I was recently sent a copy of a magazine run by an old friend and former commentator Pierre Van Vliet called F1i. Pierre used to be my opposite number on France’s TF1 coverage and in the magazine there was a feature interview with McLaren’s Ron Dennis which caught my eye.
Asked about the relationship between the two world champions, Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button he said, “Managing the co-habitation of two world champions is often a challenge. I have tried it a few times. Martin is perhaps showing himself to be better than me at that role.”
He certainly is. Aside from a tense moment at the end of the Turkish Grand Prix, where Hamilton wanted to know why Button had passed him when he had been told, effectively, that he wouldn’t, the relationship between the two champions has been very well managed by Whitmarsh. The character or Button helps in this, as he is pretty adaptable to all kinds of situations and team mates, but Whitmarsh is by nature a consensus-seeker, where Dennis is a manager who likes to control and can often be devisive. There are some legendary stories of exchanges with Kimi Raikkonen about being “a boy in a man’s body.”
Whitmarsh’s talents for consensus seeking are also proving useful in the wider picture of F1 in his role as chairman of the team’s organisation, FOTA.
Whitmarsh is considered increasingly likely to remain as FOTA chairman for another year and you can see why this is the common sense approach of the teams to take. It will be an important year for the organisation as it engages in negotiations over the new Concorde Agreement, which is due to come into force at the end of 2012. The current arrangement is what was hastily agreed in the aftermath of the FOTA breakaway threat in the summer of 2009.
Ferrari president and founding FOTA chairman Luca di Montezemolo raised the spectre of breakaway again last week by suggesting that the teams had some strong options when it comes to the negotiations and to the future. This was a piece of positioning more than anything else at this stage, but it shows that the heavy duty stuff is around the corner.
It’s in everyone’s interests to find a long term agreement between FOTA, the FIA and FOM, but Montezemolo raised the question of private equity firm CVC’s role in the sport long term,
“Theoretically speaking, we can have one of three alternatives,” he said. “One is that we renew with CVC. For how many years, we have to discuss. But I am in favour of many years because I don’t want to be back every three or four years. So assume five-to-eight years. Second, we want to ensure that Bernie will remain in a strong position. How long? I hope for a long time. It is not a new choice; it is to continue as it is.
“The next option, theoretically, is that we can find a different company [promoter] and start discussions. Third, theoretically, we can establish our own company. At this point of time we would theoretically offer to Bernie to be chairman. More than honorary chairman – a chairman.
“And put a very strong marketing-oriented mind, nothing to do with the teams, to manage it, as they did in the NBA. Only in the first case would we insist on Bernie, because I don’t want to discuss with people that I respect but who don’t know anything about Formula 1.”
The other strong candidate for FOTA chairmanship Ross Brawn, meanwhile, has said that the role “is not something that I aspire to.” He has spent two years as head of the technical working group at FOTA.