On March 5, in Geneva, FOTA – Formula One Teams Association – had its inaugural press conference, and my immediate impression was to feel a touch underwhelmed. Luca di Montezemolo, the association’s president, was at his most patrician as he addressed the audience, but if we had been expecting a bombshell announcement of any kind, it never came.
There was plenty of emphasis on the teams’ new-found togetherness, of the need to work with the FIA and with Bernie Ecclestone on the future of the sport, and so on, and a great deal of time was given over to the need for cost-cutting. By 2010, Montezemolo said, the cost of Formula 1 – in terms of a team’s expenditure – would be 50 per cent of what it was in 2008, a remarkable achievement in itself.
There was also pleasing evidence that at long last F1 has examined what Flavio Briatore calls ‘the product’, and concluded it needs to become more ‘fan friendly’, both on the track and off it. There is, for example, a proposal that pit-to-car radio transmissions be made available to broadcasters – quite something for a society normally given to Masonic secrecy.
There were plenty of suggestions and ideas, and it was all very politically correct, but when you looked a little more deeply into what had been said – and, more to the point, what had not been said – a more significant picture began to emerge. Yes, Montezemolo had said that all parties were likely to sign a new Concorde Agreement in the near future, which concerns the ‘commercial arrangements’ – 50 per cent of the monies from race organisers, TV companies, and so on, going to the teams, and 50 per cent to Formula One Management (Ecclestone) – but this will take us only up to 2012. And if you listened closely to Luca, you concluded that thereafter the teams will require a significantly larger slice of the financial cake.
Whether some or all of FOTA’s proposals will be adopted by the FIA remains to be seen, but clearly the teams – unified as they have never been before – will have a stronger voice in future. Mindful of what happened to CART, they do not want to run the sport themselves – but nor do they wish any longer to be pushed around.
As one team principal said afterwards, “We don’t want to make the rules, but we do want to have some say in them. And, given that we’re all together now, we do have the facility to vote with our feet…”
Go on, I said. “Well, for example, take refuelling. Most of us never wanted it in the first place, because it’s expensive to lug all that stuff across the world, it’s an unnecessary danger, and it adds nothing to the show. Yes, it’s going to be banned in 2010 anyway, but if that weren’t the case, we could simply not take the refuelling equipment with us, couldn’t we? I’m sure they would still want us to race…”
On the surface, then, a commitment to work with the FIA and FOM, and I’m sure that’s what all in FOTA would prefer. Under the surface, though, is a message, polite in expression, but resolute in tone: the days of ‘divide and rule’, as perfected by Mosley and Ecclestone down the years, are over. Interesting times, one feels, lie ahead.