In the back corridors of F1 the next month will be an interesting one, and the next week in particular. Bahrain is set to be a meeting point of key players to discuss changes to the new Formula 1.
From a simple raising of the engines’ decibel level, to more radical ideas like shortening the races and abandoning the controversial fuel flow meters, it seems that discussions held so far will channel into a significant meeting of teams, FOM and FIA, a gathering of the F1 Strategy Group to frame a new policy and then possible ratifications of any changes at the next FIA World Motor Sport Council meeting on April 11.
FIA president Jean Todt will make his first appearance of the season in Bahrain, so will Ferrari president Luca Di Montezemolo and McLaren’s Ron Dennis will no doubt be there too with his Bahraini powerbroker shareholders.
One significant pre-meeting takes place today in London, with the Ferrari president flying in to meet with Bernie Ecclestone at FOM’s Princes’ Gate headquarters to discuss changes to the sport, ownership of the sport and other matters of the moment.
Montezemolo has criticised the new hybrid F1 as “Formula Noia” (Formula Boredom) with drivers not pushing to the limit for energy management reasons, incomprehensible rules around fuel flow meters and not enough noise to impress on TV or in the stands.
And he wants to shake the tree at this early opportunity, with the third Grand Prix of 19 taking place this weekend in Bahrain.
Cynics would argue that if Ferrari were in Mercedes’ position they would not want the tree to be shaken, however bad the sound or the spectacle. And they would be right.
Mercedes will see the attackers coming over the horizon, after two Grands Prix which have shown clear domination from the works team – two poles, two wins – and a healthy points count for their three customer engined teams; McLaren, Williams and Force India. They occupy first, second, fourth and fifth places in the Constructors’ Championship (the table on which prize money is calculated) and have amassed 150 points between them already.
This group will be resistant to change, but at the same time will be forced to accept some ground “in the interests of the sport.”
Niki Lauda, chairman of the Mercedes team, admitted over the weekend that something needed to be done about the noise. Although Melbourne’s Ron Walker has been vocal about the lack of noise and spectacle, other promoters are believed to have had a quiet word with Ecclestone that they want F1 cars to sound more impressive.
But the suggestion emanating from Maranello that the races should be shortened so each driver can push harder, will be met with resistance as will anything which harms Mercedes’ competitive advantage at the moment. The German giant has been building up to this shot at the world championship for six years and will not let its advantage go easily.
Also on the “Urgent” section of the agenda at the moment is cost cutting, after the decision taken by the F1 Strategy Group and World Council in December to introduce a cost cap in F1 for 2015. Todt and the FIA are keen to see this and they would be the ones to regulate it.
To achieve this, the teams will have to agree to it and set a budget level by June 30th, the deadline for legislation for the next season. This leaves just three months to square the circle.
At the moment the signs are that several teams are not in favour of a cap. McLaren, now under the leadership of Ron Dennis, has stated that they have given enough “for the common good” during the FOTA years and now want to focus on what is good for McLaren. Red Bull has always opposed a cap and is the most difficult of all teams to bring to the table when it comes to reducing spend in F1.
Also under discussion at the moment is what happens next in F1′s ownership and its management once Bernie Ecclestone’s bribery trial begins in three weeks in Germany.
CVC, the managing shareholder, has made some indications recently that it does not intend to sell its remaining stake as it sees great opportunity ahead to monetize the sport.
There are suggestions that Ecclestone’s plan is to try to reacquire the sport from CVC, possibly with the teams, while there are also suggestions that CVC is considering putting an interim CEO in to Formula One Management, alongside Ecclestone, to steer the ship while he is in court in Munich and for whatever comes afterwards.
Ecclestone, CVC boss Donald Mackenzie and Christian Horner spent many hours in a series of meetings on Saturday in Kuala Lumpur, with Ecclestone on the record as wanting the Red Bull boss to work alongside him.
Much is on the table, then, in this fascinating month ahead.
What changes – if any – do you think are appropriate at this stage? Make your voice heard in the Comments section below