brought to you by TJ13’s Editor in Chief Andrew Huntley-Jacobs
The strategy group has proven to be a thorn in Bernie Ecclestone’s side. Prior to the recent strategy group meeting, described by Bob Fernley as a ‘watershed’ moment for Formula One, Ecclestone outlined his difficulty in getting things done.
“The problem is we have with this democracy in our sport, and in our case it’s even worse because you have people in competition with one another.
“Obviously you are not going to do anything to help somebody to beat you, so it’s very difficult”.
Jean Todt has clearly stated, the FIA’s approach to regulating F1 is one which seeks consensus and agreement. Hence, if this is impossible, the FIA have used their one third of the vote in the strategy group to perpetuate the status quo.
Ecclestone’s comments interestingly recently provoked a stream of headlines along these lines, ‘Ecclestone ready to vote with Todt in strategy group meeting’. Yet Bernie’s diplomatic skills presumably left Monsieur Todt cold when he stated. “If Jean was happy to fall into line, then yeah, there would be no problem at all. We don’t have to talk to anyone”.
As Christian Horner commented in Monaco, in the 18 months since its inception, the strategy group has managed to agree just one consensus regulation – and that was to restrict driver helmet design changes.
The F1 commission is set to consider another consensus decision form the strategy group, this will allow the teams to select the two Pirelli dry compounds they wish to use for each race, rather than be restricted to the two Pirelli choose.
Customer cars are have been a big polemic of Bernie’s. He is frustrated by the lack of cars on the grid and may be close to breaching certain agreements he has with race promoters, which specify a minimum number of F1 cars must be on show.
McLaren’s boss Ron Dennis is said to be very keen on the idea.
The recent change of livery for the GP2 team, ART, to the colour scheme used by McLaren caused eyebrows to be raised in the F1 paddock. The French team may be ready to enter Formula One by way of the new FIA invitation to participate, which was publicised over the weekend.
Nicholas Todt, who has an ownership share in the team, has previously stated, “Entering F1 is something that ART could consider, but only if it makes real sense to us, and therefore if all the pieces of the jigsaw are there.”
Of course, for Dennis, a co-operating ‘customer team’ as a close partner of Mclaren-Honda, is preferable – in terms of influence – to a third party manufacturer taking a Honda engine, and maybe a junior McLaren driver or one from Japan.
However, Bob Fernley believes it is for the bigger teams to properly make the case for customer cars, and does so with veiled threats.
“Vijay is very clear he has come into Formula 1 as a constructor, to compete in Formula 1, not to participate.
“It is up to the manufacturer teams to convince him there is a viable alternative, which is their job, which is why they need to go away, to look at it and do it.
Mallya and Subrata Roy have invested over $250m in Force India, and the value of their business lies within their ability to function as a constructor.
Customer cars potentially destroy the independent constructors’ value. This is because if the Force India’s of this world are forced to become merely a player who races two ready made cars at race weekends, their business then has little – if – any sale value.
Fernley adds, “All I’m saying, in stepping back from it and without my Force India hat on, is that objectively look at the consequences because my worry is the prospect of the very fabric of Formula 1 being destroyed forever and a day”.
Autosport has reported Sauber and Lotus will refuse to offer to become customer teams.
The independent F1 constructors have been the reason Formula One has survived over the past decade. These kind of teams have been part of the sport since its inception.
“When Honda pulled out it was Brawn, as an independent, that came in and saved the day, stepping in and winning the championship.” Fernley observes.
“When BMW pulled out, Peter Sauber, at huge cost to himself, stepped in and saved them to again run it as an independent team.
“When Renault pulled out, Gerard Lopez stepped in as an independent and saved the day for that team.
“When Toyota pulled out everything was lost.
“That is the risk you take with losing independent teams because they are purely there to go motor racing”.
Of course under a customer car scheme, were a big manufacturer like Mercedes to pull out of Formula One, not just two cars would be lost – but four even six.
The spectacle of an F1 race may be affected too. Will these customer teams actually be allowed to race against their constructor?
But for now, it looks a big ask for the F1 strategy group to get a coherent customer car proposal through to the F1 commission, with much more than a 10-8 voting majority.
Williams and Force India will vote the matter down. If they revert to type, the FIA will vote to retain the status quo and the message sent to the F1 commission is that this concept has marginal support within the F1 strategy group.
It is more likely there will be an agreement to modify the ‘listed parts’ regulation. This restricts the components teams can buy from another competitor.
Of course this too is the slippery slope towards customer cars, but may be the better of the two evils for the likes of Bob Fernley and Williams.
The big new Formula One for 2017, will almost inevitably disappear as over time the minutia is bartered from pillar to post.