Formula One â€“ Dancing with the Devil
If someone were to start following Formula 1 from the 2009 season, for the first time, they would be quite shocked and appalled at the way things have gone on, in the season, so far. Amidst the magical run by a team debuting on the tracks this season, there have been budget cuts & threats being lobbed around between the FIA and the teams participating in this season’s races. >
Taking nothing away from Jenson Button and Brawn’s dream run in the championships so far, it must be feared that the 2009 season may not, in the end, be remembered as the year when a team won the championship on debut. Instead, it might very well be remembered for the fights between the organizing committee and the biggest names in the sport, something that will be even more pronounced if the likes of Scuderia Ferrari and Toyota F1 pull out of next season’s calendar.
Since the turn of the century, Ferrari and McLaren have dominated proceedings, barring a couple of seasons from a fired up Fernando Alonso in a blue-green Renault. With economic recession gripping the world, the motorsport community woke up to 2009 with giants Subaru and Suzuki pulling out of the World Rally Championships series. If that wasn’t hard enough, there were cost issues in Formula One that could have led to the entire season being cancelled unless teams came to an agreement with the FIA. >
It all began with some proposed rule changes that would include standardizing most of the equipment to allow smaller teams to bear the cost of running their team in the sport. This move, while welcomed by the minnows, led to major resentment amongst the big guns, especially Scuderia Ferrari. An almost unbeatable force in the last decade or so, Ferrari were not concerned with the economic slowdown and were still prepared to pour in money into their F1 coffers.
However, other teams were unable to match their spending on their F1 teams and ended up having to fall out of the race altogether. Many teams like Minardi and Arrows had been forced to shut up shop over the years because of rising costs. Coping with it would mean stringent rules being brought in such as a cap on the amount being spent on engine research and development, standardized gearboxes for everyone and a compromise on the abundance of tyres available to teams earlier.
Testing was limited and supervised, while teams, with budgets, were forced to live like paupers despite their capability to do much better. This had not gone down well but due to timely considerations by the FIA, some of the more “absurd” rulings were, in fact, ruled out.
Teams decided to take to the tracks at Melbourne with some drastic, and others not so much, changes in the budget and car setups. Gearboxes were standard, which meant that teams that had already spent hours and dollars on R&D were now forced to abandon their efforts and pick the common factor. KERS was introduced as a way of harnessing energy generated by the cars’ brakes, to provide a power boost for just a few seconds. Engine development costs dropped down sharply and teams headed out to the starting grid with frowns on their foreheads.
Hardly had that moment passed into the background, did the poor performance of Ferrari begin shocking the world of F1. Barely managing points-finishes, Ferrari were suddenly struggling, looking a shadow of the team that was wiping the tracks with the opponents till a few years back. What was even more surprising was that the teams overshadowing the Italians weren’t other F1 manufacturing giants like McLaren Mercedes, Renault or BMW.
It was a team that had never placed its F1 car on a race track ever before. It was a team that wasn’t even looked at, when the season began, but is now the front runner with 4 wins in 5 races and two 1-2 finishes. The extraordinary run by Brawn GP has been hampered once again by the introduction of a budget cap for the 2010 season. >
The announcement brought about a host of alterations to the 2010 plans. Ferrari’s voice was heard first, saying that a budget cut will mean that the sport will have to bid goodbye to the scarlet racecar. Soon after, a newly introduced plan for an street-circuit for F1 in Rome, Italy, was under threat with the Mayor saying that no Ferrari meant no Rome F1 race.
Soon, many others began following in the footsteps of the Italian giants with Toyota, BMW and Red Bull Racing, which currently has two teams running in the sport, threatening to pull out if the budget caps were introduced. McLaren Mercedes and Renault also joined the bandwagon with Williams being the only big name to be happy with the budget cuts.
FIA President Max Moseley was forced to consider the option of sitting around the table once again, to deal with the demands of the Formula One Teams Association (FOTA). However, doubts began to rise on whether these teams would come into the meeting with an alternative to the budget cuts or with the intention of simply getting their way.
Ferrari, who have a history of using their financial and corporate muscle to get their way in the sport, were once again leading the way. Filing an injunction in the French courts to block, along with the budget cuts, rule modifications that will appear in the 2010 season, Ferrari were prepared to take on the deadline of 29th May head-on. >
Emmanuel Gaillard, the Ferrari lawyer who led the action for the Italians, said “We have to register between May 22nd and 29th and that means accepting the new rules but these rules do not conform with the commitments taken in regard to Ferrari. We had no other choice”. The FIA and FOTA met at a hotel in Heathrow, to discuss and reach at a solution for this problem. Moseley, who never considered the threat a serious issue, was given a reminder by Luca di Montezemolo, chairman of Ferrari and president of FOTA, “Yes!!!”; the Scuderia would in fact be a non-entity in the 2010 season.
With the meeting ending in a stalemate, the FIA is all at sea when thinking about the 2010 season. As things stand, there looks to be a major problem with most of the big names missing from the sport and with the Tifosi missing in the stands, spectator-attendance might just drop down to never-before lows. The FIA faces a catch-22 situation at the moment – on one hand they have the possibility that the smaller teams might drop out of the competition if the budget cuts are not introduced, meaning that they have no money to sustain themselves in the sport. On the other, there is the ever-increasing danger of the big names pulling out of the competition leading to decreased popularity of the sport, drop in TV ratings, audiences and possibly money, for the FIA.
The FIA must now begin the unenviable task of having to go about finding a solution to their problem, one that they would do well to find quickly. Whether the FOTA wins its battle or not, things might not be the same as the cars draw to the line for the 2010 starting grid at Melbourne.
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Friday June 26
Its settled then!!! The FIA and FOTA finally reached a settlement on the issue that threatened the future of Formula One in 2010 and beyond. More
Monday May 18
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