Thursday, 25 June 2009

FOTA outline future plans for Formula One

Following a peace resolution struck with the FIA at a World Motor Sport Council (WMSC) meeting on Wednesday, the Formula One Teams' Association (FOTA) met in Bologna on Thursday to discuss some of their future plans for the sport. After the meeting all the team bosses outlined some of their plans at a press conference.

One thing that FOTA clearly understood from this political row is the value of the fans and the amount of backing all the teams had from the fans. Which is why FOTA president Luca di Montezemolo (from Ferrari), vice-president John Howett (from Toyota) and other FOTA executive members including Nick Fry (from BrawnGP), Christian Horner (from Red Bull Racing), Mario Theissen (from BMW Sauber) and Flavio Briatore (from Renault) all agreed that this row was won neither by FOTA nor the FIA but it was won by Formula 1 and its most valuable asset, the fans. Wednesday's reconciliation was also helped by a sell-out crowd at last weekend's British Grand Prix at Silverstone, because the enthusiasm of the fans caused all parties to re-think what they could be potentially losing had there really been a split. So everyone agreed that this promises to be the start of a new era in Formula 1 that brings stable regulations, guarantee by all the manufacturer teams to stay in the sport for the long term and help the independent teams survive and thrive but most importantly, provide a good show for the fans with the best drivers in the world racing each other in the best and the fastest cars in the world.

Members of the FOTA also demanded for a completely neutral and independent person to take over Max Mosley's role as FIA president. The current president's term expires this October but he has already stepped down from his day to day activities, which between now and October, will be looked after by president of the FIA Senate and the Monaco Automobile Club Michel Boeri. The president is voted in by the 122 member nations of the FIA and although the teams do not have a say in the voting, current president Mosley can provide a recommendation. Some of the potential candidates rumoured to be in the running to replace Mosley's position permanently are Chief Steward (race control) Alan Donnelley, former rally driver Ari Vatanen and former Ferrari team principal Jean Todt. All the teams agree that the post should be taken by someone who does not have any connection with any of the current Formula 1 teams, present or historical. They were of course indirectly talking about Jean Todt's candidacy, although it is all just a rumour. It is worth noting here that Jean Todt was Ferrari's team principal during the time when the legendary Michael Schumacher won his five world titles with Ferrari.

Regarding the regulations for next year, it was agreed that they will stay exactly the way they are for 2009 but the only difference will be that refuelling will be banned and the controversial Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS) will also be banned. The refuelling ban was last seen in Formula 1 in the 1980s, and bringing it back means that the cars will need to have significantly larger fuel tanks than they do now and that they will have to last the entire race on one tank of fuel. Pit stops will take place as usual bit will only be used for tyre changes. It was also said that Cosworth, who will be returning to Formula 1 next year after an absence of three years will have to conform to the current engine regulations, which means that just like all the other current engines in use the Cosworth engines will also need to be rev-limited at 18,000 rpm. Max Mosley originally proposed that to ensure their return and help them supply engines to the three new teams next year, Cosworth engines will be allowed to run at 2006 regulations meaning upto 21,000rpm and a higher horsepower than current engines. It will be interesting to see if Cosworth does have the capability to re-tune their engines to meet the new regulations in time for the start of the 2010 season. All three new teams entering next year - USF1, Campos Meta and Manor GP - have pledged to use Cosworth engines for their cars. Although, some people are saying that now that the budget cap has been abolished, it is likely that Manor GP may pull out as they originally were inspired by the £40 million cap. USF1 and Campos Meta, at least for now, seem to be much stronger and genuine entities.

Nick Fry, CEO of Brawn GP, did say that if any one of the three new teams do pull out their entries for next year since the abolishment of the budget cap, some of the other teams that originally applied for next year but had their applications revoked may be invited back in. If there are three new teams on the grid next year, it will mean good news for the manufacturer teams of Ferrari, BMW, Toyota, Renault and Mercedes-Benz as there will be eight teams requiring customer engines.

Some other minor changes in the Sporting Regulations could be introduced next year as well. One of the most important one could be the bringing back of some limited in-season testing. The current in-season testing ban severely restricts a team's ability to catch up after a bad start to the season as new upgrades to the cars cannot be tested out on the track before coming to a Grand Prix weekend. Although the testing ban was introduced to reduce costs, it has not got down well with the teams and the fans. So we could well see the return of test days at Barcelona in April, Silverstone or Donington in June and Monza in August. There could also be changes in regulations regarding wind tunnel use and other cost related aspects. All these will be however defined in due time once the new Concorde agreement, that governs the sport, has been signed by the FIA, FOTA and the commercial rights holder Formula One Management (FOM).

The banning of the highly controversial KERS will be welcomed by most people. The energy recovery system, that captures heat energy during braking and converts it into kinetic energy thus giving the cars an 80bhp boost for about 6.7 seconds per lap, was introduced this season as part of the FIA's initiatives to push the technological boundaries of Formula 1 cars while making them more environmentally friendly. Only 4 of the current teams started the season with KERS fitted on their cars as the running of KERS was left optional in this year's regulations. However, it soon became clear that the extra weight penalty of the KERS system did not leave that much of an advantage from its power boost. This was particularly striking because from the start of the season, all the non-KERS cars were clearly faster than the KERS cars. So once again, the vehicle aerodynamics were proving to be a lot more crucial than anything else to get the best out of Formula 1 cars. Already 2 of the KERS teams have dropped the package for the remainder of the season and are now concentrating developing the aerodynamic sides to their cars rather than concentrating on KERS, which has been known to be unreliable. Only Ferrari and McLaren-Mercedes, are still running and will probably do so for the remainder of the season since their cars were designed with KERS in mind, and also the fact that the Ferrari and the Mercedes KERS systems are the best in the field. So that's another area where, thanks to Max Mosley, millions of pounds have been invested unnecessarily at a time when the sport is talking about cost-cutting!

Like I said in my last post, details are now starting to emerge that Bernie Ecclestone and CVC Capital Partners, the company that owns F1's commercial rights, put significant pressure on Max Mosley over the last few days to strike a deal with FOTA and stop them from creating a breakaway championship. One good thing for us fans now is that as part of the FOTA, the teams are really strong and united and hopefully will remain that way in the future. Without a united team front, none of these that have been achieved would have been possible and our beloved Formula 1 will probably have been ruined irreparably. But if you think that all the controversies are now over and everything has been settled and we can all go on enjoying some pure racing for a good couple of years at least, then I have to say that you have not known Formula 1 for very long. Long time hardcore fans will know that the next round of controversies and more political bickering is never too far away in Formula 1, but hopefully it never again gets as bad as it did this time. We are still about two weeks away from the next race weekend when Formula 1 heads off to the Nurburgring for the German Grand Prix. Until then, drive safely everyone!

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