Following last week's prediction that the Formula 1 Commission meeting due to be held on Wednesday at the Heathrow Hilton Hotel during which the fate of the 2013 engine regulations would be subjected to, let us say, rather lively discussion, sources confirmed in Valencia that that had indeed been the case, with legalese thrown about the room by lawyers representing the FIA on the one side and the Commercial Rights' Holder on the other.
As is now common knowledge the meeting agreed to go the turbocharged (but eco) V6 route from 2014 onwards.
In fact, FOTA chairman Martin Whitmarsh on Friday hailed the agreement, which in terms of the procedure laid down by the Concorde Agreement it is most certainly; rather it should be viewed as a 'heads of agreement' deal. Since then, the FIA's World Motor Sport Council ratified the decision via one of its notorious fax votes.
However, for it to have progressed to this stage certain procedures needed to be followed, which patently has not been the case. In terms of the Concorde Agreement, which outlines the obligations of the teams' collective, the governing body and the CRH, all technical rules changes - unless obviously safety-related - need to pass first through the Technical Working Group (with a 70 per cent majority), then the Formula 1 Commission (by at least 18 of 26 votes), with the FIA's World Motor Sport Council thereafter ratifying the regulations - see here - for the procedure that had previously been followed, and the relevant Concorde provisions.
Aware that this entire debacle has been extremely damaging to the image of the sport, particularly following hot on the heels of the farcical Bahrain situation and inexplicable U-turns on the 'confirmed' 2012 calendar which is bound to change as it contains more races than permitted by the Agreement, all players sought an elegant solution, as one technical director described the toing-and-froing in the Valencia paddock.
It was decided to make the procedure follow the engine regulations (rather than vice-versa) in the hopes that the World Motor Sport Council's fax vote could confirm the regulations before 30 June. Thus a dual-stream approval process was devised: the teams, via voting members of the Technical Working Group and F1 Commission giving their unanimous agreement to the V6 engine on the one side, and the WMSC's fax vote ratifying it on the other.
Thus a meeting of all 12 teams' technical officers was called in Valencia on Sunday morning during which a letter - believed to have been drafted by the Formula One Teams' Association - was circulated.
Said document, which primarily requested that the FIA advise the teams' technical officers of an acceptable (retroactive) procedure by which they could approve the V6 as agreed by the Commission, then requested that, either way, their agreement (at that level) for the engine be considered when/if any fax vote took place.
Thus they were effectively endorsing a decision that had been 'unprocedurally' been taken by parties above them in the food chain.
Erroneously referred to by some outlets as a meeting of the 'Technical Working Group' - which it is most certainly was not, for the non-voting chairman of the working group (the FIA's Charlie Whiting) was not present, and no provision exists for such meetings to be called at short notice - the outcome meeting was first reported here.
Political unrest lead to the cancellation of the Bahrain Grand Prix © LAT
However, it is no surprise that the word 'unanimous' was absent in the FIA press release trumpeting the outcome of the fax vote, for news reached this column shortly before the announcement that certain WMSC members were intent on hurling wrenches into the works - on the basis that the existing engines are noisy beasts which have already paid their way. Thus they intended voting against the adoption of the 'agreed' alternative. So, for once in a blue moon we have a WMSC decision that was not unanimous...
However, all this overlooks the fact that the applicable 2013 chassis regulations - mainly framed, incidentally, by Williams technical boffin Patrick Head and Ferrari's former ace designer Rory Byrne - which were approved after following to a 'T' the correct procedure, are now scheduled for implementation in 2013. Unfortunately their aerodynamic gizmos, packaging and fuel systems are incompatible with the V8 2400cc engines, which will now be carried over for the 2013 season in terms of the 'agreement'. Worse, they are also incompatible with the architecture of the V6 engines, for the regulations were framed with inline four-pot units in mind!
"So now," said another technical director, "having gone through all the engine drama we need to find a way of 'unapproving' the 2013 regulations, then of redrafting them to fit the V6 format because various things, like underbody structures, sidepods and (aerodynamic) tunnels, won't work with the new engine architecture..."
That should be no problem, for the V6 concept has now been carried by all and sundry, so it is simply a matter of time rather than philosophy to approve the engine, but invariably such confusion sews polemics, and one wonders what further obstacles lie ahead. If ever a saying was tailor-made for F1 it is 'many a slip twixt cup and lip'...
Once again F1 is dire danger of bogging down in procedures and u-turns instead of investing its time in going racing, seeking sponsors or devising ways and means of improving the spectacle without resorting to DRS gimmickry.
For that matter, rather than arguing about fours, vee sixes or vee eights, the sport would do well to investigate its relationship with circuit owners and race promoters, for at last week's Commission meeting the eight race promoters present raised the question of better co-operation between the circuits, and teams and their drivers.
While it can be argued that matters in this regard have improved exponentially in recent times - the autograph signing sessions and driver appearances during race weekends being just two examples - the fact remains that facilities at many circuits leave a lot to be desired, while the promoters' obsessions with 'Tilkedromes' are doing the sport no favours whatsoever, particularly as more and more new venues come on stream.
The V8 engine has been used in Formula 1 since 2006 © sutton-images.com
It needs a real meeting of minds between all players - circuits/promoters, FIA, FOM and teams and drivers - if F1 is to overcome the obstacles that lie ahead, and make no mistake, there are many.
However, on the bright side the 12-month delay in introducing the engines (and now chassis) means F1 can once again look at a holistic approach to the overall technology question, for the sport has effectively bought itself another year - a year which is desperately needed, particularly as the Pirelli tyre contact, which ends after 2013, had been out of kilter.
Going into last week's F1 Commission meeting the sport had four interrelated but critical timelines, all of them expiring at different times or having different consequences. The way things right now the chassis regulations are due for introduction on 1 January 2013, and these specify a switch to lower profile tyres - despite Pirelli's contract expiring at the end of that year, with the company having no guarantee it would be extended or renewed. Thus in terms of the (approved) chassis regulations the tyre company was required to develop totally new tyres, possibly for just one year...
Then, despite being approved this week, the new V6 engines may not be introduced before 2014 as the FIA's own regulations require two full years notice for major technical changes. Thus they are now totally out of kilter with the chassis regulations, but not Pirelli's (unrelated) tyre contract.
All the while the Concorde Agreement expires at end-2012, meaning any operation wishing to enter Formula 1 immediately thereafter - the logical time to enter the sport, as a new revenue deal is expected to kick in if the teams don't break away, with revised governance sure to follow either way - faces one year of building cars to the current regulations before needing to develop entirely new machinery. Daft or what?
In the mean time FIA president Jean Todt's term of office expires in October 2013 - putting it, too, totally out of kilter with the timelines outlined above. Yes, it can be argued that his office is also responsible for a raft of non-sporting activities, but given that motorsport, particularly F1, is the FIA's most visible activity while demanding more of the president's time than any other, it surely makes sense to co-ordinate the presidential elections and the timing of the Concorde. As things stand now Todt inherited an agreement (and is required to fulfil its provisions from an FIA perspective) into which he had no input.
So, four dates, each in its own crucial to the stability and running of the sport. Surely F1 should be focusing on co-ordinating its timelines rather than solving the engine conundrum through adding four cylinders to eight, and 'agreeing' on the average via a fax machine...?
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