Clean racing is the key

Published : Jul 04, 2009 00:00 IST

The hierarchy on both sides of the Formula One divide should end its petty quarrels and give spectators what they want — racing, writes Maurice Hamilton.

Given the continuing unrest within Formula One as Max Mosley, angered over alleged insults from the teams, threatens not to stand down after all from the presidency of the sport’s governing body (the FIA), it might be a reasonable idea for both sides to spend the weekend chilling out at the Goodwood Festival of Speed (July 3-5). If ever there was a palliative for bruised egos then it is this annual gathering in West Sussex driven by motoring memories and proper sporting values rather than malice and monetary precedence. That is not to say the history of Formula One is without its political hostility.

Among more than 100 machines in action in the grounds of Goodwood House will be a Williams FW07 driven by Alan Jones, the 1980 world champion returning to the wheel of the car that was prominent during the last major power struggle between the teams and the governing body. On that occasion, the teams won the day and gained financial control thanks to the efforts of Bernie Ecclestone, assisted, it should be noted with some irony, by Mosley 10 years before he became the FIA president.

Recently, the boot was on the other foot as the majority of teams, under the collective title of FOTA, engineered an apparent end to a damaging dispute by coming to an agreement with Mosley, the bottom line being not so much financial but an acceptance by the FIA president that his 18, largely productive, years in charge of all matters motoring should come to an end in October, six months before his 70th birthday.

That was the plan, one which was greeted with widespread relief on June 24 since it ended the threat of FOTA announcing a breakaway championship the following day. Whether by accident or design, the sense of liberation among the teams lost something in translation as the word “dictator” appeared several times in media reports. It was an unfortunate choice of word that had nothing to do with Mosley’s background as the son of Sir Oswald Mosley, the founder of the British Union of Fascists in 1932. Mosley’s indignation centred on his claim that the making of major decisions had always been the responsibility of the World Motor Sport Council and not the president.

Technically, this is true. But many in motor sport remain unconvinced, the FOTA teams regularly complaining about Mosley’s style of governance. Mosley initially did not take personal issue with the reported despotic description, but later hit back at his critics: “They made the mistake of dancing on my grave before I was buried. I do genuinely want to stop. But if there’s going to be a big conflict with the car industry, for example, with the FOTA teams, then I won’t stop. I will do whatever I have to do. It’s not in my nature to walk away from a fight.”

Mosley’s threat to do another U-turn and put his name forward for re-election in October caused despair rather than anger. If he stands again, the FOTA teams will go ahead with a rival series that is ready to roll despite the many potential difficulties that would lie ahead. Should that happen, the biggest loser would be Ecclestone and his associate, CVC Capital Partners, the company that currently creams off 50% of spectator revenue and returns none of it to the sport. It was Ecclestone who brokered the deal between Mosley and FOTA recently and Formula One’s commercial rights holder may be leaning on his old mate again if Mosley continues to let indignation rule and Ecclestone’s income is under threat.

Whoever runs Formula One in 2010 (the betting is it will continue to be the FIA, but without Mosley), those in charge should heed the lesson learned during the British Grand Prix (June 21) when the continuing absence of overtaking proved that there is still some way to go in the quest to allow the cars to run in close company and pass each other; in other words, go racing. Such a shortcoming was unheard of in the days of Sir Stirling Moss, Jacky Ickx, Stewart, Jones and other former Formula One drivers due at Goodwood.

Similarly, it would do no harm for the hierarchy on both sides of the Formula One divide to visit the Festival of Speed and remind themselves of the absence of another fundamental deficiency in the sport today. The presence of Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button at the weekend will be the only time this season when Britain’s top drivers will be in direct touch with fans who otherwise feel treated like cash cows as they each part with over £120 for 90 minutes of Formula One racing and never get close enough to see their heroes without their crash helmets.

Hamilton broke the ice at the end of the British Grand Prix when, having nothing better to do with a seriously uncompetitive McLaren that was worth no more than 16th place, the world champion performed tyre-smoking “doughnuts” while on his way back to the pits. Previously, an outraged administration would have jumped on Hamilton and perhaps gone as far as issuing a grid penalty at the next race, the German Grand Prix in Nurburgring (July 12). Apart from noting the incident, officials did nothing. It is true that McLaren have almost been hammered out of existence by punishments over the past two years and Mosley was preoccupied that Sunday with more serious issues but it is to be hoped that Hamilton thinking of the spectators is a small part of a refreshing way forward.

© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2009

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