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GP Week : Issue 186
19 GPWEEK.com // 19 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: The paddock might be organised along military lines, with order and precision the name of the game, but the aesthetic is very different to the reality. When it comes to cooperation for mutual gain, Formula One seems to prefer mutually assured destruction. Ceding an inch could give a rival the competitive advantage, and then where would we be? The biggest problem Formula One is facing right now isn’t the tyres, although they are a useful focal point for a much wider issue. No, the problem with Formula One is the people who work in it. We all know that drivers are competitive animals, born with an urge to win that is then finely tuned over the years spent working one’s way up through the ranks. But that same competitive instinct is what drives the majority of the paddock’s personnel. The challenge of gaining access to the rarefied confines of the F1 paddock means that Formula One is somewhat self-selecting. The sport is heaving with Type-A personalities, with alphas both male and female. And therein lies the problem. Getting into Formula One isn’t easy, whether you want to be a driver, a mechanic, a journalist, a PR... You have to take advantage of every opportunity, sometimes forging new paths when the road ahead seems blocked. You have to want to be better than everyone else, to work harder than everyone else. You have to be a fighter, capable of single-mindedly chasing down a goal and unwilling to compromise. And it is that fighting instinct, that inability to give way – even for the greater good – that leaves F1 in the sort of mess we’re facing at the moment, where self-interest has overruled common sense. Great negotiators are not hard- line bastards. Great negotiators understand the power of compromise, of ceding less important territory to make significant gains elsewhere. But that is an attitude that requires big picture thinking, long-term planning. Success in Formula One is about the details, about excelling in the minutiae. The current tyre safety issues in Formula One have forced the teams to co-operate for a change. But the spirit of co-operation was not entered into willingly – it was imposed on them by external forces. In addition to the edict delivered by FIA president Jean Todt, who insisted that Pirelli alter their tyre construction with a view to preventing a repeat of the Silverstone explosion fiasco, there is the public pressure to take into account. Friends of mine with less than no interest in Formula One were talking about Pirelli last week, asking me about safety standards in modern F1 while swearing they would never fit Pirellis to any road car they might own. For those who don’t know about the FIA’s on-going work to improve safety standards throughout the world of motorsport, the post- Silverstone photos of rubber bursting at high speeds, the British Grand Prix was confirmation that Formula One is a sport for the morbid, for those with a death wish. It is that public perception that is forcing Formula One to act. This is not the 1970s, an era where death was a permanent spectre in the paddock. Formula One is no longer comprised solely of people who race because they love it, who will accept the risks in the face of their passion. While the passionate continue to make up the bulk of the F1 circus, they are backed by blue chip sponsors and boards of directors who cannot risk having their brand associated with serious injury or death. Look at Mercedes’ reaction to the 1955 24 Heures du Mans disaster – instant withdrawal from the sport, and that in an age when PR and brand management were in their infancy. If an exploding tyre were to cause serious injury or death to a driver, spectator, or trackside worker, Formula One would be in dire straights indeed. Sponsors would pull out en masse, unwilling to be tarnished with our black mark. Mercedes – as the only major manufacturer left in the sport – would almost certainly stop running a race team, and could choose to end its run as an engine supplier. We all know that seven of the grid’s 11 teams are struggling to find an operating budget this year. F1 is not in great financial health. But if the sponsors pulled out as one, seven out of 11 would become 11 out of 11 very quickly. No sponsors means no money, and no money means no sport. So where does F1 go from here? The FIA has the safety side of things under control, and is using its authority to enforce changes that will increase safety standards while improving driver confidence. Pirelli are doing their best to accommodate the FIA’s needs, and are responding as quickly as development and construction allows. And the teams? They will continue to fight among themselves, to seek out every advantage they can while doing their level best to prevent their opponents from doing the same. Such is the way of the alphas. Maybe, for the greater good of the sport, F1 teams should reassess their employment practices. Keep on hiring the competitive animals with a killer instinct, but add the odd relaxed personality into the mix, a big picture thinker who is willing to compromise for long-term gain. Except this is Formula One. If ten teams hired compromisers, one would keep the pit bull, just to have the advantage. Plus ça change... BETA BLOCKERS (Subtitle: Formula 1 is in a mess ...) OPINION OPINION KATE WALKER Editor