It’s been a quiet day today, BMW are still hammering around in Valencia, but the teams who were all in Portugal are back at base shaking their heads over what a waste of time it was. There was basically only a brief window of a few hours without rain on one day to get any meaningful running done and Toyota had a technical problem at that time anyway, so missed it.
Anyway, the most interesting story I’ve seen today is one on Autosport.com about the drivers getting shirty over a further rise in the cost of their superlicences. Last season the FIA raised the cost of the licences dramatically, some 500%, because it said the cost of the work it has done on safety is mostly for the drivers’ benefit so they should cover some of the costs. A licence went up to 10,000 euros plus 2000 euros per point scored.
This year the rate of increase is much less, only 4% on the basic licence and 5% per point scored, possibly reflecting the credit crunch, but it’s still got the drivers upset and they are refusing to sign their new licence forms. The champion will have to pay just under €220,000, which is actually £220,000 now that the pound has collapsed. I’m sure Hamilton is paid in euros anyway, so it’s probably not the end of the world, but if he was paid in pounds, that makes it another 25-30% more expensive than it was last year.
As a protest chant, “What do we want? Cheaper superlicences..when do we want then NOW!” Is hardly the most dynamic of political statements. And as far as public sympathy is concerned, multi-millionaire drivers seeking support over the cost of their licences at a time when most people fear for their livelihoods will be a hard sell. But the drivers are serious and it seems that the matter will be brought up at the next meeting of the F1 teams’ body, FOTA in the first week of February.
Now FOTA has done some impressive things in its short existence and it’s making good progress in other areas. It has made huge cost savings, found a level on which to talk to Max Mosley and Bernie Ecclestone and both are taking it very seriously. A spat like this one over drivers’ licences is not something they would ideally like to get embroiled in at this time, it’s a distraction they could do without, but if the teams don’t show support for their drivers, who will?
Mosley says he is prepared to talk to aggrieved drivers, apparently, as long as they reveal their income first!
This is one way of gently highlighting the fact that at present we do not have budget caps in F1, which Mosley and some teams would like, and even when they have been discussed, drivers salaries and marketing budgets have been left out. There has been talk of a wage cap in recent months as the industry faces up to the recession. I was in America a lot in the early 1990s when baseball and and basketball tried to impose a wage cap on players and the players went on strike, as I recall for most of a season, which caused a lot of damage.
No-one is suggesting that a wage cap or a drivers strike are around the corner in F1, but if you wanted to highlight the fact that the salaries of the top drivers are out of alignment with the cost-savings going on elsewhere in the sport and with team employees starting to be laid off, where would you start in raising the issue?