The days of divide and rule in Formula One are over. From now on, we teams dictate our own destiny, preferably in conjunction with the FIA and a promoter, but only on terms of mutual respect and cooperation.
We will no longer be dictated to and F1 is never going to become a spec formula. We will dramatically reduce costs while at the same time be all about technological competition.
These were the key messages coming from Luca di Montezemolo's address just before Christmas. Although held at Ferrari's Maranello factory, it was very much from his perspective as chairman of the teams' association FOTA rather than team boss.
His vision is compelling and accords absolutely with that of F1's traditional fan base. It's diametrically opposed to the way F1 has been in recent memory, it goes completely against the way Max Mosley and Bernie Ecclestone have traditionally ruled the sport, though at the same time is endeavouring to have them join the vision. How they may react only time will tell.
Di Montezemolo - representing every team - sees a future F1 with a leaner look, with the costs of 15-18 years ago but still very much F1 in terms of competition between constructors to design and build the fastest cars. He sees race fans as the main priority, ahead even of TV audiences. Radically reduced ticket prices, traditional established tracks, greater access for the fans at the track, drastically less spent on things such as motorhomes that add nothing to the show. What is there not to like about that?
Back to North America
Delivering it is quite another matter. But the fact that we now have a concerted effort to get there is hugely encouraging. Di Montezemolo is the perfect choice to lead the teams - a heavy hitter with great intelligence and charisma, and a big-picture perspective. His approach of openness, cooperation and working towards common goals is a million miles away from F1's traditional modus operandi. What he and FOTA have already achieved in a matter of months is very encouraging, but the real battle, one suspects, is yet to come.
In the long term, as well as di Montezemolo's stated goals, F1 needs to be in North America, with at least two races. It needs not to have its centre of gravity migrate to the Middle East, chasing government-backed contracts at the expense of traditional fans, and needs to insure itself against destabilising team pull-outs.
What better way of doing that than to create a model where the income is greater than the costs, something that in theory is perfectly feasible? That way, there would be nothing politically difficult about remaining in F1 as a car manufacturer in tough economic times. 'Why pull out when it is contributing to our profits' would be a bulletproof defence.
Downturn does F1 a favour
There is of course plenty standing in the way of all this happening. Not least the current ownership structure. Negotiations between FOTA and CVC (represented respectively by di Montezemolo and Ecclestone) are due to begin soon. It is hard to imagine a starker contrast in vision. But the message from Maranello was 'this is the way we are going, you're welcome to come with us if you want'.
Ferrari are contracted to the current owners until 2012 and so effectively are the rest of the grid. Between now and then there will be relentless behind-the-scenes pressure on CVC from FOTA to renegotiate. Whether it has any financial room to do so is a moot point.
The economic downturn has been a tragedy for so many, but it has probably been a huge long-term favour to a sport that was sick with money. That sickness is not yet cured, but with the cold turkey treatment now underway the sport's prognosis is better than it was before the downturn. The possible future that is emerging, if this vision can be made reality, could be wonderful.
Placing di Montezemolo as chairman of FOTA was a quite brilliant move (one that was suggested by Ron Dennis). He was made by F1, made his first visit to a grand prix as a Ferrari team manager in 1973, and he's been around, on and off, since then. But he has never looked more like a man of the times than right now.
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