F1 drivers pen open letter to call for 'restructuring of its own governance' to avoid 'jeopardising its future'

The letter addresses the drivers' concerns with 'both the sporting and technical side, and including some business directions'

Jack de Menezes
Wednesday 23 March 2016 16:28
The Grand Prix Drivers' Association, pictured last year with Bernie Ecclestone
The Grand Prix Drivers' Association, pictured last year with Bernie Ecclestone

The Grand Prix Drivers Association [GPDA} has issued a stern warning to Formula 1 stakeholders calling for a “restructuring of its own governance”, citing a lack of faith in recent decisions made both on and off the track that “could jeopardise” F1’s future".

The fallout from the season-opening Australian Grand Prix – which featured a farcical qualifying session on Saturday – has seen a number of concerns raised with changes to the sport during the off-season.

The letter also came just hours before it was announced that Sky Sports had agreed a new deal to broadcast every F1 Grand Prix from 2019 to 2024 - with just one 'free to air' race being shown each season.

Having rushed through a new elimination-style qualifying session in the week leading up to the Grand prix in Melbourne, the FIA confirmed that it will be ditched in favour of the old system used last season at the Bahrain Grand Prix at the start of next month.

A number of drivers expressed their concern with the session, in which the top 10 shootout saw all competitors head back into the pit lane with more than four minutes remaining in the session, and the GPDA has now penned an open letter to call for change in how the sport it run by the FIA, owners CVC Capital Partners, F1 chief executive Bernie Ecclestone and all stakeholders.

The letter, signed by McLaren’s Jenson Button, Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, former F1 driver Alex Wurz and the rest of the GPDA, read: “The Grand Prix drivers would like to state our following position:

“We drivers love our sport! Since childhood, we dreamed of racing the fastest race cars from the top teams on the coolest tracks against the best drivers in the world. We seek competition and love F1 almost unconditionally, which makes us most probably the people with the purest interest for Formula 1, beside our fans.

“Formula 1 is currently challenged by a difficult global economic environment, a swift change in fan and consumer behaviour, and a decisive shift in the TV and media landscape. This makes it fundamental that the sport’s leaders make smart and well considered adjustments.

“We feel that some recent rule changes – on both the sporting and technical side, and including some business directions – are disruptive, do not address the bigger issues our sport is facing and in some cases could jeopardise its future success. We know that among the leaders of the sport – be it the owners, their representatives, the governing body, the teams or other stakeholders – every individual acts with the very best intentions.

“Therefore, the drivers have come to the conclusion that the decision-making process in the sport is obsolete and ill-structured and prevents progress being made. Indeed, it can sometimes lead to just the opposite, a gridlock. This reflects negatively on our sport, prevents it being fit for the next generation of fans and compromises further global growth.

“We would like to request and urge the owners and all stakeholders of Formula 1 to consider restructuring its own governance. The future directions and decisions of F1, be they short or long term, sporting, technical or business orientated should be based on a clear master plan. Such plan should reflect the principles and core values of Formula 1.

“We need to ensure that F1 remains a sport, a closely-fought competition between the best drivers in extraordinary machines on the coolest tracks. F1 should be home only to the best teams, drivers and circuits, with partners and suppliers fit for such an elite championship.

“Formula 1 has undoubtedly established itself as the pinnacle of motorsport and as such one of the most viewed and popular sports around the world. We drivers stand united, offer our help and support for F1 to keep it as such, and further to make it fit and exciting for many years and generations to come.

“It is important to state that this open letter is intended in the best interests of all and should not be seen as [a] blind and disrespectful attack. Thank you for your attention and granting us the liberty to put our thoughts into words.

“Best regards,

“Jenson Button, Sebastian Vettel, Alex Wurz, on behalf of the Grand Prix Drivers.”

While the GPDA has not identified any individual decisions that it is concerned with, it’s known that the recent qualifying changes are not alone in leaving the grid confused and upset with the constant flow of alterations.

The arrival of a double points race in 2014 led to the Drivers’ Championship being left in the balance until the final race of the season, despite Lewis Hamilton holding an advantage that under normal circumstances would have seen him crowned champion before arriving in Abu Dhabi.

The limitations imposed on radio communication over the past two seasons has also prompted a backlash, with drivers left unsure as to what they can discuss during racers with their engineers.

Another aspect that has prompted a response form the GPDA is driver safety, following the tragic death of Jules Bianchi last year after his accident at the Japanese Grand Prix in 2014. The trial of a ‘Halo’ safety measure has seen organisers try to improve the protection offered to a driver’s head, although it is yet to be approved and introduced to race weekends.

There is also a concern over the switch from free-to-air to pay TV, with audiences around the world reducing by the year. Today's announcement from Sky Sports will likely see that trend continue.

Ex-Formula 1 driver and GPDA representative Alex Wurz

Speaking to the BBC, Wurz stressed that the open letter is “not a knee-jerk reaction” to the qualifying failure on Saturday, and that action had been in the pipeline for some time before getting the green light in Melbourne when the vast majority of the GPDA voted in favour of calling for change.

"This statement was well-considered and planned between all drivers for quite a while now and discussed again in Melbourne," Wurz said.

He added: "We are not convinced that individual updates to sporting or technical rules are the solution a) to stop F1 losing viewers and fans; and b) to initiate global growth.”

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