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Egmont's column: Torn apart

2009-06-19 07:26

Egmont Sippel

 So, Max eventually blinked.

The FIA president took time out of his Chelsea dungeon yesterday, to post a letter to the Formula One Teams Association, better known as FOTA.

In it, Mosley presumably dictated to one of his eager beaver secretaries along the following lines:

“In the last 24 hours, the FIA – which is me – has backed down from our – erm, my – stance on budget caps.

“You – FOTA – will therefore be pleased to know that I am now making one of the two only moves left on the chess board of egos, to save F1.

“The first one was for you, the teams, to drop your budgets from more than Euro 245 million to Euro 45 million in one single go. That’s excluding driver salaries and a couple of other things, so I will never understand why you didn’t do this.

“It’s not a big ask, believe me. I can spend money like that in a weekend, right here in Chelsea.

“Seems to me that you might be struggling with arithmetics. We have 24 hours in a day. Now, if five girls, each at...”

Let your fingers do the walking

Some mumbling is believed to have taken place at this point, as fingers popped up and down in what seemed to be frenzied bout of mental arithmetics.

When the popping was done, the president is believed to have let out a sigh, possibly of self-congratulatory satisfaction at his marvelous ability to always arrive at the right figures, before he continued:

“In the face of your beastly determination to destroy F1 at all costs – to the tune of Euro 250 million and more, per team – I have graciously decided to extend an olive branch, to save our beloved sport from your selfish indulgence.

“I have therefore more than doubled the budget cap, to Euro 100 million.

“How’s that for being gregarious?”

Torn apart

At this point, a yelp of pleasure erupted from the president’s scribbler. Her pen flew through the air as she threw her arms aloft to hug him.

Then, as the awful truth dawned and she realised that the budget cap had nothing to do with how much she could spend when sugar daddy dragged her off to a dungeon beneath Jacques Cousteau’s marine museum in Monaco, a great bout of sobbing erupted.

The president wasn’t too worried. He reached over to a pink porcelain piggy which had jokingly been branded along the lines of “McLaren Penalty Fees”.

Even after ferocious efforts to empty the piggy, it had enough in it for at least a dozen more diamond necklaces plus, perhaps, all the diamonds that have recently adorned Lewis Hamilton’s helmet in Monaco.

For this weekend’s race at Silverstone, though, the Hammer’s helmet will carry a paint job creating the illusion that the helmet has been ripped open at the top.

That now, to let a bit of Union Jack shine through.

Yet, the graphic could easily have symbolised something else as well.

Like F1 being torn apart.

Ferrari’s position

Will it happen?

We’ll know soon enough, if Mosley sticks to his promise that the deadline for unconditional entry into next year’s F1 championship is today.

Williams and Force India have already entered unconditionally. According to the FIA, three more teams – Ferrari, Red Bull and Toro Rosso – are also on the list for 2010, as they have signed a contract to that effect in 2005.

Which is not to say that Ferrari will accept the entry which has been submitted on their behalf, by the FIA themselves.

Aikôna, the Italian team says. In exchange for signing up to stay in F1 until 2012, at a time when other teams threatened to break away and form their own series, we acquired the right to veto technical rule changes.

In effect, this translated into much more than a veto only when rule changes were at stake.

It translated into direct manipulation of the rules to suit Ferrari’s needs at any given time, something we have been saying for a long time, but could never prove – until now.

Veto rights

Remember the Michelin tyre fiasco just prior to Monza, in 2004, when Williams and McLaren (respectively with Montoya and Raikkonen) seemed a bit too strong for Maranello’s liking? And that, after the square shouldered tyre had been raced, legally, for more than a year?

Remember a certain race at Indy, when a Ferrari victory was assured after all the Michelin runners had to withdraw on safety grounds as their suggestion to race for the good of the sport – and for no points at all – was turned down?

Remember also the banning of Renault’s mass dampers just prior to Germany, in 2006, when Alonso happened to drill the Scuderia? That after the system had systematically been approved by Charlie Whiting, for just on a year?

Remember, remember, remember…?

So, yes, Ferrari had the power to influence rules and regulations at the drop of a hat. It is akin to the All Blacks having the power to ban the drop goal, if the Boks suddenly pop up with a reincarnation of Naas Botha.

Point is, that the right to veto rule changes had been bestowed on Ferrari.

Point is also, that Ferrari is not finding any luck in trying to exercise that veto right now.

Which also means that the FIA is wrong in claiming that they have a binding contract with Ferrari, one which can force the Scuderia to participate in F1 until 2012.

Which means that Maranello and Mosley will meet in a court of law to have the issue settled.

Playing the field

That’s unless FOTA is of the opinion that the necessary budget cap compromise has finally been reached.

Such a view would lead to unconditional entries for the 2010 championship by everybody, including the five teams required to drop their pre-conditions by today: McLaren, BMW, Toyota, Renault and Brawn.

Will FOTA be of this opinion?

Mosley has played his cards carefully.

He knows how difficult it will be for Ferrari, McLaren and Toyota to accept a Euro 100 million cap.

But he also knows how vital, how critical, it is for Ferrari, McLaren and Brawn to stay in F1.

If Toyota and Renault go, then so be it. On this year’s showing, even BMW won’t be missed that much, Mosley might argue.

Yet, with a financially less powerful Ferrari, McLaren, BMW and Brawn in next year’s championship (for remember, Brawn will operate on a vastly smaller budget, compared to the Honda carry-over from last year into this year), with all of these teams relatively weakened compared to a comparative boost for teams like Williams, Red Bull and Toro Rosso, Mosley will feel confident of putting up a great show with enough big-name clout left in the game, to still attract vast TV audiences.

And he might be right.

Montezemolo vs Mosley

Yet, if Ferrari goes, his foil would have failed.

For just ask yourself: will you watch F1 if the red cars ain’t there any more?

Over the last couple of months, Mosley has played a dangerous game of brinkmanship with FOTA. He has always bargained on a Euro 100 million cap as his last minute trump card, to reel them all in like an eager beaver running after heaps of Chelsea money.

But Luca Montezemolo might still call Mosley’s bluff. Renault’s Carlos Ghosn has also been very adamant that the people putting up the show – in this case mainly the car manufacturers – should share the largest slice of the pie.

Breaking away will be no option, however, if Mosley’s new cap manages to split FOTA in half. Even with Ferrari in their stable, two or three other big teams won’t be enough to stage a new championship.

In fact, such a thing will be as difficult – even for an undivided FOTA – as it would be for the USA to change to the metric system.

There might be a lot of logic in it. But it might not be feasible in practice.

Max might therefore have blinked just in time, and more importantly, just enough – again – to save F1 from itself.

Yet, this is the question: at what cost?

Is anybody still seriously interested in a sport sullied by so many scandals? A sport so torn apart by so many egomaniacal affairs? A sport governed by such a fascist regime (and hey, have you heard the name Mosley in this regard before, like in Oswald Mosley)?

By golly, F1 is even torn apart on the track, where it is played out to the great divide between Brawn and the rest.

Brawn? And Button? Running away with the F1 championship?

Is anybody still interested? Really interested?


This column was written before FOTA declared that it is considering setting up a rival series. For more info, CLICK HERE.

Egmont Sippel is editor of Rapport and Beeld Motoring and also SA Motoring Journalist of the Year 2008.


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