The FIA's bombshell of a new budget-capped tier of F1 from 2010 was so classic Max Mosley in its specific cleverness and the way in which it could be interpreted on two very different levels, benign and malignant. Here's a reading of each.
Benign: it addresses what has to be the major concern of F1 at the moment - cost-cutting. By creating a sub-class of F1 capped to a budget of only 10 per cent of the top spenders in 2008, it demonstrates to the addicted spenders how it doesn't have to be that way and gives F1 a survival strategy - surely only what a responsible governing body should be doing in these times of economic stringency.
Malignant: framing F1 so that competitive budgets return to early 1990s levels - ie around £30 million, the very figure the FIA has chosen as a cap - was already the intent of the team organisation, FOTA. Through consent, FOTA, and not the FIA, has delivered significant cost reductions into 2009 and anticipates being at around 50 per cent of 2008 spend by next year. This is as fast as the big teams can contract given their structures. So all the FIA has done is what FOTA was trying to do anyway, but in a much more controversial way. The FOTA plan was based on common consent and invited the cooperation of the FIA and Bernie Ecclestone, given that they shared a common goal. The FIA has spurned that invitation and imposed its own plan. This
is about control.
Benign: in allowing teams that opt for the cap technical privileges - higher revving engines, unfrozen engine development, more aerodynamically effective underbody, moveable aero - it enforces financial sanity upon the sport. It may not make Max popular, but he has higher concerns than self and wishes only
for the sport to be safeguarded.
Malignant: this has been done to embarrass the manufacturer teams and their inconvenient power. How will they be able to justify to their boards being beaten by a privateer spending a fraction of their budget? Furthermore, how could such teams stand any chance of generating sponsorship when it is publicly known how little the second-tier teams run on? This, surely, is a invitation for the manufacturer teams to exit F1.
Benign: in setting the cap at £30m, the FIA has roughly equated spend to a team's share of revenue from TV rights etc, making these teams in theory self-financing. Thereby making F1 relatively immune to the drying up of sponsorship during the crunch.
Malignant: the figure has been pitched at such a level that should FOTA achieve its 50 per cent of 2008 budgets by next year, it leaves the FOTA teams at the lower end of the spending spectrum already at around £30m - or not much beyond. Surely the chosen figure is to tempt them to join up for technical privileges, thereby stretching FOTA's unity - the thing that terrifies both Max and Bernie and their need for total control - maybe to breaking point.
Benign: drastically reducing the entry level to F1 will encourage much needed new blood, giving a chance for the next generation of Ron Dennises, Frank Williamses, Ross Brawns and Adrian Neweys they would not otherwise have got.
Malignant: this is all about Max and Bernie having nothing beyond 2012, when Ferrari's deal with the commercial rights holder expires. Bringing a new swathe of entrants into F1 means Max and Bernie have a nucleus of teams with which to drastically reduce the power of FOTA, which currently holds all the aces beyond 2012. Max and Bernie didn't necessarily have an F1 beyond that time. Now, potentially, they do. At a stroke, the new league of entrants destroys the 100 per cent unity of FOTA, further reducing its power.
Truth is rarely black or white. Mix and match the above for your own version. Where will it lead? Either to a revolt or, more likely, to the current teams committing to Max and Bernie beyond 2012, albeit on more favourable terms.