The bough has apparently broken: as we head into what are perhaps the last hours of Formula One as we know it, the teams and the FIA have yet to reach a compromise.
You just know something’s amiss when you are greeted with FIA president Max Mosley’s very British grimace on Jalopnik as you boot up in the morning. Turns out “Formula 1 is finished,” as two-time world champion Fernando Alonso has described the current situation to the BBC.
The current situation is only slightly simpler than the internal politics of Afghanistan, with power-hungry old white men scheming behind closed doors. The only difference seems to be their lack of flowing beards and Stinger missiles—but then Max Mosley would make a great Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.
What is the current situation, exactly? Most of the major teams have refused to accept Mosley’s scheme to turn Formula One into a two-tiered, budget regulated series, with teams who agree to run on an arbitrary budget set by Mosley getting access to slacker regulations: higher revving engines, more aggressive aerodynamics, the works. The teams have correctly argued that this runs against the very essence of Formula One: namely, that cars built to the same set of regulations–or formulae–race each other. Bunny rabbits may occasionally race against the cars, as seen at last year’s British Grand Prix, but they do not figure in the official results.
Mosley’s fear seems to be that current expenditures will drive major manufacturers out of the sport as car companies will not be willing to pay half a billion dollars a year for a vanity product in these financially bleak times. So far, the only manufacturer which has actually quit was Honda—but not before handing former team principal Ross Brawn the current season’s most dominant car, the BGP-001, campaigned with an 86% win rate thus far by Jenson Button.
Just to put Mosley’s budget cap in perspective: his suggested $65 million a year is exactly half as much as the amount paid a week ago by a Spanish football team for a single player. Great footballers have their price, even obnoxious bastards like Real Madrid’s latest pick Cristiano Ronaldo, but they certainly don’t require expensive, one-off machines made of carbon fiber and titanium to do their thing.
It’s all very sad, really, but is perhaps an inevitable conclusion to the bullying and thuggery Max Mosley and commercial rights holder Bernie Ecclestone have subjected Formula One to over the past decades. While many involved in F1 have become very rich in the meantime, the biggest money was made not by the people who actually go out there and race cars, but the very few who have brokered deals.
It may be unavoidable or it may be a historical artifact dating back to the late 70s when the very same duo made Formula One into the global media juggernaut it currently is. But it has certainly not helped the sport’s long-term survival. Formula One at the moment is subject to rapid, arbitrary rule changes and it is increasingly raced on tracks worlds away from the sport’s historic and financial heartlands—Europe and North America.
The series began in 1950 at Silverstone, a converted airfield in postwar England which will host its last race this Sunday. The teams have until today evening to reach a last minute compromise. Otherwise, the cars on the grid on Sunday afternoon may take part in not just the last grand prix at Silverstone—but in the last grand prix of a Formula One with a future.
Photo Credit: Mark Thompson/Getty Images, DIMITRI KOCHKO/AFP/Getty Images, MAX NASH/AFP/Getty Images, SHAUN CURRY/AFP/Getty Images