It would seem that the direction of Formula 1 is once again going to be back in the hands of the FIA and the sport’s chief commercial rights holder, Bernie Ecclestone.
Following Wednesday’s meeting of the FIA World Motor Sport Council in Paris, the panel has given FIA President Jean Todt and Bernie Ecclestone, the Commercial Rights Holder’s representative “a mandate” to make decisions and recommendations regarding pressing issues in Formula 1, including its “governance, power units and cost reduction” amid a climate of political stalemate between the sport’s owners and the teams.
“The World Motor Sport Council approved, by a near unanimous number (just one vote against),” the statement added. Todt and Ecclestone are expected to make their initial strategic recommendations by the end of January 2016.
Quite what this mandate means or entails is very unclear.
It is ludicrous to assume that Ecclestone’s employer and business partner, CVC Capital Holdings, has suddenly had an epiphany and realised that its practices of stripping out Formula 1’s profits and loading it with debt is causing all of the problems facing the sport. It will continue to exist to squeeze as much profit as it can out of the sport, and not give anything back, until it can find a buyer willing to pay the undoubtedly high price it wants to sell out and move on.
The FIA’s behaviour in this is equally curious. As a governing body, it should be legislating how Formula 1 is run, but it sold off its rights to do so after Todt assumed the presidency and that paved the way for the controversial Strategy Group (made up of Ecclestone and the top-six teams, with Ferrari getting an exclusive veto) to shape the rules of the sport as they are known today.
Having the competitors (particularly the rich ones) deciding the rules of engagement is entirely problematic, and finally two teams – Sauber and Force India – bit the bullet and lodged an official complaint to the European Union alleging that the Strategy Group was the equivalent of a cartel. That complaint is still pending.
Quite how the secret deals that were negotiated with the individual Strategy Group teams can be called off – without upsetting the teams – remains to be seen. Breaking the Strategy Group would in effect break the individual agreements these teams have managed to negotiate, and none of them is going to agree to that unless they are given something more attractive in return.
All of this is happening in the midst of the build-up for the next round of negotiations that will frame the agreements between the teams and Formula 1 after 2020.
The manufacturers and the teams are becoming ever more vocal that they are not getting enough of the sport’s commercial revenue, of which CVC Capital is currently gulping the lion’s share. Provided the teams work together, their negotiating position will be strong.
That the FIA has again aligned itself to the commercial rights holder – rather than the manufacturers – is interesting, but given that the FIA’s principal income is derived from the sport’s money-takers, it’s not altogether surprising.
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