Formula 1 has felt a little like football in the last four months. There have been wholesale changes at the top of the teams and the familiar faces have been replaced by new men with new ideas. Performance and prizes are linked and the fall guy has been the boss.
This season there is no Ross Brawn and no Martin Whitmarsh. Meanwhile Eric Boullier has switched from Lotus to McLaren and, last week, it was announced that Stefano Domenicali had left Ferrari. The new boss Marco Mattiacci was head of Ferrari’s sales in North America.
The difference between the bosses in football and other sports compared to Formula 1 is that F1 team principals have to get involved in much more than just running a team. They have been doing their best over the years, forming and running FOTA – the Formula One Teams Association – and trying to work together ‘for the good of Formula 1’ by bringing about rule changes and generally improving the sport as a business model as well as a spectacle for fans.
FOTA is sadly no longer, but these men are the ones who understand the sport and realise that F1 is not only a template used in business on a global scale, but a sport that often finds itself embroiled in politics.
It is not Luca di Montezemolo, Dietrich Mateschitz, Vijay Mallya or Ron Dennis who was going to the FOTA meetings – although many team bosses would be the mouth piece of the team owner – it was the team principal who, alongside directing and managing the team and its personnel, would liaise with the drivers and try to keep, in some cases, up to 1000 people happy.
The departure of Stefano Domenicali
Two weeks ago in Bahrain, as Fernando Alonso was being overtaken by the Force India of Nico Hulkenberg, Luca di Montezemolo, making one of his rare appearances at a race, threw off his headphones and left the circuit.
It was with typically ironic timing that Fernando Alonso stood on the podium in China with new boss Marco Mattiacci applauding like the proud father. For the first time in years, Domenicali was a mere spectator. When I asked him after the race, Alonso told me that the podium was dedicated to his ex-boss and said that, “any results until July, will be thanks to Stefano”.
But behind Fernando’s on-camera charm and control, there is often a different story and it is understood that he and Domenicali hadn’t had the best of relationships for a while.
Changes at Mercedes, McLaren and Lotus
At Mercedes, after the first couple of races of the season and the realisation that they had a car to put fear into others, Paddy Lowe was graceful enough to acknowledge the work and efforts of Ross Brawn who undoubtedly helped get Mercedes to the incredible place they are at.
After Australia, when McLaren was leading the Constructors’ Championship courtesy of Kevin Magnussen finishing second and Jenson Button third (after Ricciardo was disqualified), many people thought that Martin Whitmarsh had been unfairly dismissed.
Now, though, four races in and with McLaren’s fortunes in reverse, it is Eric Boullier who has become the first line of defence having inherited the beleaguered car. It could be worse for him – he could still be at his previous team Lotus.
Last year’s financial shambles at Lotus saw them hemorrhaging personnel and it was only the decent car that helped carry them through all the problems of 2013 and give their loyal and talented guys something to look forward to. That lifeline has now gone. The team continues to work tirelessly, but they must feel that they are looking for light at the end of a very long tunnel.
A chance for midfield teams
This is the time that the midfield teams need to capitalise on the turmoil at the top. The big teams, apart from Mercedes, are unsettled and rule changes have been more complicated than expected. Drivers such as Kimi Räikkönen and even four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel are having to justify their performances as they watch their team-mates outperforming them.
This is when the Force Indias, the Williams and the Toro Rossos need to become more than a Saturday afternoon surprise. Sundays are what count, they offer points, which bring huge cash prizes. The higher up you finish, the more money you get, which gives you more to spend on designing and continuing to develop a better car.
Come Barcelona, a huge raft of updates will be on the cars and once again the order will change. This is often when teams with smaller budgets start to lose ground.
F1’s new world order is under threat. It is an unsettled sport at the moment and that even applies to those confident, unflappable men at the top of the teams. Results have become even more important and now we are seeing that the revolving door isn’t just for under-performing drivers anymore, it welcomes team bosses too.
More from Lee McKenzie
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Mixed emotions at the Malaysian GP
The season of the debutants
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