By Karl Ludvigsen, England
Autosport-Atlas Senior Writer
Minardi's Paul Stoddart says FIA president Max Mosley is a problem for Formula One. Karl Ludvigsen not only disagrees, but also believes that the FIA chief is to thank for the promising start to the 2005 season
We had a humdinger of a race on Sunday. It was just great to come back to Imola, where the demons of 1994 have at least been exorcised. Although an artificial track, it's one of the closest we have to a real road circuit, with plenty of grades, hazards and curbs. There aren't any artificial passing zones, so the action we saw on the track was all the more impressive. It showed off the skills of today's racers in a most attractive way.
And the racing! Unusually these days, a Grand Prix made the frontpages of the sports sections. It deserved to, because we had close and exciting competition up and down the field. The results and points had something for everybody - everybody, that is, except Williams-BMW fans. What on earth is ailing the team from Grove? And it was good to see Jacques Villeneuve enjoying his racing for a change. If he sticks around - as I hope he will - it looks like he'll have BMW power next year.
So whom do we have to thank for this exciting start to the 2005 season? Who's responsible for having shaken up the starters to give Formula One a fresh new face that hugely enhances its attractiveness? Why, none other than Max Mosley and his FIA. Max and his technical team came up with the swathe of changes to aerodynamics, tyre regulations and engine-use requirements that forced all the teams to return to their drawing boards - if they still have any - to re-scheme their cars and strategies for the new season.
The non-red teams admitted that only the rules shakeup allowed them to get to grips with Ferrari. Renault have roared right out in front, and Toyota are very much in the running. BAR are recovering from their early-race disasters to resume their place at the front of the field - scandals notwithstanding, while McLaren-Mercedes look like getting back their sparkling form of a few years ago.
Ferrari and Bridgestone are fighting back, thanks to their in-house tracks and drivers, much to the irritation of teams that have agreed testing restraints. Nevertheless, the other guys have more steps coming, as the new rules are better understood and exploited. This could shape up as one of the most competitive seasons ever.
And yet, as Autosport-Atlas readers know, the man who engineered this scintillating season is the bogeyman of Formula One, at least according to self-styled team spokesman Paul Stoddart. "The teams and manufacturers don't have a problem with the FIA," Stoddart said at Imola. "All they have wanted is independent governance, a referee. We want stable technical regulations but we are not getting them, so we think the FIA should administer the regulations but not make them. It is very simple."
It may be simple to Paul, but it's not so simple in the real world of Formula One. If the teams are going to make the rules they have to agree unanimously, and that's almost impossible to achieve. In one memorable meeting they couldn't even agree on what kind of sandwiches to have for lunch. Besides, the regulations shouldn't be up to the existing teams alone.
On April 15th the FIA said that it would be soliciting views on new rules from "stakeholders - which include Formula One Management, race organizers, race promoters, current drivers, potentially competing teams and potential engine and tire suppliers." Rightly, the FIA - read Mosley - feels that people who might wish to join the Grand Prix circus should have an input to the rules. Of course this isn't at all attractive to those who are already in the club.
Mind you, the key stakeholders, says the FIA, will be those "who confirm their commitment to the 2008 FIA Formula One World Championship." At the moment that's one team, Ferrari, with Red Bull and Jordan keeping their options open. Those were the three teams that are understood to have attended a meeting of the FIA earlier this month to discuss future rules.
This was ridiculed by Paul Stoddart, who said that "The line has really been drawn in the sand now. When you have five manufacturers and the two oldest established independent teams not going, that sends out a clear enough message." To me it sends the message that those teams are behaving childishly. Their absence from the talks simply means that they'll have less of a chance to contribute to new rules.
The Stoddart brigade seems to be relying much too much on the declared intention of some of the carmakers to set up a so-called "breakaway series" from 2008. Let's set aside the issue of whether the Grand Prix world has anything to learn from the gruesome consequences of the CART-IndyCars split. Like Max Mosley, I have little faith in the long-term commitment of the carmakers to Formula One racing.
When they started their project, both Fiat and Ford were major members of the group. Ford's Richard Parry-Jones was a key negotiator on their behalf. Now they're gone, as is Juergen Hubbert, who on the Mercedes side was an important personality. The official group is down to Renault, BMW and Mercedes, with Honda and Toyota lending unofficial support. I don't find that terribly convincing. The Germans in particular could pull out of the sport at any time.
Speaking on behalf of the teams, Paul Stoddart is keen to blame all the sport's political problems on one man. "If Max resigned tomorrow you would have harmony in Formula One instantly, amongst everyone, and we all know that," he said at Imola. "The problem is not the FIA, it is not Bernie, the problem is Max."
He and the rest should realize that Max is not the problem, he's the solution. The sooner they wake up to that, the better for the sport.