June 20, 2009

Upheaval in the old realm

When I started this blog, as stated in my very first post, my intention was to discuss cars’ history through the die-casts I have in my collection. Today I’d like to make an exception.

To those of you who know me I cannot pretend fancying modern cars – my preference will always go to vintage automobiles and the history of the automotive industry. Twenty years back I wouldn’t have believed if it would have been forecasted to me that one day I would lose my interest in motorsports. But the truth is, the last Grand Prix I watched was several years ago. “Watched” is actually improper, as I was working on my computer while turning my back to the TV – I didn’t see anything of the race. Anyway, I don’t feel that I missed much during the last ten years or so. I’d rather saved time and electricity by skipping the previously-inescapable two hours of broadcast every two weeks.

I wouldn’t have bet either when I woke up this morning that I would suddenly regain my interest for Formula One within the day. Alas, not as a sport. It’s rather the power struggle that is presently going on I’m focussing onto. It’s only during this afternoon, by complete coincidence, that I learned the news.

“Live by the sword, die by the sword”, as the saying goes. In the present case, “Live by the FOCA, die by the FOTA” would certainly be accurate as the dictatorial reigns of Mr. Ecclestone and Mosley have extended from one revolution to the next. And it’s about time they go. I’m certainly not the only one, at least among those old enough to have known the happier “before” times, to feel that we have just seen enough of the slimy figure of the Formula One guru, and of his hanky-panky accomplice the FIA czar. Their management or, I should say, their mismanagement of motorsports finally brings their demise, for how could it be otherwise now that they face three options: giving in to the insurgents’ demands, an improbable move for tyrants of their kind; giving up their positions in order to save Formula One, a respectable thing to do, but unlikely as sense of honour seems a trait of character neither of them enjoy; or giving hell to their detractors, which appears to be their attitude right now, but will probably cause the sport’s collapse.

Obviously, you’ll answer me that, almost half a century ago, Formula One already went through a severe crisis that induced most teams into departing it, but the resulting breakaway championship, the Formula Intercontinental, was short-lived and all dissident manufacturers were soon tamed back into the mainstream. The FIA was then headed by people intelligent enough to know that time was on their side. Their heirs are stupid shopkeepers who only know how to fill their pockets, so there isn’t much to expect when the situation is much, much more serious.

With business partners Bernie and Max persevering at the helm, Formula One would become an empty shell devoid of any interest. With due respect for the people who work hard for them, how could greenbacks-era teams such as Force India or announced Team US generate the same interest for the sport as the glamorous and history-laden names of Ferrari or McLaren? With the crème de la crème gone (or should we say “whipped cream” in order to satisfy Mr. Mosley’s proclivities? - sorry, couldn’t resist the pun), sponsors, media and circuit owners will inevitably follow. Bernie is already blackmailing everyone opposing his will by reminding them of the TV rights question. So you mindlessly signed contracts with TV channels promising them the greatest show on earth for the next 99 years, making you one of the richest men in England… I understand your heart starts pounding now that you understand you built your fortune on wind and false promises.

The funny and, consequently, enjoyable thing about all this is to realize today how Bernie and Max worked so hard for twenty years in order to bring their own ultimate failure. They did so by sacrificing all other forms of motorsports on the altar of their beloved Formula One, reducing feeder series to one-chassis, one-engine championships that nobody really cares about, and making Formula One an exclusive club to which membership very few can pretend. As a result, while the aforementioned secession of 1961 never threatened the FIA itself, it is totally different today, for the international body of motorsports is now equated with the sole Formula One. Should the latter crumble, the future of the FIA itself, which authority had been undisputed since its creation shortly after the birth of automobile, would appear rather bleak. To make things even more pathetic, a desperate attempt to fill F1 grids in 2010 would hardly be successful, as today most feeder series only produce pilots, while before the Ecclestone & Mosley era they also used to prepare teams for their big entry into the elite. Congratulations to you guys!

Nevertheless, while today is filled with turmoil and uncertainty, I’m not pessimistic about tomorrow. Better things shall and will be rebuilt after the earth stops trembling. Apparently I, again, am not the only one to think so, as evidenced by these thoughts found somewhere on the net, which perfectly conclude my own post:

“I don’t think most people on here (including myself at the moment) really appreciate how big a move this could eventually be. (…) This issue has been a long-way coming. Jacques Villeneuve said twelve years ago that the regulations were making F1 seem like the F3000 series. Rules like no slick tires, launch control, narrowing of the cars, no more V12s (…), bracketed qualifying, etc. all spelled doom for F1, and finally someone is saying ENOUGH. I can’t wait to watch the new series, and see the new set of rules.” - Tom Carpenter, June 19, 2009, on ESPN’s site (I lightly edited this gentleman’s post for spelling and grammar).

The rebellious teams, which already see the secession as inevitable, indeed brought high hopes to many enthusiasts by announcing that (their) series will have transparent governance, one set of regulations, encourage more entrants and listen to the wishes of the fans, including offering lower prices for spectators worldwide, partners and other important stakeholders.” Well, this beautiful vision can very well turn into a bitter farce for the die-hard aficionados, but let’s hope that the FOCA’s grand plan materialize at least in part. Who knows, next year I could even turn my TV on during Sunday afternoons.

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