Yesterday was frantic. I got up at 4-30am in London and got the 6-50am BA flight to Geneva with a load of excited people who were going skiiing. Geneva was cold and wet, the motor show is on, but there isn’t much enthusiasm from (or for) the car industry at the moment.
The FOTA press conference was held in a kind of transport museum, not far from the airport. There weren’t as many media there as I’d expected. The usual faces from Italy, Germany, UK, but not the hundreds I thought might come. It’s a sign that the credit crunch is affecting the budgets of many media organisations and I’m sure that the press office at the GPs will have a few more empty seats.
It’s also because FOTA is a slightly odd story in a way I guess. I’m not sure many people have fully appreciated the significance of FOTA and of this day, the first time the teams have all got together with Ferrari at the heart of it and put on a show to say how they want F1 to be run both in terms of governance and commercially and how serious they are about it. They feel they can shape the rule and have more of a stake in the revenues.
For such a big moment, it was a very calm atmosphere. Ferrari and FOTA president Luca di Montezemolo was very much the star of the show, he was centre stage and everyone else played second fiddle, including Ron Dennis. Montezemolo was aware of this and towards the end he asked Ron to say a few words, introducing him by saying that many people would be astonished to see him and Ron together on the same platform, but it was a sign of how FOTA was about togetherness and so on. Although he’s a few years older than Ron he cheekily introduced him as ‘the oldest man on the stage’ but Ron quickly came back with, “But I date younger women..:!” Which he most certainly does.
Some of the behind the scenes chat was about who will follow Montezemolo when his one year term is up. the logical next man in line is Dennis, but there is a feeling that he might prove more devisive and lack the ‘we’re all equals here’ charm of Montezemolo.
Ron had looked quite awkward on the back row. The front row was made up of the chairman (Montezemolo) the deputy chairman (Toyota’s John Howett) and the people who were speaking, Mario Theissen from BMW, Renault’s Flavio Briatore and McLaren’s Martin Whitmarsh. The other team bosses were on the back row.
After hearing all this talk of the dramatic cost savings they had made I was sorely tempted to ask for a show of hands of who had flown in on a commercial airline, but I thought that would be churlish. There is no doubt that a huge amount of work has been done behind the scenes in a very short space of time and the measures announced today are pretty impressive. But I can’t see many of these guys dropping the private jet.
Montezemolo spoke about how they wanted to preserve the DNA of F1, it’s technical challenge, but how they wanted to balance the costs and the revenues and improve the show. He admitted that the credit crunch had forced them all together, but said that this was a positive thing. It certainly is from the point of view of the former Honda team, which would have died without FOTA and some of the others who might well have pulled out. They were all serious about FOTA from July onwards, but when Honda pulled the plug it galvanised them into action.