Breaking away without actually leaving?

18 06 2009

The prospect of a FOTA breakaway series looms large in the F1 world today, as Max’s deadline for the teams to remove their conditions hits tomorrow. Setting up a rival series is no easy task, but as I blogged about before, it is possible. However if the breakaway was to happen there are ways for the new championship to take more than the teams with them.

Firstly, once the teams announce a breakaway, it is logical to expect that many members of the FIA will be less than happy about the decimation of their premiere racing series. The FIA presidential elections take place in October of this year, where Max Mosely is expected to stand for a record 5th term, and even if he doesn’t it is expected his nominated successor would receive his full backing.

If anger over the F1 situation is strong enough to dislodge Max (although the FIA’s remit is so large this is far from assured); It would likely bring to power a president with a very different viewpoint. If the new regime could reach out to FOTA there is a possibility something could be done to bring the two series together.

Secondly as I mentioned in my previous post, that FOTA will likely need to find an investor to get the series going. One man fits the profile of having vast wealth, and involvement in motor racing perfectly, Bernie Ecclestone. If the teams can persuade him that there is money to be made, and get him to join the breakaway, with CVC or not, then they will have secured not just funding for the series, but perhaps the worlds top expert on running a racing series.

This option may open up a legal can of worms with CVC and its creditors, to avoid this, as well as their own lawsuits teams could use Bernie as a sort of crutch. Running a FOTA championship alongside the current F1 championship much in the same way GP2 operates. Although this will not do wonders for the prestige of the new sport, running Grand Prix’s on a Saturday afternoon, with existing F1 broadcasters taking the feed would give the series a good audience almost immediately, as well as solve the problem of organising a series at short notice. This would come with its own myriad of logistical issues with motorhomes not being particularly adept at fitting in support paddocks, so it would have to be a short term option at best.

F course all of this is dependent on a breakaway occurring this weekend, There is still a good chance that common sense could break out, although with the bizarre inclusion of Manor and Campos on the entry list last year, at the expense of teams who appeared to be more prepared, perhaps there is too much going on for sanity to be regained. I would like to end by saying that we will all find out tomorrow, but the way negotiations have progressed, we could well see another deadline.





A break in style?

17 06 2009

Although the world of F1 moves quickly, I would like to take another look at the FIA’s statement on its negotiations with FOTA that was released yesterday.

(It can be found here http://fia.com/en-GB/mediacentre/pressreleases/f1releases/2009/Pages/fia_fota.aspx)

Whilst the content of the letter presents its viewpoint of its dealings with FOTA, its style struck me more than what it was saying. The FIA’s usual output to the media consists of either transcripts of letters and meetings, or dry statements of facts in a highly officious tone.

Yesterdays release departed from this drastically, adopting a less formal journalistic tone. It surprised me to the extent I thought I was reading an editorial preface added by the website I read it on.

So why did the FIA do this? Firstly they wanted to release something that would actually read by the fans, Whilst FOTA’s comments get picked up eagerly by the fans of the various teams they support, the FIA’s statements tend to be so dry they get absorbed in to editorial output, and become easily ignored.

Secondly there are a number of newspapers who don’t have large resources and will often try to edit press releases into articles with very little editing or commentary, the FIA’s release is perfect for this, and will likely get exposure it otherwise wouldn’t.

Perhaps the biggest thing we can take from the article though is that the FIA recognises that the only true judges in this contest are the fans, no matter what happens in the courtroom, it is the fans who will really decide who is in the right at the end of this argument. Hopefully the FIA will remember this as it makes its decisions in the future.





Breakaway… success?

17 06 2009

The FIA-FOTA war currently raging in the world of Formula 1 at the moment has set the sport on course towards a split, with the eight remaining teams in FOTA creating a breakaway series, unless one side can back down without loosing face, or a compromise can be reached. Today the parties seem to be as far away from an agreement as ever, at least publicly, so the prospect of a breakaway looms large. Many writers in the F1 world have cast doubt on the ability of FOTA to create a rival series at such short notice, and have stated that a split would be bad for the sport, drawing comparisons with the IRL/CART split in the US.  Perhaps this is true, and a breakaway is fraught with risks, and still may not happen, however I believe that a breakaway is by no means guaranteed to spell doom and gloom for the sport.

Firstly looking at whether or not a series could be set up at short notice;  I am no expert on how to set up a racing series, so this will be as brief as I can, but I do believe it is far from impossible. Assuming the season would start in late March, this would give FOTA just over 9 months to have everything in place.  The first problem is that FOTA exists only as a sum of its components, racing teams. Although they have a lot of experience in F1 they have not been organising it.  Organisational personnel will need to be brought in, along side rule makers, a policing structure, media staff and everything else which keeps a racing series going.  There are hundreds of racing series around the world, and the chance to work on a racing series as high profile as an F1 breakaway will likely be an attractive proposition for their staff, so recruiting should not be a huge hurdle.

The main problem FOTA will face is cost.  The major players in FOTA are massive corporations awash with cash, however it is unlikely they will put up funding for a new series at a time they are cutting costs and laying off starts.  The global economic downturn makes it a difficult time to find money, but it hasn’t all disappeared, the recent deal’s Real Madrid have done total £136million, which suggest investment can still be found. Finding the money is key, however FOTA do have the asset of broadcast rights and merchandising which they can either sell short term, or take loans out against, they will be all to aware though that they need to be careful when doing this to avoid the massive payments CVC have been committed to.

If a breakaway series was launched, there would be undoubtedly be consequences in terms of diluting advertising, both on television as well as trackside and on the cars. However F1 currently loses a lot of the cash it generates though repayments on the debt incurred by CVC when they purchased the sport, a new series would likely not see funds withdrawn from the sport at the same high level. If a breakaway championship can find a financial model which allows the sport to reinvest in itself, it should be able to flourish, and compete with the FIA championship.

The IRL/CART split which took place in 1996 is credited for almost destroying open wheel racing in the sates, and allowing stock car racing to supplant to become the dominant form of racing in the US. Formula one is however a global entity which is a very different beast to the American market. Stock cars were already an established series in the US and effectively created a 3 way battle with 2 series wounded from their falling out.

F1 does not have a major competitor at the moment; no other series has the same levels of global exposure so it would be a straight fight between the two series, in the short term at least. Far from annihilating each other, they will have to compete to win over the fans. F1 has been stagnant for far too long, it is the only major sport in the world not to have moved to HD broadcasting, and this is largely because they haven’t had the competition to push them. Major innovations were made about a decade ago when Bernie Ecclestone believed he could sell F1 as a premium pay for view product, although this failed it did drastically improve the quality of broadcasts. F1 has been slow to move on from this, the only new innovation of introducing line comparison graphics has so far only been seen once, and then in a free practice session.

The formula1.com website at the moment does generously provide live timing and some video highlights a week after a race, but a quick look at official websites of nascar.com or even the NFL shows what could be provided for fans. A breakaway would give us completion, which as the racetrack shows us forces standards up and breeds innovation.

Another element of F1 which has distressed the fans, has been the growing trend of classic races in f1 being lost from the calendar, to make room for new races on less inspiring tracks on the other side of the world. I am not saying f1 or a breakaway should not race outside Europe, but tracks should not be chosen on finance alone, and great racing tracks should not be ignored. If a breakaway forces the racing to go where the fans want it, again it can only be good for the sport as a whole. The regulations in F1 have been one of the bigger causes of the current fall-out between the teams and the FIA. Often fans have been left puzzled by rule changes which have hampered rather than helped the racing, with competition, the rules will be crucial in improving the show to attract more fans

F1’s dominance in global racing is largely down to the people who have been running the sport, however it is a long way from perfect, and this dominance has served to damage the sport to an extent, making it far less accessible to the fans, with exuberant ticket prices, and races from Asia early in the morning. A breakaway would force both series to connect with the fans to win them over, I believe the teams are better positioned to do this, but perhaps the current championship has more to lose, it could be an interesting fight, and I believe it could improve the sport. There are inherent risks, but as long as a split can be resolved in the short term, ideally less than 5 years, it should keep the sport at the peak of motorsport, and in the racing all the better for the fans.





Raison d’être

16 06 2009

The time has come for me to start a blog, despite the concept being quite old in internet terms, I haven’t had any reason to utilise one… until now. Politics is an intrinsic part of f1, and an element of the sport I find fascinating, and perhaps unusually, every bit as interesting as the racing itself. I don’t expect everyone who reads this blog to share this interest, however if you don’t enjoy it, I hope it will at least be informative, and help give some perspective as to what is happening in the sport away from the track.

I guess i should write a little about myself (without giving too much away). I have a degree in Politics and International Relations, so I have some experience of political analysis. I have been around the world twice, and travelled widely. I have been an F1 fan since the 1992 season, although i grew up in the Middle East and f1 coverage was hard to come by for a few years, and then when it did become available, English commentary was allusive.  My interest in f1 racing declined during the years of Schumacher dominance; however I remained interested in the politics, finding myself in the strange situation of following a sport but not actually watching the events themselves. I fell back in love with the racing in 2005, and have been following it ever more closely since then. I discovered the online f1 community through blogs and Sidepodcast this year, and it has led me to the point of launching this blog.

This blog begins at a time when the politics are as dramatic and erratic as they have ever been.  I hope to cover this with a slightly more analytical approach than the mainstream f1 news resources. I don’t have any access to the f1 paddock, f1 people, or insiders, so i will be looking at news from reputable news sources, and trying to look at what it means. I will only be using sources which I consider trust worthy and will attempt to provide sources wherever possible.

I cant promise this will be brilliant at first, or that I will be right all the time, so please comment and let me know what you think!