For the first time in living memory, a raft of changes to Formula 1 have been made with unanimous agreement - between the teams with each other, and between the teams and the governing body. The cost-cutting measures announced by the FIA World Council last week, a couple of days after the teams' FOTA organisation had met with Max Mosley, should serve the sport well in the immediate future.
But the unanimity is more remarkable than the list of changes. Partly it's probably down to the measure of panic induced by the world economy, a feeling intensified by the Honda pull-out, but more than that it's about team solidarity. The way in which the teams have laid down their weapons and come out into neutral territory to discuss their mutual futures is unprecedented.
Common sense over paranoia
How has it happened, and how could it be that the leaders of the top two teams should be so instrumental in this armistice when, just one year ago, they were daggers drawn in the aftermath of the spy scandal? Common sense has finally prevailed over competitive paranoia, for now at least.
That paranoia has always ruled. It's the natural state of any truly competitive being, always looking where the next ambush is coming from. This, of course, has made it extremely easy over the years for Mosley and Bernie Ecclestone to steer their chosen course by divide and rule. Because the teams never agreed about anything, because their viewpoint was always coloured by competitive advantage and paranoia, the powers could do whatever they chose.
Sometimes it was more difficult than other times, but generally the participants had very little influence in their own destinies. The same little power play has been acted out many, many times over the past couple of decades, with just a few name changes among the players.
So either Max or Bernie would identify a problem, real or otherwise, leave the teams to argue over the solution, then, apparently exasperated at the squabbling of the tiresome little children, impose their own. Each altercation tended to leave the position of the teams slightly weakened, those of Max and Bernie slightly stronger, measured respectively by power and money.
The challenge this time was very real. The depression of the world's economy has made budgets and team structures that were established in the boom decade - when many teams expanded from a couple of hundred people to knocking on a thousand, fuelled by boom-time car manufacturer money - wholly unsustainable and inappropriate. But the difference this time is that the solution has come largely from the teams themselves. This time, Max's preferred solution has been given short shrift.
The FIA president makes little secret of the fact that his ultimate vision of F1 is as a spec formula, with identical cars and engines liveried up differently, all controlled by a central body. He accepts it may never come to be, but that has long been his 'blue-sky' ideal. For anyone who sees F1 as a competition between constructors, of engineering and design ingenuity as well as driver skill, it's a chillingly bleak vision.
But the economic crisis gave that vision its perfect moment. What better way of slashing costs than a spec formula? The spec engine would have just been the beginning of it. Next line of attack would be to cut costly aerodynamic research by way of a spec chassis. And if those pesky manufacturers didn't like it, they could go and do something else more costly - and good luck with trying to get money from their boards for that in this time of financial peril!
Rescue from spec formula
Except, remarkably, that's not what has happened. For the first time, the teams' potential power has not been squandered. Through the body of FOTA they have remained united, agreed a solution that does not make F1 a spec formula, but which should at the same time still lead to drastically reduced costs. Being the supremely intelligent man he is, Max has understood the implications of team unity, and has accepted their version of low-cost F1 rather than tried to push through his.
That's not to say he deserves no credit for this latest development. He absolutely does. Not only has his vision provided a constant threat to concentrate the collective minds of the teams to come up with a better solution, but his previous much-repeated method of pushing changes through is what has led to the formation of FOTA. Be in no doubt, FOTA has just rescued F1 from becoming a spec formula - for now.
Three factors coincide
So why has it taken over two decades for this to happen? I'd venture three factors:
1) It's only in the past two or three years that Mosley's bleak standardisation vision has been widely known. That marked the first time that the president's idea of what the sport should be has veered so dramatically away from that of the fans and participants alike;
2) The antipathy that Max has generated through his methods of dealing with the teams over the years has meant that, little by little, the anger and frustration has grown into a critical mass of disenchantment. He, rather than the other teams, became the enemy, thereby uniting them;
3) The retirement of Ferrari's Jean Todt has meant that in his place has come Luca di Montezemolo, a much more charismatic man with a much wider perspective. Todt was a fantastic man for the competitive interests of Ferrari. But he was so totally blinkered in that, like a soldier programmed with a task, he had no interest in the bigger picture, no skills in negotiating a united future and probably the deepest case of competitive paranoia in the entire paddock.
As such, anything he was in favour of tended to be automatically opposed by everyone else and vice versa. Di Montezemolo has been able to assume a much more statesmanlike position, and this in turn has allowed others to lower their defences. The removal of Todt as representative of the sport's most powerful team has taken away a key instrument with which Max and Bernie used to divide and conquer.
Now that the power of unity has been so dramatically demonstrated, the FIA has ostensibly become part of that unity. Just as much as Max congratulates the teams on their positive responses to the cost challenge, so they could be congratulating him on uniting them.
The interesting point, now that the teams and the governing body together are scheduled to request an increased share of F1's income from its owners, is: where does the owner (CVC) fit into this new picture of unity? Strikes me that the best thing it could do is sell the whole lot and pay off some of its debts that way. But who would buy in this time of economic crisis? Mmm, I wonder... What about the man CVC bought it from?