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F1 row nears endgame

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Andrew Benson | 12:41 UK time, Saturday, 11 July 2009

The paddock at the Nurburgring is a low-key place this weekend, but behind the scenes there have been ground-shaking developments that could change the face of Formula 1.

It appears that Max Mosley's latest manoeuvrings in the political battle in the sport have backfired.

The motives behind the FIA president's actions in the last fortnight are not entirely clear but their consequences are coming into focus.

To recap briefly, on 24 June it appeared that Mosley, F1 commercial boss Bernie Ecclestone and Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo had come to a deal that ended the threat of Ferrari and seven other leading teams setting up a rival championship.

Their agreement was widely - and accurately - reported as a victory for the eight 'rebel' teams, who are represented by the umbrella group Fota.

Max Mosley

But two days later, Mosley - apparently upset by what he interpreted as the teams' ill-advised triumphalism, and by the widespread perception that he had been defeated - hinted that he could go back on his guarantee that he would not stand in October's FIA presidential elections, which had been part of the peace deal.

And this week, through the proxy of FIA technical delegate Charlie Whiting, he told the eight Fota teams that they did not have entries for 2010 - despite the fact that the FIA had published an entry list with them on it. That led to renewed talk of a Fota breakaway, as a last-resort option.

Mosley and Fota are actually very close to an agreement on all matters of issue, but the teams are not prepared to sign any legally binding documents until they are absolutely sure that the FIA president will not renege on his part of the bargain.

The shenanigans have deeply concerned CVC, the venture capital group that owns F1's commercial rights. Sources tell me that CVC is very nervous about what it perceives as the risk Mosley is putting on its business, and it is exerting pressure to ensure it is removed.

Behind the scenes, I'm told, CVC and Fota are finalising a new commercial agreement with Ecclestone's F1 Management company (FOM). The plan is apparently to tie the three entities together and then present Mosley with a fait accompli.

Effectively they will say: "This is what we have agreed. These are the new arrangements for the world's premier single-seater championship. We would like to run this with the FIA as its F1 world championship, so we would like you to sign these contracts, on our terms. But if you don't, fine. We will go and do it ourselves."

There is no obvious reason for Mosley not to sign, but it will be made clear to him that, if he doesn't, CVC will launch legal action against him for breach of contract.

At the same time, it appears that a new Concorde Agreement - the legal agreement between the teams, the FIA and FOM that enshrines the relationship between them, the teams' rights and the distribution of funds - is ready for signing. And, as of Saturday, that is scheduled to happen on Wednesday.

In theory, this should be a way out of the impasse in which F1's senior figures currently find themselves. Certainly, that is what many insiders hope.

But when I asked a senior figure whether this was now the endgame, he gave me a withering look and said: "No, because as soon as this is sorted out we have to work out what happens with everything after 2012."

For Mosley, though, it does appear that his four decades in a central position in F1's power games may be coming to an end - even if it should be remembered that, as an ex-president, he would have a place on the FIA Senate and might well be able to wield influence from there, and he might also succeed in having an ally such as ex-Ferrari boss Jean Todt elected as president.

Intriguingly, people are also beginning to look at what all this means for Ecclestone.

As this row has dragged on, it has become clear that he does not have the near-miraculous fixing powers of old. The fact that the teams have had direct negotiations with CVC is another new development. So Ecclestone's remarks last weekend about Adolf Hitler - which have caused deep disquiet among the major multi-national companies that back F1, and are said to have infuriated CVC - were badly timed as well as ill-advised.

All of which has led to speculation that his position may not be secure in the medium to long term.

F1 without Bernie Ecclestone as its powerbroker and money-maker? Now that really would be the start of a new era.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Events over the last two weeks have surprisingly shown that Ecclestone and Mosley are NOT the sharpest tools in the tool box! Particularly so with Ecclestone's Hitler comments, days before the German GP. They should both go this year with at least most of their dignity intact.

    As a sop the FIA or F1 could give them honourary director status i.e. some kind of titular head that gives them recognition but no power.

  • Comment number 2.

    The FIA need to avoid putting in Jean Todt to replace Mosley as he is clearly Mosley's man and will continue this ridiculous brinkmanship. A genuine independant needs to be found with no real connection to FIA, FOM, CVC or FOTA if possible.

    And reduce the power of the Stewards after the race has finished. They need to have a limited time to make a final decision after which the race result cannot change, in the manner of other major sports - e.g. in football despite a goal clearly being scored and not given, or being given when not scored, you can't change the result. 20 minutes should be plenty of time.

  • Comment number 3.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 4.

    Ecclestone has raped F1 for far too long now, and Mosely...well Mosely is just a buffoon. The sooner we see the back of these two the better it will be for F1.

    I'm not just 'disturbed' by the way these two have managed to completely ruin the image and mystique that F1 once held - I'm absolutely disgusted. The only question I'd ask, is why have the teams taken so long to do something about getting rid of them?

  • Comment number 5.

    I'm very much afraid both Mosley and Ecclestone have rather "lost the plot."

    To put it delicately, their increasingly erratic behaviour of recent months provides scant testament to their continuing mental robustness.

    In short, these septuagenarian hi-jinks must end.

    We all know Max likes to (as it were) "hold the whip-hand", and Bernie's recent Hitler comments imply that he himself is increasingly committed to authoritarian values. They are both, one feels, ill-suited to the fast-moving flexibility of modern sports administration.

    Let's encourage these... erm... charming eccentrics to avail themselves of a well-earned rest in the care institution of their choice, while motorsport moves forward into a (hopefully) sensible new era.

  • Comment number 6.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 7.

    How sad is it that humble fan is the one looser in all of this :(. I for one hoped that there would be a breakaway, no matter that it is most unlikely, as the FOTA organised tournament would see more money put directly into the teams. This, as opposed to rich investors pockets (do they even know what a red and yellow striped flag means?) who have little interest bar the end of year accounts.
    Ecclestone, aided by his man Mosley, has built a personal empire and fortune from a sport that existed well before their time and derived such a wealth that at the end of the day, wouldn't hurt one jot if he departed from it now. Mosley claims he doesn't get a single penny from the FIA in pay but I doubt if he isn't renumerated well in some other fashion. After all, Mosley has to have some form of personal entertainment and that comes at a cost.
    We, the fans love our sport with great passion and will always dig down in our pockets to find the money to see it. That may just amount to buying a TV licence or paying huge sums to visit the race track itself. Either way we pay. And what do we get. A great spectacle of the best engineering and drivers but it could be at a lesser cost if all the money put in to the sport was retained instead of paying dividends.
    Mosley's going won't change much of that nor indeed Ecclestone's as other commercial vultures are already in place to take up the void. Vatanenn's appointment of FIA President might have some smoothing effect should he be elected though this is only likely to be regarding the technical side of the sport. Finances of the sport are dictated by Ecclestone et al so the F1 cash cow will not alter.
    Oh how sad,,,,, but nothing will change. Long live the honest hard working fan who keeps pumping in the hard earnt wages.

  • Comment number 8.

    I think that some people need to remember how much Bernie and Max have done for the sport we love, Bernie turned it into the global phenomenon that it is, he took it from half a dozen races with little coverage into the spectacle that we sit in our chairs and love. Max has forced the sport to become far safer and has put rules in place that for the most part have kept the sport on straight and narrow.

    That said I do think Max has lost the plot, ever since his sex scandal in the media his grip on the sport has been waning and it seems he has become ever more desperate to have things his own way (and I suspect punish some of those who spoke out against him). Bernie is in a slightly less precarious position, but given his recent Hitler statements he could be now heading down the same path. He is also an old man and does seem to no longer be the power broker he once was. By all means lets honour what they have achieved and give them some nice all access passes like Murray has as well as some fancy titles, but make sure that anything they are given leaves them on the sidelines.

    Really its time for both of these men to step aside and let others come in and start to repair the tattered image of F1, and to build a new trust between the teams (FOTA) and the FIA. CVC also needs to realise that it should be giving more back to the teams and the circuits (in the form of grants to improve facilities and the like).

    As for the new FIA president, I don't think Jean Todt is the right man unfairly or not he is too tainted by his associations to both Max and to Ferrari. Having seen the excellent interview with Ari Vatanen (props to both Jake and Eddie), he does seem to be a very strong (if not ideal) candidate for the job. He came across as impartial whilst giving me a lot of confidence that he has the best interests of the FIA at heart, which means that F1 needs to be properly and respectfully handled.

  • Comment number 9.

    CVC is a large financial player,but to take on the car giants is,to say the least foolhardy they have the toys,the resources and the will to stop F1 and the FIA dead.Best talk to them eh!!

  • Comment number 10.

    I have a question, because it's almost a forgotten topic and would probably change F1 more than any budget caps ever would, but what is happening with the "Only wins count in the championship" rule?

    It was dropped due to it being brought in too late after sign-ups for 2009, but Mr. Ecclestone noted it would be introduced for 2010. It's since been forgotten, but it's a hideous idea with many flaws, and I hope it's been dropped. It's been practically ignored by the BBC and other outlets, though, so what's the situation?

  • Comment number 11.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 12.

    I'm fed up with both Max and Bernie, I love F1 but I can do without them and their pathetic childish games.. They should just drift away into the abyss

  • Comment number 13.

    Although the end seems to be near for the reign of terror, the thing that concerns me is that Max has built a lawyer's dream defense against takeover. 22 member cabinet members have to be named to run for President! Wide moat to cross.
    I'm afraid this tangled web will take some time to unweave.

  • Comment number 14.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 15.

    Find me one person amongst the many fans of F1 who admire or like Mosely or Ecclestone.

    Both of them are autocratic to the point of disbelief, arrogant to the same extreme and, if most people had their way, would surely be shut out of motorsport completely for all the political damage they have created in F1 during the past few years.....

  • Comment number 16.

    I note with interest the comment from the blogger who says we should honour Bernie and Max for their acheivements, however, in my opinion honour is quickly eroded by the slippery slope of bad character. Both are no strangers to disgusting behaviour, case in point, Max Mosley's personal attack on Jackie Stewart some short while ago. Personally I found this appalling, and thought that little was done to rein in this madman in that situation. Bernie too, with his ugly statement about women.

    Both men here are showing their roots, and sure they have nurtured F1 into a highly polished mega-media event, but they are not behaving in a manner befitting a global media business.

    I would be interested to know what kind of culture exists in the FIA that permits this kind of behaviour, and indeed, what took the teams and their global sponsors this long before they reached the conclusion that enough was enough.

  • Comment number 17.

    Eccleston and Mosley have tarnished the sport's image to such an extent that it seems impossible that Formula 1's credibility can be restored with these two men in positions of authority.

    F1 one has been in constant political turmoil, with scandal after scandal and problem after problem. It is time to bring respectability back!

    http://jumpersforgoalposts1212.wordpress.com/

  • Comment number 18.

    sadly if FOTA do indeed break away and create their own grand prix all they will achieve is a pro ferarri sport that will be popular with ferarri fans and italians, formula one would continue and get better.
    FOTA would legaly have to change their name and the resulting arguements over a new name would take years then the races they run would be boring and overpriced more like a parade of over expensive cars that failed to compete with lower priced F1 cars.#so pack in the politics FOTa and return to honest racing.

  • Comment number 19.

    We have no power over the FIA, F1 or CVC. We can't force these organisations to oust Max or Bernie... I just feel that the easiest way to get them to go is to placate their egos a bit by acknowledging what they have actually done for the sport.

    It doesn't take much to look at Max/the FIA's behaviour to see that half the problem is his ego and the other half of the problem is that he feels he has to defend himself from "scurrilous" attacks. If you want him to stand again and fight tooth and nail to retain power then attacking him is the best way to do that in my opinion.

  • Comment number 20.

    Adolf Hitler was a very good leader in his early years, although extremely ruthless and his alledged drug addiction to amphetamines created an acute paranoia and psychosis common to all heavy speed users. It's interesting, though, to see his downfall (an excellent film of the same name), where he lost the vision and lost the respect of his circle - from that point on he was doomed (I have written a course on leadership which examines the attributes of leaders including Hitler, Churchill, Ghandi etc).

    Bernie's point was well-observed, but politically ill-advised, especially as the German grand prix was coming up. To be fair, Ecclestone was right, at least in the years from 1933 - 1936, but what a stupid time to say it.

    It'll cost him in his divorce too - CVC will now be finding a way to get him out of F1 and therefore his value will substantially diminish.

    If I was his wife's laywers, I'd be looking to get the case into court and concluded in the fastest possible timescale.

    lol!

    stu

  • Comment number 21.

    It seems to me that FOTA ultimately hold the whip-hand, and will have their way eventually. They just don't want to have to "go nuclear" in order to get their demands met.

    A friend who worked within the BRDC once said that the teams/manufacturers were happy to go along with what Ecclestone did because he made F1 profitable, not loss making. But the profits now being taken out are large enough to cause a rethink, especially in the current economic climate.

    It may be a traumatic time for CVC shareholders.

    The cynic in me thinks that the stances taken by Mosely etc may simply be part of a scheme designed to delay the inevitable for as long as possible.



    The cynic in me thinks that the stances taken by Mosley may simply be to delay the inevitable for as long as possible.

  • Comment number 22.

    Hopefully Bernie and Max will give it up before too long. Their role is to administer and promote the sport, and they've done much to improve things in their time in charge in terms of safety and in terms of profile and exposure. However things have reached a point now where their presence and actions are damaging.

    Mosley's style of governance is clearly unacceptable, while the constant rule changes have done as much as anything to drive up the costs that he now seeks to cut. He may profess to have the interests of smaller teams at heart, but it should not be forgotten that he has presided over an era that has seen most of the privateers (Tyrrell, Lotus, Brabham, Jordan etc) forced out. The proposed solution to all this, which effectively amounts to turning F1 into a glorified Formula Cosworth, goes against the spirit of innovation and technical progression that has come to characterise the sport.

    Meanwhile Bernie rakes in huge amounts of money, alienates circuit owners the world over and presides over farcical situations like this year's Turkish GP where the directors of the TV feed were instructed not to show the grandstands so as not to expose the absence of spectators.

    Clearly he has done much to increase TV revenues and sponsorship returns, but at the same time F1 was a high profile sport long before he came along. I have no idea what the poster above is talking about when he refers to F1 pre-Bernie consisting of "half a dozen races with little coverage". F1 has consisted of between 14 and 18 races since the early 70s. Lauda, Hunt, Stewart, Andretti (not to mention Moss, Clarke, Hill and Fangio) were all household names well before the current era.

    And honestly, can we please be spared people droning on about Ferrari bias, especially when using that as an argument to support FIA against FOTA. It's a ridiculous position to take.

  • Comment number 23.

    Any one remember Jean-Marie Balestre? The man that Mosley replaced. He was much vilefied at the time, with lots of suggestions of wrong doing and clashes with F1 teams over rule changes. Perhaps it is time for the FIA to limit presdential reigns to 2 or 3 terms, most people seems to go a bit odd after 10 years or so in power.

  • Comment number 24.

    Well, well, well.

    I remember the reports on this blog, back when The Max+Bernie show introduced both the "Winner takes all" and the "Budget cap" proposals to, what appeared to be, a fait-accomplis.

    The real answer was of course to follow the money - and FOTA and CVC are proving that it is indeed the money that is talking.

    Andrew - remember how that earlier blog finished? Here is the quote:

    "The decisions announced yesterday are merely the latest salvo in an increasingly bloody war.

    As one insider put it: "I think Max will win in the end - cutting costs is what he has to do. But there will be a watering down because there always is. That's how he works. He goes in ruthlessly, and then backtracks and backtracks."

    The battle now is over how far the teams are able to push him back."

    I think we have an answer to the last question, but the other two paragraphs are pretty accurate. OK, I doubt you would describe Max as winning, but the cost-cutting *is* going to be there.

  • Comment number 25.

    For the good of F1 and all motorsport fans, it is time for Max to fall on his sword and before the season ends imo!!
    Sometime over the next 12 months, Bernie should also consider leaving before he too destroy's the sport he has worked hard to build. His comments about not having a British GP was the last straw for me as he is too keen on taking races to countries that are willing to pay big sum's of money instead of going where the big fan bases are!! I'm all for new circuits but there needs to be a core group of GP's (bit like have the G8) that the fans want to see and then alternate between the many new ones to spice it up each season!!
    Let's see an end to all of this "politics" before too many fans are turned off from the sport!!

  • Comment number 26.

    It is for the good of everyone in the sport for Max Mosely to stand down. Yes, he has done a fair bit regarding safety, but it has now reached the stage where F1 will be damaged if his presidency carries on.

    As for Bernie Ecclestone, I'm not so sure, but the Hitler comments may indicate that it's time for a newer, fresher face there as well. However, let's wait and see; CVC and Ecclestone are the key players when it comes to helping getting this argument sorted.

    And for the good of the sport...it desperately needs sorting, and finalising...fast.

  • Comment number 27.

    Goodbye bernie and max! I hope they refuse to sign and the cvc, fota and the rest go there own way and the fia is left crying!

  • Comment number 28.

    We must not forget what these guys have brought to this fine sport that we all follows year in year out.... Ecclestone put the sport on the world stage and enabled in the levels of TV/Web interaction we see today. Just compare this to the images we have seen all weekend from GP archives that are only a few years old and limited to external camera shots.

    Mosley has brought in unpopular rules that have been designed to make the sport safer so that the absolute worst injury we seem to see is a few broken legs.

    However we have also seen that power does corrupt and make people light headed thinking that can make comments about dictators or visit red lights, all without being noticed or it taken out of proportion. Being a leader is about understanding the environment you are working in and making the right judgement calls.

    But what of the 'Concord agreement' alternative, those of us remember that when teams managed the rules (under the Concord agreement) how long it took them to agree a change when it didn't work for their team.
    Is this the alternative we are moving back to with the new concord agreement?

    FOM, FOTA and the FIA as a balance of power is the right solution and provides a good opportunity for discussion and agreement. It is a tool that works when the people involved are honest enough to work together and listen to each other, with a will to obtain the best agreement for everyone. That I believe can only come from changing the heads at the top of these three organisations.

    For this I include, Max, Bernie and anyone from FOTA associated with Ferrari, change all three and we might stand a chance.

  • Comment number 29.

    The FIA's position has always been clear and I fail to see why everyone is getting so anti-Max. F1 is a sporting contest with rules laid down by a governing body. Competitors then sign up to play under those rules. This works in pretty much all sports.

    However, in F1 a lot of people seem to want the reverse position, where the players set the rules. This might work if the players were interested in fair competition and the success of the sport as a whole. However, as we know from past experience, the big players in F1 are all determined to cheat as much as possible and have no dedication to the sport beyond the money they can make out of it through advertising and car sales. This has been proven throughout F1's commercial history as manufacturer-backed teams repeatedly walked away when the going got tough.

    Whilst it's probably time for Max and Bernie to move aside to ensure a smooth succession, I believe FOTA is a joke and I hope any future developments freeze them out of the rule-making as much as possible. Getting them to agree on anything between themselves is like herding cats, so the thought of them trying to present a "united front" on rulemaking is an irrational dream. I fear that F1 is in danger of bankruptcy and slow decline if they are allowed to continue to dictate the agenda.

  • Comment number 30.

    I guess I'm ignorant of FIA rules and F1, but how does one own a sport? Re. F1? It seems to me that the solution is to remove BE and MM from their current offices and the situation is resolved. I mean, I'm judging from afar, but if this is what is required to solve the F1 controversity, then they must go. I,ve been an F1 fan for 30-odd years, but I must admit, until this latest blowup, I had no idea tha these two lunatics, more or less, controlled the sport. I just tuned the TV to whatever. and there was the race. Not much other thought given. I've tried to stay positive after losing Indy - all of which I attended - and Montreal, but if the current system is not resolved, I may have to renew my Montoya fanship and look for entertainment other than Sunday's Speedtv coverage.

 

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