A day at Heathrow as F1 seeks to end crisis
An interesting day spent at a Heathrow airport hotel for The Mole, as the Grand Prix powerbrokers met to save Formula 1 as we know it.
The team bosses present were: McLaren's Martin Whitmarsh, Force India's Vijay Mallya, Brawn's Ross Brawn, John Howett and Tadashi Yamashina of Toyota, Williams's Adam Parr, Toro Rosso's Franz Tost, Red Bull's Christian Horner, Flavio Briatore of Renault, BMW's Mario Theissen and Ferrari's Stefano Domenicali.
They arrived at around 1000, with none saying anything apart from Williams's Parr, who muttered something about "time running out", which made everyone listening that bit more tense.
The team bosses, all members of umbrella organisation Fota, discussed tactics and objectives at a pre-meeting.
A light lunch was served before FIA president Max Mosley and F1 commercial boss Bernie Ecclestone arrived just before 1400. Mosley was accompanied by Tony Purnell, a one-time principal of the now-defunct Jaguar Racing F1 team, now of the FIA and the man who is sorting out the detail of what is achievable with a budget cap.
According to Mosley, whose fascinating interview with BBC sports editor Mihir Bose can be seen below, Toyota boss and Fota vice-president Howett began by refusing to discuss the cost cap and encouraging his colleagues to walk out of the meeting. Mosley says they ignored him.
With that dramatic outcome averted, Mosley, Ecclestone and the bosses got down to business. They talked for an hour and three quarters, during which time The Mole took some fresh air on the roof of Terminal Five's car park and compared noise levels of a Boeing 747-400 and the new double-deck Airbus A380 taking off from Heathrow's runway 27R (the A380 is quieter, but despite its greater size, is still less impressive than the 747).
Ecclestone emerged just before 1600, to give this summary of the meeting. Mosley had backed down on giving the budget-capped teams technical freedom, thus eliminating the prospect of a two-tier championship.
Mosley later confirmed this, indicating that he had given way on this issue and hoped that, in time, the teams will give way on the budget cap. He made the entirely sensible point that, as governing body, the FIA can't have Ferrari and the other teams dictating the rules. It's a fair point - but his problem is that without the commercial draw that Ferrari and others bring to F1, there might not be a worthwhile series for the FIA to govern.
Mosley then made a point we hadn't heard before - that, in many cases, the taxpayer will be directly or indirectly subsidising the car manufacturers' involvement in Formula 1.
It's a point that references the support various governments are giving car manufacturers, and it's difficult to prove, but dropping the idea into the public consciousness is a good example of the way Mosley garners support. Your average F1 fan is happy to watch these teams go round in circles on a Sunday afternoon burning money, but they might not be so comfortable if they knew their taxes were paying for it.
The team bosses stayed in their meeting room to discuss their next move and what to report back to their boards or parent companies. Theissen was the first to emerge, and rushed off to check in for his flight back to Munich. Mallya was next, politely declining to comment in a very affable way.
Tost slipped out the side door completely unnoticed, while few expected Brawn to make a comment, since he arguably has most to gain from a budget cap.
Whitmarsh was next out, and could barely muster a "no comment".
Horner and Briatore left discussing the issues together (they're quite tight, these two, always have been), before Howett and Yamashima made their way back to T5 with an apology to reporters that they couldn't say anything and a look of surprise that Mosley had told the BBC about their failed plan to stage a walk-out.
Domenicali was last to emerge. To his credit (and possibly due to the fact he was the only boss to bring a press manager along), he took questions from reporters, first in English and then in Italian.
He didn't say much, save to confirm that Ferrari had issued an injunction against the FIA's 2010 rules. But while saying nothing new (as it seems the bosses had agreed) at least he said something, and therefore provided some balance to the way the story would be reported.
And in many ways, that is what surprised The Mole most about the whole day. The fact that all but one team boss refused to talk to the assembled media ensured that Mosley's side of the argument completely dominated the reportage.
If the teams can't contrive to brief a few journalists, the Mole wonders how great their chances are of out-witting Mosley in the crucial negotiations over the months to come.