Honda and BMW. Two car companies tailor-made for F1; strong sporting images, aggressively technological, pushing the boundaries. Except their F1 teams weren't. It's probably not a coincidence that the withdrawals came on the back of horribly uncompetitive seasons. Without the dead economy they maybe would have stayed around and weathered the embarrassment, knowing their teams would pull out of the dip eventually. But that was a luxury no longer available, with the millions draining out of the accounts, the unsold cars and the boards clamouring for action.
The BMW decision was sudden, just like the Honda one, and there was something blackly comedic about reading the BMW recruitment ads in the back of that day's AUTOSPORT, a day after the announcement of the withdrawal. Yet it was only a few weeks ago in the midst of speculation about a breakaway championship that there was talk of a pact between the manufacturer teams, that if they broke away they would each commit for five years on pain of a $50 million fine to each of the others. If Ferrari, Toyota, Renault, BMW and Mercedes were each prepared to commit, on pain of a payment of $200 million if they reneged, then they were surely serious about staying around.
One would have thought such a pact would have needed the agreement of the main boards, including BMW's. But hey, maybe there was no such commitment, maybe it was all just a leak put out there in the propaganda war.
Before the bankers wreaked their havoc, the big concern of the world - and therefore of the car makers who were potential guilty parties - was the environment. BMW and Honda were probably the two manufacturers most enthusiastic about the suggestion of introducing KERS to F1, and had the unlimited budgets still been there it would have made some sense.
But pushing it through even after the scale of the downturn was apparent was surely madness. The huge research and development it entailed guaranteed a financial black hole. But it was legislated in anyway and the idea of the teams having a voluntary moratorium on it was busted - by BMW, ironically. The most expensive new tech ever was introduced to the sport at the time of its biggest financial crisis. Repeat that a few times, let it sink in and contemplate the madness.
As the financial crisis was first looming in the second half of 2007 another manufacturer team was fined $100 million and humiliated. At the approach of a financial crisis that was always going to put the car industry in the frontline, an industry that F1 relied upon, one of those manufacturers was hit with the biggest sporting fine of all time and tainted with negative PR. Regardless of whether or not you believe a crime had been committed - or proven - what the hell was the colossal financial scale of the penalty at the most damaging time possible all about?
Now, with F1 apparently on the brink of a peace deal, and needing the support of the teams in such financially perilous times, a manufacturer team is suspended from its lead driver's home race for a questionable offence. As with the McLaren case, the 'offence' was an example of something that had been accepted for years as standard practice. Okay, maybe it was no longer deemed appropriate and the practice needed to be changed. So why not an almighty bollocking behind closed doors, points deducted and an edict to the others as to how things will be in future? Why tar a manufacturer with such horrific PR when that manufacturer is probably at this moment weighing up the pros and cons of remaining in the sport?
The FIA's justification for choosing to go to war over costs is that the manufacturers cannot be relied upon to stay in the sport when the going gets tough - and there's definitely something in that argument. But who's been making the going so tough? Looking at some of the recent decisions gets you to wondering which came first, the chicken or the egg?
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