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GP Week : Issue 222
OPINION mIKe DOODsON After the long-running scandals at FIFA were finally exposed by the FbI a couple of weeks ago, it did not require a soothsayer to predict that some bureaucratic busy-body would soon show up and start rooting around for something rotten in our own sport. He (or she) will be in search of the sort of corruption which the American authorities confidently expect will bring the absurd Sepp Blatter and his football cronies to due legal process and eventual summary judgment. Although the European authorities still hadn't knocked on the doors of Jean Todt's offices in Paris or Geneva at the time of writing, there were reports at the weekend that it is only a matter of time before they do. I doubt, though, that anyone in the F1 business will be going to jail. While the FIA is not entirely innocent in matters of low-level financial naughtiness ¬– I'm thinking here of the largesse which is lavished on delegates invited to Paris when presidential elections are taking place – this sort of behaviour is common in big organisations. It is surely not outrageous enough to justify anyone bringing out the handcuffs. Any investigation into the FIA would have to be launched by the recognised regulator in such matters, which is the European Commission. It has intervened in F1 before, when it ruled, correctly, that sporting bodies should not be allowed to have a commercial interest in the sport which they controlled. Back in 2000, FIA President Max Mosley flogged off the commercial rights in F1 racing to Bernie Ecclestone's company, for a period of 100 years, for a paltry US$300 million. This may not have been exactly what the EU mandarins had in mind. This time, the EU Commission will not be able to start work until it has received a formal complaint from someone with a legitimate right to do so. The complainant – most likely to be a corporate entity – will have to demonstrate that it has been disadvantaged by some action of the FIA either financially or in the sporting domain. The most obvious candidates here would be one or more of F1's less wealthy teams, several of which have been complaining for the past 18 months that the four big teams – Ferrari, McLaren, Red Bull and Mercedes – are deliberately dragging their feet over measures which will keep them in business. The little guys want a more equal distribution of the sport's income and a reduction in the crippling cost of the hybrid powertrain which everyone is required to use. The anger of the 'minnow' teams has been increased still further by recent strong hints from the Big Four that the sport's ills would be quickly cured by permitting the introduction of customer cars. In defiance of a practice which has served us well over many years, teams would be allowed to sell current cars, in effect creating 'B' teams. Since only a fool would buy a second-rank car, this would mean that the best anyone else could hope for would be 5th place. Meanwhile, the customer team would be unlikely to challenge its supplier too seriously, even if it got the chance. Does anyone seriously suggest that this would be a good way of improving the level of competition? The 'customer car' idea was just one which has been thrown into the ring recently by the big teams. Several other weird suggestions came out of the so-called Strategy Group, consisting of various bods, many of them representing sponsors, whose knowledge of F1 technology was precisely nil. One was for 18-inch rims, another for the return of refuelling. At a press conference in Canada involving the technical heads of five F1 teams, both proposals were summarily dismissed, with Ferrari's James Allison pointing out that big wheels are heavier than small ones. I have since learned that the genius on the Strategy Group who pushed for the return of refuelling was none other than CVC boss Donald MacKenzie, who may be good with money but is definitely useless when it comes to technology. Amazingly, I read while in Canada that Fiat boss Sergio Marchionne, a marketing man, is still pushing for refuelling. If he were to speak to a racing fan about the matter, or even to his own employee Mr Allison, he would discover that while refuelling can occasionally result in an exciting bonfire, it also leads to most of the overtaking being done while the cars are in the pits. But then Signor Marchionne has probably never spoken to a motor racing fan unless he was selling him a car. Although there appear to be incentives for one of the F1 malcontents to lodge a complaint against the FIA itself, doing so might well prove counter-productive if that team wishes to continue competing in the sport (as a self- declared trouble-maker, it would be last on the list whenever favours were being handed out). It is entirely possible, though, that some other party closer to the periphery of F1 could be persuaded to make a proxy complaint. We will see. The basis of any complaint would presumably be that a ruling approved by the FIA had financially disadvantaged a team in some way. The minnows have good grounds here, because the preferential terms negotiated between the Big Four and Bernie Ecclestone leave each of them with a lot less than half of the amount that Ferrari and Red Bull earn from the central prize fund. Perhaps the most curious outcome of any successful complaint against the FIA would be that the big teams' bonus money would revert to none other than Bernie's employer, CVC Capital. Meanwhile, as head of the governing body, FIA President Jean Todt (right) would be unable to escape criticism for having tolerated the scheme in the first place. A win-win situation, then, for CVC and Bernie, who is no fan for the almost invisible Frenchman. But then again, it is certainly not the outcome which the EU Commission will have had in mind... 16 GPWEEK.com // 16 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: OPINION guess who'd proFit From an eu probe into F1...