when the team principals emerged from it Luca di Montezemolo was at pains to stress that they were ‘united’. Off they went to the Automobile Club de Monaco for an audience with Mosley. Two hours later they emerged, many of them stony-faced, but saying the discussions had been ‘productive’.
As time went by, though, it started to look as though Mosley was winning this battle of wills. Already there had been one ‘concession’ by the FIA (this the two-tier rules system, surely created only as a bargaining tool, something to be ‘yielded’ by the governing body), and now Max was prepared to loosen the ‘cap’ somewhat. What had started at £30m ‘all in’ is now out to £40m – plus the cost of drivers, hospitality and now engines! Which, as someone murmured, is effectively £100m…
You’d think it ought to be possible to race a couple of cars 17 or 18 times a year on this sort of money, but in F1 terms it amounts to a savage reduction for the top teams, and will, they say, lead to a very considerable number of redundancies, which they are desperately keen to avoid.
Some teams, however, are not at all opposed to the idea of a budget cap – indeed, as ‘independents’ (like Williams), they would welcome it. And by the time the Monaco meeting with Mosley was over, it looked as though any question of a ‘breakaway’ championship was now at an end. Opposition to the ‘cap’ (perhaps to be given a new name in the future) appeared to be dissipating, with only Ferrari and Toyota still overtly opposed. Rumours persist that Toyota is anyway seeking an escape route from F1 at the end of this season – and this situation, of course, provides just that.
The expectation is that in the end there will be a ‘fudge’, a compromise, because expediency demands it. Everyone in F1, after all, is mindful of the horrific damage done to Indy car racing by the CART/IRL split all those years ago.
Di Montezemolo keeps saying he will renounce F1 and ‘take Ferrari to Le Mans’, but no one believes it will come to that. As Mosley said, in his inimitable way, “Of course Ferrari, or anyone else, is perfectly free to enter for any race or championship it wishes. I mean, they could go to Le Mans – so long as they’ve got a diesel engine in order to be competitive – or of course they could go to Indy, where everyone has a Dallara chassis and a Honda engine…”