F1: two tribes go to war; everyone loses

Oh dear. Do I really have to write an opinion piece about the split between the FIA and FOTA, and the threat of a rival breakaway series and a mass desertion from F1 in 2010? I suppose I do, if only to show that I’m paying attention and haven’t “missed” the story.

Basically: it’s a disaster for everyone concerned. For the teams, for the fans, for the FIA, for the broadcasters, for Bernie Ecclestone. There will be no winners from this, whoever is the last person left standing over the ruins of world motorsport, unless this is resolved urgently.

F1 without Ferrari, McLaren et al and the top drivers of the sport such as Hamilton, Raikkonen, Alonso, Button, Massa and Vettel will be a joke hardly worth watching.

But the complexities of setting up a motor sport world series are immense, and trying to do so in nine months is simply not going to happen. Just watch the struggles of A1GP which is trying to cope with sub-standard venues and marginalised coverage on minor channels. Even with Ferrari supplying the engines and lending its name to the series (“World Cup of Motorsport – Powered by Ferrari”) it’s floundering, with the last season an embarrassment of teams not being ready, races being cancelled all over the place and general indifference from local spectators.

No, a breakaway series will never have the kudos of F1, and without that – in this day and age of economic downturns and depressions – it will be a very short-lived affair.

So why are the eight teams (Brawn GP, Ferrari, McLaren, Renault, Toyota, BMW Sauber, Red Bull Racing and Toro Rosso) opting to go g=down this dead end? Because their bluff was called and they either did this, or capitulated to Max Mosely. And that was worse than jumping into the abyss of a breakaway series.

Max isn’t helping affairs when he brands sections of FOTA (the Formula One Teams Association) as “loonies” and in a BBC TV interview he seemed particularly angered by Flavio Briatore’s role in this. But Max has a point when he queries how many of the breakaway teams will continue in the sport anyway, in either F1 or the breakaway series. With the economic situation, will Toyota really stay in either series? Or BMW, or Renault? The car industry is collapsing and they don’t have time for side lines like motor sport when their entire business model is collapsing.

So if Max is right and these manufacturers are leaving, then you can see why all of a sudden the threat of a breakaway series suddenly diminishes – and why Max would be right in thinking he needs to look to the future, to batten down the hatches with budget caps and bring in fresh blood to replace those teams on the way out. If you set aside his “loonies” talk then Max suddenly looks very sensible.

But even if the breakaway series can’t survive long term, it may survive just long enough to destroy F1 before it collapses. Max is playing an extremely high stakes poker game with the world’s most expensive toy set of a sport, and the current schism is very much largely down to him personally. For a president of a sport to so directly and intentionally push it into crisis is astonishing and frankly appears reckless, a work of staggering arrogance and ego even for a sport already packed with the biggest egos on the planet.

The FIA President should be seeking a solution, making deals and playing firrefighter. He shouldn’t be the arsonist in chief, cheerfully setting 60 years’ worth of moter sport history ablaze in pursuit of his personal vision for the sport while pursuing some very personal and bitter vendettas.

This article seems to focus on Max Mosely – and for a reason. He’s the centre of all that’s happening, for good or for ill. Personally I think he’s so much part of the problem that the situation can’t be fixed as long as he remains, and that he therefore urgently needs to be removed. That’s not to say that others aren’t contributing to the crisis and making it worse by sticking their own oars in too, and there’s certainly several other people that you just want to slap into sense alongside Max. But it always comes down to Max in the end.

I desperately want to see Max gone so that a solution can be brokered by Bernie Ecclestone and the wounds healed before the patient dies on the table. My heart is with the FOTA teams in many respects, even though my head says there is no way that the breakaway series can succeed in the medium let along long term.

But Max won’t go, and I think he and his foes are rapidly digging themselves so deep into their respective holes that they really will end up pulling the pin on the F1 nuclear trigger and wipe the whole thing away. It would be criminal in the extreme, and staggeringly stupid. And just like F1 to self-harm itself in just that fashion.


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