Mad Max's fury puts F1 on knife edge

Renegade teams want breakaway series next year unless Mosley chooses peace over war
Click to follow
The Independent Online

A week is a long time in politics, especially a week in Formula One. Seven days ago the Formula One Teams' Association members were dead set on staging their own breakaway grand prix series from 2010, having failed to reach agreement with FIA president Max Mosley regarding the governance of the sport. Today, that is still the situation, and the teams are still considering their own series.

Yet, in between, peace appeared to have been achieved following a meeting of the FIA World Motor Sport Council in Paris. The deputy president Nick Craw called for Mosley, commercial rights holder Bernie Ecclestone and Ferrari and FOTA president Luca di Montezemolo to go into a separate room and, effectively, not to come out until a deal had been thrashed out.

The exact details of their tripartite discussions remain as unclear as parts of the outcome. But one thing was certain. A condition of the agreement was that Mosley would stand down as president when his current term of office ends in October.

The teams, meanwhile, agreed to come back into the FIA fold, thereby saving Ecclestone's bacon and that of his rights-holding partner, CVC Capital Partners, who stood to see their sizeable investment diminished if there were two championships taking place in 2010.

The 2009 rules were to carry over, albeit without refuelling, and Mosley's notorious budget caps of $100m and $45m for 2010 and 2011 were to be replaced by a glidepath in 2010 to spending levels by 2011 similar to "the early 1990s", for which read $45m.

As enthusiastic fans across the globe breathed huge sighs of relief, everyone looked forward to a future that finally seemed devoid of the endless controversy and upheaval that have been a feature of Mosley's rule in recent years.

FOTA – comprising McLaren Mercedes, Ferrari, Brawn, Renault, Toyota, BMW Sauber, Red Bull and Toro Rosso – would join forces again with Williams and Force India, who had already signed unconditionally to the FIA championship, together with newcomers US F1, Manor and Campos Meta. The eight renegade teams held a meeting in Bologna on Thursday in which, instead of planning their breakaway as scheduled, they discussed means of improving the show and rekindling the passion of the fans to alleviate the problem of empty seats that was particularly evident recently in Turkey, and before that in China.

"Formula One needs fresh air, ideas, improvement, and we will work together to achieve this goal," said Di Montezemolo. Martin Whitmarsh, McLaren's team principal, said: "We have concentrated on too many negative issues in the last few months. There is a clear commitment from all of the teams to work on the show and the entertainment, on making sure we reflect the wishes of the fans who support us. I think we can make the sport better.

"I hope we have reached a historic point for Formula One, enabling us to look outwards rather than continually looking in at the inner workings of our sport. It is an exciting moment for our sport and one that can only build to being bigger and better."

Then, just when it appeared safe to go back into the water... Mosley, apparently stung by suggestions that he had suffered a humiliating defeat (the majority view), and quotes in the Italian media that Di Montezemolo had called him "dictatorial", threw a complete temper tantrum on Thursday night by threatening not to clear the stage if an immediate apology was not forthcoming. It was not, of course, so now the FOTA teams are on the breakaway knife edge all over again.

Perhaps it is just as well that F1's summer break has partly begun so this can be sorted out, but on the track in Germany in two weeks' time Jenson Button hopes it can be business as usual after the walloping his hitherto dominant Brawn team got from Red Bull at Silverstone. He would like nothing more than to deny his conqueror, Sebastian Vettel, his chance to win at home at the Nürburgring.

"They have made a big improvement," Button says. "They have a lot of new parts and they are obviously working for them. But there were other things that worked for them. Silverstone is very high speed, probably not our best part of the car. Also it was cold, and we couldn't get the tyres in their working range. The braking on our car is the strongest point. I know their package is good, but I'm not upset.

"I know it will turn around and there are lots of reasons why we were not on the pace, why we can turn it around at the Nürburgring. It's one of the heaviest braking circuits, and so is Hungary, and hopefully both will be hot, so Red Bull won't have the same advantage they had last weekend."