News and views on motorsports

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

2005 Macau Grand Prix

I managed to catch the highlights of the Macau Grand Prix on Sunday night. For the first time in years, the race was not shown live on Star Sports. The producers at Star deciding to show the action at Sepang instead. Bollocks. Macau has a far longer and prouder tradition and its main feature, the FIA Formula 3 Intercontinental Cup is a very significant event. Just ask former winner Michael Schumacher. In any case, this year's Guia race for tin tops was actually the finale for the WTCC.

There is a connection between A1GP and Macau Grand Prix, in that the current leaders of the the A1, France, represented by Nicolas Lapierre and Alexander Premat were both former Macau Grand Prix winners in year 2003 and 2004 respectively. No surprises why these two lads are murdering the rest of the grid.

This year's Guia race hosted almost the entire WTCC field. However, I am saddened to see that this grid is a lot smaller than in previous years when a lot of competitors from the Asian Touring Car Championship and from Japan's Super Taikyu also took part. Oh well, such is the price of progress I suppose. The Guia is a world championship round after all.

Despite a hefty 60kg weight penalty Andy Priaulx managed to stick it on pole for race 1. This was achieved by a lot of dedication on Andy's part. He twice drove around the circuit in a road car a few days before. The second time being at 3 AM to look at every corner, bump, camber change and surface condition to get his set up absolutely spot on. This coupled with his blinding pace meant he got the pole.

At the start, Augusto Farfus Jr, in an Alfa relatively unhampered by weight penalties managed to get ahead. The race had to be stopped though after an incident at the infamous Lisboa corner involving a spinning BMW that then blocked the entire road. At the restart it was again Farfus in the lead with Priaulx in close attendance. Andy's championship rivals Dirk Muller and Fabrizio Giovanardi in 4th and 9th respectively.

When the Alfas carry weight penalties, the effect is absolutely enormous. By contrast the Bimmers of Priaulx and Dirk Muller take it in their stride and still manage to be very competitive. Priaulx was absolutely glued to the back of Farfus, the difference between front wheel drive and rear wheel drive never been clearer than through Lisboa. Priaulx would slipstream the Alfa on the long straight whereby Farfus would defend on the inside. The front wheel drive Alfa being the understeering bitch that it is was super slow through Lisboa. You can see Priaulx brake later and turn in a lot quicker than the Alfa. Twice, Farfus was so slow through the turn that Priaulx would bump into him, creating a sizeable dent on the Alfa's rump by the end of the race.

Another surprise was that the Alfa was visibly slower through the ultra quick Mandarin curve than Priaulx's BMW, thus allowing the Englishman to slipstream him going into Lisboa. However, the Alfa was surprisingly just as quick in the twisty hillside section as the BMW.

Giovanardi crashed out in race 1. The race was won by Farfus with Priaulx coming in second. In race 2 and with the top 8 starting in reverse order, it was the BMW of three time Macau winner Duncan Huisman that went into the lead after a storming start. Priaulx had to fight from seventh and managed to overtake a number of SEATs and Chevrolets along the way to another second spot. He was catching up to Duncan as well towards the end and in fact made a move going into Lisboa. He tried again on the final lap but yellow flags at Lisboa stopped his attempt. Duncan was fortunate. On the last lap he brushed the guardrails at Resevoir bend two corners from the end but he manageed to hold on and win his fourth Macau Grand Prix. Lucky bastard. In my view Duncan is overrated and if not for the grid reversal wouldn't have had a look in.

Dirk Muller retired from the race and Priaulx was crowned 2005 World Touring Car Champion. Andy Priaulx really deserved this crown for all his speed and commitment. Here was the guy who in 1997 after a lacklustre Formula 3 season with little prospects for the future, fought his way over the years to be ETCC and WTCC champion. He's also confirmed as a works BMW driver for the next two years. Another nice to see was Racing Bart Mampaey's triumph over mighty Schnitzer. Both are works BMW teams running under the banner of BMW Team UK and Deutschland respectively. But I should think Schnitzer is more "works" than little Racing Bart Mampaey.

I confess to have missed the F3 race except for the start of race 1. Loic Duval in Dallara Mercedes qualified on pole and was absolutely running away with it. The Dallara Mercedes is actually Lewis Hamilton's F3 Euroseries race car and Loic used it to good effect. This prompted the commentators to wonder whether Lewis Hamilton's performances this year was actually more of a result of a superior machine as opposed rather than his driving talent. Unsurprisingly, Loic took race 1.

In race 2, Loic jumped the start was forced to make a stop and go penalty. This allowed Luca di Grassi to win it from Robert Kubica. These two came in third and second respectively last year. However, the most impressive performance came from a certain Sebastien Vettel who finished third in this, his first visit to Macau. This lad, only 18 years old has won the ADAC Formula BMW championship by taking 18 of 20 rounds, earning him a Williams test. This year he's in the Formula 3 Euroseries. For a lad's first time in Macau, his third place is excellent. By comparison, Nico Rosberg and Nelson Piquet Jr both were down in the mid twenties spot on their first visits.

Prior to this year, I've always had the impression of Macau being a very "purist" racing event. What I mean is that it had a Goodwood Festival of Speed atmosphere to it. I'm not so sure this year what with the WTCC throwing out a lot of competitors from the Guia race. Still, it was enjoyable to watch and with close competition between the Alfas BMWs and SEATs was actually much better than in previous years.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Rebels Moles & Macau

"The more you tighten your grip, Tarkin, the more star systems will slip through your fingers. " -- Leia Organa

The Rebel Alliance has been found. Unfortunately most of the site is drivel we've all heard before from the manufacturers.

But here's something interesting in the FAQ section, which asks the question : "How can the sporting spectacle be improved?"

The reply from the GPMA :
"The GPMA recognises that the sporting spectacle of Grand Prix motor racing is ultimately about connecting with the fans. In full recognition of the way the sport has changed over the years, the GPMA has developed detailed proposals for Formula One designed to bring the sport back to the fans. These proposals aim to increase on-track time, produce more exciting racing and encourage more overtaking. In addition, the GPMA has argued for better public access to cars and drivers, and cheaper tickets."

Cheaper tickets eh? Better access to cars what? We'll see about that. Well they've pledged it, now let's see if they can deliver. The Malaysian GP grandstand tickets are absolutely astronomical to the average working class person like myself, so I've always had to pay for the cheapo hillside stands that never fail to bake me silly under the sweltering heat everytime I'm there. All except this year of course when... ummm... I'm not saying where I sat but let's just say it was the perfect spot to see Alonso and Renault hammer the Ferraris to dust (did I mention I absolutely love this season?), all the while staying fresh as daisies.

I suppose in order to attract the independent teams (especially Williams) who are dreadfully afraid of being shafted by the big manufacturers, the GPMA pledges that the sport "supports and encourages the participation of independent teams." Futhermore in the FAQ it states that:

"The GPMA believes in the importance of independent teams to the sport and argues that this can be achieved through a combination of four key factors:

- higher team payments
- lower team costs
- more stable regulations
- a stable supply of affordable engines.

In all cases, the GPMA lobbies actively for substantial reform by the sport's commercial rights holder and the regulator.

All very nice and lofty visionnary stuff. Let's just see whether the new GPMA head ex-Honda Racing boss Soichiro Tanaka can translate that into a hard set of agreements and regulations.

The only thing nearly remotely concrete that I read about on the GPMA site was a press release dated 38th September 2005 which stated that: "The five manufacturers and their teams entered into a binding agreement to race together only in a series which satisfied the fundamental principles of a clear and equitable World Championship." "Hear, hear," cried Michelin. Well, since the GPMA harps on about transparency howzabout letting us folks know what went on in that agreement. I'm prospective sponsors and even new teams would want to know just how serious this whole thing is.

Moving along, I've read the latest The Mole feature on ITV-F1. As ever we get some intriguing insights from the mysterious one. This time The Mole touches on the subject of Adrian Newey and the new (or should I say revived) tyre regulations. The article speculates that incumbent technical directors Gunther Steiner and Mark Smith are unlikely to be welcoming Newey into the fold, usurping their current status and position. Valid point unless of course Adrian ends up designing Squadra Whatever's racing cars as is speculated in this article on If it is so, I would imagine it wouldn't last for very long. Mateschitz would be looney not to put his best into the main team. As for the Michelin and the new tyre regulations I suggest you read the article. I definitely couldn't have put it better.

This weekend is the Macau Grand Prix. Bloody hell. Serves me right for not checking the dates when I agreed with a friend to attend the A1 Grand Prix at Sepang this weekend. Shit. I never miss watching Macau. This year the Guia race has become the final round of the WTCC. To top it off three drivers are in with a shout at the championship, all within a few points of one another. My bet is on the BMWs which are absolutely peerless on this street circuit. Andy Priaulx's the man I'm hoping will walk away with it. Damn damn damn. I'm going to miss a down to the wire season finale watching Alex Yoong instead. And this time, I could have got to watch a WTCC race live on telly as well. Bitch.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

A Gift To Sportscar Fans

Sports Prototype fans should head over to Mulsanne Corner. Its an excellent website that walks the user through a whole host of sportscars old and new. Furthermore, it provides lots of interesting technical details on each one of them. The authors display a very high level of technical knowledge that makes the site simply one of the best around.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading details of my favourite cars like the Audi R8, Ferrari 333SP (I'm not a big Ferrari fan but I have a soft spot for this race car), Bentley Speed 8 and BMW LMR V12 (built by Williams). Mulsanne Corner even features interviews with racing car designers, like Peter Elleray, designer of the Bentley EXP.

If I have a wish, it would be for more reviews of old Group C cars like the Jaguar XJR 6/8/9 et al, Toyota 88CV and perhaps one of the most famous and successful one of them all the Porsche 956/962. I know Mulsanne does cover the Joest machine but thats a 1993 model and basically more akin to Richard Lloyd Racing's much modified Porsche 962 GTI. I'd like to see a feature on Joest's 1985 Le Mans winning 956.

The site has actually been around since 2003 but this is the first time I've discovered it but I have a feeling I'll be spending a lot of time on it. There's plenty of cars to read about.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Insights, Rumours and Conspiracy Theories

Pitpass has an article on the prosecution of a bunch of ex-Ferrari engineers in the Toyota affair. Allegedly the similarities between the 2003 Toyota TF103 and the all conquering Ferrari F2002 are due to the engineer's disclosure of Ferrari design information. More than that its alleged that they also stole Ferrari software and brought it with them to Toyota. Although this charge has now been dropped.

Of course industrial espionage goes on everywhere in every industry. But the fact of the matter is the TF103 was not a successful car at all. Really, I don't know what the fuss is all about. Besides, whatever information that was good for 2003 is now long obsolete. In fact, you can now buy Michael's F2002 from Ferrari. If I had a million euros to spare thats precisely what I'd do.

Anyway, whats interesting about the article is not about the litigation but the insights into the technology that goes on in Formula 1. From the article:

"....since about 2000 Ferrari's mapping of each circuit has been so sophisticated that its electronics know precisely where the car is on the track. Take this one stage further and the electronics can be tuned to alter the differential, locking it where appropriate, and even change the setting many times in a single corner. Using the same information, the brake bias can also be changed, again for an individual corner, or even a section of it. Likewise the optimum throttle settings between corners, for it might be more advantageous not to hit maximum power, but to be able to brake a fraction later."

Phoar! Call me naive but thats completely mind blowing. A car that knows its exact location and can adjust and finely tune itself to each individual location. The author of the article, Mike Lawrence, goes on further to state that sources indicate that electronic advances were the source of Ferrari's superiority. Such an advantage went so far as to disguise weaknesses in Bridgestone rubber. This year apparently, both McLaren and Renault caught up in the electronics area and given Michelin's superiority, it was inevitable that Ferrari would be left for dead.

However, one must note that other Bridgestone shod teams like Jordan and Minardi have narrowed the gap slightly on Ferrari. Where once they were around 5 seconds a lap slower than Maranello, this year that gap has been narrowed to 2.5 to 3 seconds. So, one can't just blame the Japanese tyre maker, Ferrari have also made some fundamental error in the car design.

Another thing to note is that whilst there are all these computers doing things for Michael and Rubens, still occassionally one does sight both these drivers tweaking the electronic diff dials on their steering wheels. Sometimes in mid-corner. What cannot be denied is that whilst these electronics make cars go quicker, they do add a lot of complexity. It is clear that drivers must more than ever be technically competent to setup the car and use the systems to their fullest. Mere speed and talent aren't enough. This probably explains why someone talented or even hugely dominant in junior Formulae finds himself out of sorts when it comes to the sport's highest echelon. Like the hapless Takuma Sato for instance.

I know plenty of folks like Formula 1 precisely because of all the high tech and that would include me. However, I think technologies like these ought to be banned. It adds to costs most definitely and really I'd like to see the effect of the driver's brains and talents rather than the capabilities of Intel and AMD. Read the article for more insights. Its fascinating.

Moving along, yet another rumour regarding Volkswagen Audi in Formula 1 has emerged. The latest appears in this story on Apparently, having secured Ferrari engines for next year and beyond, Red Bull are now in talks with the Volkswagen Audi Group for engines in 2008 for both their teams, RBR and Squadra Toro Whatever. The article goes further to state that if successful, the VAG would take over the Squadra and run it under the Volkswagen banner. The Volkswagen engines will apparently be designed by Mario Illien. Thats not too far fetched since Ilmor and Mercedes have been separated. Ilmor is now free to pursue other projects like NASCAR and Honda's IRL engine. I think it should also be good for another foray into Formula 1.

There's another rumour floating around for a while that Porsche is trying to takeover Volkswagen. If it does go through, they say Porsche will be backing a works entry into Formula 1. Old (and embarrassing) scores must be settled allegedly. Old scores like Porsche's huge flop in 1991 with Arrows. At the time, no one believed it was any fault of Arrows. Porsche simply developed and overweight and underpowered V12 engine. They went quietly away after that. I think if Porsche is involved then I don't see Mario Illien in the picture. However, given Red Bull's strong association with Ferrari, I'm not sure why they'd skip over to VAG in 2008. But this is something we'll watch with interest in the coming years I should think.

More comments by the folks at Fast Machines on the Audi issue, here. They make an interesting point. Audi would be associating themselves with Adrian Newey designed cars if they do make the jump to Formula 1. However, by then, would Red Bull still be the free spirited team of the present. Or will Audi's involvement signal the introduction of more corporate processes and departmentalisation as we see in McLaren?

Now on to the conspiracy theory. I kinda like this one on Fast Machines. The writer George Katinger makes an interesting point about these new B-teams by Honda and McLaren. More teams for the GPMA alliance means more votes in the F1 commission. All this talk about intellectual property is merely a ploy by the FIA/FOM/Ferrari group to crush the Super Aguri F1 (effectively a Honda B-team) effort before it even starts.

I think these intellectual property talk is simply crap. I mean look at the 2004 Sauber. It not only resembles the F2003 Ferrari, I believe its an exact copy. Do a side by side comparison between the two cars. They're exactly the same barring some minor changes to accomodate 2004 regulations. The FIA/FOM made no fuss over it. Looking back into the past, remember the 1995 Ligier? It too, was an exact replica of the Benetton B195, its peer in 1995. Not suprising because Benetton bought the Ligier team that year to have access to its contract with Renault for engines, signed in 1994. Renault was not pleased at being forced to supply Ligier in the first place. Ligier never got to use the Renault engines. The powerplants were shipped directly to Enstone. In return, Ligier got the Benetton chassis design. No one raised much a fuss about this incident as well.

This is one way that politics is simply killing the sport. I bet lots of people would love to see more teams in the sport. Yes, I believe even another Minardi should be allowed to compete. I'd love to see another Leyton House or Rial team in Formula 1 because those guys, like Minardi, do it for the love of racing and not simply as part of some grand corporate marketing strategy. It would be easier for more teams to compete if they were allowed to buy cars or at least, obtain designs for them. It seems to me that good sensible stuff always get the boot because of some vested interest somewhere.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Adrian Newey

Following the shock announcement of Adrian Newey's switch to Red Bull Racing, I noticed a number of interesting comments and analyses. Not least this one from our friends at Formula 1 blog. Jay Steele mentions a number of factors echoed elsewhere about the pressures of working in a stifling big corporate environment that McLaren has become and also the high expectations placed not only on the talented Newey but also everyone at Woking. Both excellent points.

Though it be denied, nevertheless, some have speculated that as ever money was also an issue. This story on Pitpass claims that Adrian had demanded a substantial increase in his current USD 6 million salary to which Ron Dennis understandably refused. If I'm not mistaken at 6 mil he's on par with Mike Gascoyne at Toyota. In this story at, its speculated that Red Bull offered Adrian a bumper USD 10 million per annum salary.

Adrian himself has said little substantially on the matter, only to say that "it was time for a change." Perhaps Jay Steele is right. He's simply bored. This article on discusses it further. The following quote in the article is of interest:

"One of the reasons that Adrian Newey is leaving McLaren is that for a time, a year or so ago, Newey felt that he was being ignored. The cars were not working and Newey reckoned that he knew how to fix them. It turns out that he did and the MP4-20 is, depending on who you talk to, evidence that Newey is someone who makes the difference."

It boggles the mind that McLaren would ignore such a huge talent like Adrian. But then again, Ron Dennis is a great believer of business processes than maverick individuals. I suppose its what any management consultant would advise their clients. Rely less on individuals and let the process produce the end product. I think this started after John Barnard left McLaren in the eighties. Although the wildly successful 1988 MP4/4 was designed by Gordon Murray (former long time Brabham employee), subsequent cars were more of a design by commitee. Successful up to a point until 1992 when the Newey designed Williams in Nigel Mansell's hands conquered all.

Thereafter, many felt that McLaren's design committee was producing journeyman machines all the was to 1997 when McLaren snapped up Newey. His influence was near immediate. World titles in 1998 and 1999 for Mika Hakkinen demonstrated Adrian's worth. Not that it needed demonstrating.

Though I hate to see Adrian go to a Ferrari linked team, nevertheless, I am rather hoping he produces a car along the lines of the '89 Leyton House March. Who could forget its ability to give then dominant McLaren-Honda a huge scare. Ivan Capelli's (or was it Gugelmin?) heroics on the Mistral straight at Paul Ricard was unforgettable. The Judd V8 revving itself to bits in a car, or more likely its peerless aero, that was clearly better than the engine.

One thing's for sure, Red Bull will be the place where Adrian can express his considerable talents to the full, instead of being shackled by the Accenture inspired practices at McLaren. Though McLaren may have depth in their engineering team the corporate environment is unlikely to produce an inspirational racing car. No matter what Ron says, they are going to miss Adrian. I bet folks at Williams Grand Prix Engineering did as well.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005


I can accept if he was going back to Williams but Adrian Newey's defection to Red Bull, a Ferrari aligned team comes as a huge shock. And what's this? No gardening leave as well. Sacrilege. He'll be taking McLaren's latest to Mateschitz (and Ferrari I bet). Of course Christian Horner is mightily pleased by all of this, proclaiming Newey as bigger than Schumacher.

It comes as a real surprise because if one's been reading Autosport and F1Racing magazine then one would think that Adrian's found a new motivation this season what with his cars doing supremely well and once again the class of the field. I have accused Adrian of being past it and perhaps a little battle fatigued after all this time at McLaren but I would have thought that he'd want to stay on. After such a stunning season McLaren will really miss his services for 2007. The 2006 car I imagine would have already been at an advanced design stage.

Oh well, McLaren can at least take comfort in a bumper 2005 fiscal year.

Cost Cutting

... or why a breakaway Grand Prix series might be a good idea.

The idea of a breakaway series has been discussed a lot this year by the manufacturers currently competing in the FIA Formula 1 world championships. This band includes Honda, Toyota, Renault, Mercedes and BMW. All of them you would agree are absolute heavyweights in the automotive world. All these manufacturers are currently or will mext year be running full works teams. On the other side of the fence in league with FIA/FOM are Ferrari, Red Bull, Midland and Squadra Torro Rosso (yuck). Sitting in the middle of the fence is Williams who have currently lost their works deal with BMW but are poised for a switch to Toyota in 2007.

In recent months websites have reported that despite outward signs of peace between the warring factions, in actual fact the GPMA members are even more resolute on their stand and plans for the breakaway championship are in full swing. Publicly, we have yet to see signs of this.

The reasons given by the GPMA for wanting to breakaway have been covered in depth elsewhere but just to summarize this includes factors such as technical regulatory stability, more equitable income distribution and transparency over all decisions made for the sport.

Whatever the reasons for and against the breakaway series, one thing everyone agrees upon is the need to control costs. There are a number of aspects to this. There are those who argue that regulatory stability itself is a huge way of controlling costs and in turn ensuring a very competitive championship. By keep the regulations stable for a number of years, this ensures that the smaller teams eventually catch up to the big boys.

Everytime the regs change, new technologies or worse new manufacturing methods need to be organised and produced. Those that can afford it will adjust very quickly. Those who cannot will be left for dead. Those left for dead will find it harder to retain sponsorship income and will be left in even greater trouble in the long run.

Yes, there will always be those that can spend more but with rule stability the marginal returns on that spending will be ever decreasing. In the long run the gap that the haves can pull out from the have nots will still be there but that gap will be small. Nothing another Michael or Kimi could not overcome.

On the other hand, the FIA have advocated some radical measures to control costs by means of dumbing down of the technical regulations. Some of these measures include a ban on testing (but yet they let Ferrari run and run) standard specification tyres, standard gearboxes, standard ECUs, standard brakes. God I wouldn't put past them to introduce standard airboxes and the like. In other words, the FIA want to reduce the scope of technical innovations. In this way they argue that exorbitant spending will yield no additional performance whatsoever. Hence, completely negating the advantages of the big manufacturer's limitless bank accounts.

All very well but as this article on illustrates trying to reduce spending is a most elusive quest. Right up there with trying to find the cup of Christ. Although, one could start by getting rid of the USD48 million bond teams have to lodge with the FIA. Apparently the FIA earns some USD 2.5 million in interest from that. Perhaps that money should be deposited by teams in a bank instead and earn them that interest.

But really Formula 1 is a victim of its own success. Bernie Ecclestone has done a great job of increasing its profile worldwide. With that worldwide recognition comes increased audience and viewing figures. And with that in turn attracts sponsorship. Companies find they get great worldwide exposure by putting their brand names on cars, billboards, uniforms, helmets etc. A branding exercise that sticks in the mind and builds an image in the audiences minds. Sponsors recognize this power and are prepared to pay the exorbitant prices for it.

Let's say sponsor X hands a team 50 million a year. You can bet your last penny that they will find some way of spending the dosh. In fact, it is their duty to do so. They need to find that extra performance any way they can get. Winning is the name of the game. Its the only thing. And you can bet that whatever technical restrictions are imposed the engineers are smart enough to get round them especially with all that dosh aiding them.

It follows then that the only way to restrict the flow of dosh is if there's fewer sponsors in the sport. One can argue that in these terrible economic times such a thing is happening already. On average though we can say that the pool of sponsorship money is constant. On average mind. In addition to sponsoring different teams, companies also sponsor other forms of motorsports and even other sporting events. Hence that total pool of sponsorship is constant.

If another major world championship were to be run, then the slice of the pie becomes smaller. Hard pressed marketing teams would be working overtime to give the best deals to attract these sponsors. However, the effect would be that teams would have vastly reduced budgets and costs would be contained. The pace of technical innovations would probably suffer as well but I would imagine this would result in more close and competitive racing.

I realise the flaw of my argument. Some teams have made such vast capital investments with incredibly high fixed costs attached. Smaller incomes would make it hard to sustain those costs. But hey, I would imagine that to reduce costs one must not only reduce operating expenditures but capital expenditures as well.

In fact, the teams could recoup those capital investments if the regulations permitted the sale of chassis to privateers as they do in the IRL and formerly in Champ cars. Yes I do realise that if there's less sponsorship dosh going around how can these privateers afford to go racing. Still the effect would be reduced costs.

Some teams I would imagine would have to divest. If cars can be purchased you can bet that companies like Lola and Dallara would be making Formula 1 cars for sale. It would make more sense in some cases to buy off the shelf chassis. Think Team Penske. Once proudly producing their own chassis eventually they found it better to buy Reynards and Lolas and have their factory facilities redeployed for in season development of the cars they buy.

Does cost really need to be reduced? I would imagine that market economics would eventually sort things out even in the crazy world of Formula 1. Teams will simply come and go as the money comes and goes. Teams having incredible successes will dominate for a while but levels of spending cannot go on indefinitely and will soon fall back as economic reality sets in. Other teams will replace them at the top as other sponsors come in.

The cynical would say that the only reason the FIA and Bernie wants to reduce costs is so that there will be more independent teams in the sport. They're easier to control and coerce. These manufacturers are powerful and are difficult to keep in line. Ironic considering that in the nineties Bernie wanted the sport to be dominated by manufacturers to give it a more "legitimate", corporate and professional image. Hence the silly 48 million bond and this "franchise" system where there are no more than 12 teams allowed in Formula 1. I've always considered both these things to be absolute bullshit. A sport should be open to all. Sportsmanship and competition should come first before the needs of corporate image. But now its come to bite Bernie back in the arse. He succeeded in bringing the corporates in to dominate but now he's finding them hard to deal with.

I think the difference in philosophies between the FIA and the GPMA can be illustrated by the example of touring cars. Consider the DTM and the British Touring Car Championship (BTCC). Both of them were widly popular in the nineties. Although the DTM was the more high tech of the two (adopting Class 1 supertouring rules), nevertheless both championships were haunted by the spectre of astronomical costs. All this in what are domestic series mind you.

Something had to be done. The BTCC reacted with a new set of rules akin to the FIA's Formula 1 proposals. Lots of control items like standard throttle bodies, tires, brakes, suspensions (I think?). The BTCC you see today seems rather sad compared to those sexy high tech Class 2 supertourers of the nineties. By contrast the DTM was revived along the NASCAR route. The cars may resemble road cars but in fact underneath they are spaceframe monsters. Huge 4 litre engines are allowed but rev limited to 7500 RPM. Asides some major banned technologies like active suspension et al innovations are more likely in the DTM and more importantly racing suppliers aren't limited here.

Between these two I'd say the DTM is far more successful. However, with the BTCC soon to adopt S2000 rules as per the FIA World Touring Car Championship this might change. Although having said that I do have my reservations on the WTCC as well. The DTM is a good example because the organisers aren't the FIA and the top management have reps from Mercedes, Opel and Audi, the three competing manufacturers. I believe the GPMA is follow a form closely related to the DTM organisation.

Another irony of life. Back in the nineties, Max was all for the high tech Class 1 supertouring regulations for a World or European Championship. Now he's all for backing a lower tech set of rules more akin to Class 2.

Everyone complains of increasing costs that needs to be cut but really there isn't a better way to do that than to reduce cash flows into the sport. Crazy as it may sound but I think two rival grand prix series just might be the only way that it will happen. At least until a clear winner emerges. But don't be mistaken. The GPMA championship I believe can happen and I would imagine has a better than even probability of happening. What it requires most of all is television coverage. World wide terrestrial coverage. A1 Grand Prix has proven that getting that is possible. And if its possible for an Arab sheikh to do it then I'm sure that big time television sponsors like Toyota, Daimler Chrysler and the other manufacturers can manage the same feat. That I believe is why Bernie is so irked with A1GP.

Monday, November 07, 2005

The FIA President

What we've got here is failure to communicate. Some men you just can't reach, so you get what we had here last week which is the way he wants it. Well, he gets it. And I don't like it any more than you men. -- Captain, Road Prison 36

After reading this article on the Steeles' Formula 1 blog and a comment on my previous post made by C-CCP I simply had to give my two cents on the topic.

Maximilian Rufus Mosley ( entry here) has been FIA president since 1991. In total he's been around for 3 terms and now has been re-elected for a fourth four year term. Woe to racing.

Whilst some might think the office of the president sets a person up as a "scapegoat," I rather beg to differ. By contrast, it is the most powerful position in racing, with powers akin to that of Caeser. You see, ultimately, the most presitgious championships in world racing, namely Formula 1, World Rally, GT, Touring Cars and Karting all belong to the FIA. Not for nothing is it called the FIA Formula 1 World Championship. Ultimately, the FIA not only sets the rules but enforces them as well. In a lot of cases, to the chagrin of the competitors in the series.

It is easy to suggest that if people aren't happy with the way things are then the solution is simply to send a candidate to run for president. But as this old article in illustrates, the situation isn't quite so straightforward. The FIA is a hotbed of politics and a new candidate simply could not run for the office without going through a political minefield.

It is helpful to think of FIA elections not as general elections in the real world but as political party elections. It took Max Mosley nearly 10 years from the time of the FISA-FOCA wars in the early 80s to finally being elected as president of the FIA in 1991. The GPWC/GPMA - FIA battles by contrast have only just begun. As the article states:

"Mosley moved against (former FIA president) Balestre in 1991. He had carefully studied the FISA system and concluded that in order to oust Balestre he would need support from all the automobile clubs around the world, rather than concentrating on winning over the traditionally powerful European clubs, which controlled the FISA. He also realized that regional politics were important as clubs tended to vote with the biggest club in their region. Mexico, for example, carried the votes of most of the central America countries and when Japan voted one way, most of the Asian votes followed suit. Mosley politicked carefully"

Obviously, a new candidate would have to do pretty much the same thing. It isn't just beating on the drum of fairness and transparency as the GPMA does, you first have to placate the FIA's associates who will ultimately hold the key to the elections. This is something that Max has done a long time ago and as these associates are keen to hold on to their considerable local powers, they'd rather be on Max's side than on any new candidate.

It would seem to me that a new candidate would need more political than technical skills if he or she is to run the world motorsports governing body. And this is what we have right now. A lawyer heads the FIA. And like any polticians in parliament or congress, he knows how to wrap an argument in heaps of sugar to make it sound better than it actually is. That Maximilian is a wily old fox of a politician. When it comes to politics, Max is the definitive master. He knows how to speak, when to do so and when to just shut up. See how Indianapolis was resolved in the end. Even though the teams gave evidence that absolved them, it was Max that came out smelling of roses. Not everyone has the skill to go up against PR like that. It takes a crooked lawyer.

Staying on the subject of tyres, let's examine this latest rule change bringing back tyre changes. It is a perfect illustration of Max's power. During the height of the Indianapolis debate and Kimi Raikkonen's Eiffel accident, where many argued against the wisdom of the current tyre regulations, it was Max who stated that it was the teams' responsibility to bring a tyre that could complete an entire race. Where others argued safety Max argued performance.

And yet now, months later, the tyre regulations have been overturned. But why was it overturned? Surely, the FIA could not make the argument on the grounds of safety for that was rejected previously. What about cost, that holy grail that Max is so adamant of seek. From that standpoint this rule change will be costing the teams yet more money to develop yet a new tyre. And so, the FIA made no argument on the matter. In fact, they've not given any reason at all of the complete 180 on the issue. How could they? So, when Michelin issued a public statement questioning the changes, Max's response was to ridicule the complaint and in this case Michelin. As he did in Indianpolis and countless other times in the past.

His response to Michelin's statement was in fact extremely annoying. He asserts that the rule change was supported by an overwhelming majority of the F1 commission. To the casual observer this would seem that Michelin and Michelin shod teams were simply a bunch of morons complaining against the howling wind. But take a closer look at the composition of the F1 commision:

1. The teams - 5 Michelin teams and 5 Bridgestone teams (with the addition of Toyota and Williams)
2. A representative of an engine maker - I'm not sure who's the engine rep. Could it be Cosworth? Whose teams will be using Bridgestone next year.
3. A representative of a tyre company - surprise surprise who else could it be but Bridgestone.
4. The FIA president
5. The F1 commercial rights holder a.k.a. Bernie Ecclestone - joined at the hip with the FIA president.
6. Two sponsors' representatives - No idea who these are but I would imagine they'd have a vested interest with the FIA.
7. Event promoters - oh come on, how likely are the eight of them to go up against Bernie, the man joined at the hip with Max.

Given the members of the F1 commission, of course it would be a majority decision. The Michelin teams never had a chance. But again, there was no legitimate reason given by the FIA for making this rule change. Oh wait, there was but of course they couldn't say it. Quite simply to steal away the advantage of the Michelin runners and hand it back to Bridgestone and their masters at Ferrari. How could one fail to see that Luca di Montezemolo was in rapture at the news. A good commentary on the subject is here on PlanetF1.

Yet, if there was going to be a new candidate for the FIA, perhaps a good chance at it may have been missed. Lately, Max has allegedly been making moves to strengthen his hand even further. As reported in this article on, plans for a restructuring of the FIA are afoot. It is suggested that whereas before a single person could run for president nowadays the "president is elected with his team rather than being elected and then choosing a team after the election." See the difference? It isn't simply a lone individual. He or she has to run with an entire "cabinet of ministers" in the elections. As the article states, this new system makes the FIA incumbent more likely to be re-elected as it would make more sense for the Establishment to re-elect an experienced team.

There are many reasons to despise the FIA. This whole year has seen numerous can of worms being cracked open. This on top of the forced introduction of V8s and the new aero regulations for this year. All of which has the manufacturers and teams absolutely up in arms. These constant and arbitrary changes in the rules are costing the teams a heck of a lot of money.

Whilst it may look easy to suggest that a candidate be put forth, the truth is the candidate would be stopped dead in his or her tracks if such an attempt were made. Perhaps it would be easier and in the long run far better if the manufacturers did press on ahead with a rival series. I for one am all for it for if the pinnacle of motor racing is run under the banner of such a highly political organisation like the FIA, then I fear the incessant fighting and politics will run on and on forever. As GrandPrix suggests, to beat Max and Bernie, the best way would be to run a brand new championship. As it is the terrible duo has got the FIA and hence the world championship pretty much locked up.