There have been some interesting suggestions in your comments as to the line up we may see on the grid next year, some of you clearly have some time on your hands to theorise and put drivers in cars.
I’m not going to do that, but I am going to think about what the F1 grid might look like in terms of teams next year and take a snapshot of where we are with this delicate situation.
The starting point is the teams who are legally obliged to take part next year. Williams acknowledges that it is one and Force India has put in an unconditional entry, so both of them will run £40 million budget capped next year.
At the time when those teams signed up with FIA and FOM in 2005, Ferrari and the two Red Bull teams also signed up. My understanding is that all three of them are in the same boat legally as Williams and Force India, even though they currently stand with the FOTA teams in making only a conditional entry for next year.
I don’t know whether the law courts can force Ferrari to race in F1 next year if it does not want to, but it seems that the FIA and FOM would have grounds for a damages claim if they did not and quite a substantial one it would be too. Ferrari’s argument would be that the sport had subtantively changed from what they signed up to and it would be down to a judge to rule on which side was in the right.
This afternoon Ferrari team boss Stefano Domenicali put his side of the story,
“That is the position of Max of course. We had an agreement with the FIA but we felt that the obligations inside that agreement were breached, so the agreement is not valid anymore. We have put in our entry together with other competitors with the condition that we think is important to respect for the future of Formula One.”
This really is the key to it all, because if Ferrari are legally bound to be in F1 with the FIA and FOM, then the other FOTA teams have had it.
They will be forced to either quit the sport altogether or to capitulate and run under the £40 million budget cap. It would be pretty much impossible to run a rival series without Ferrari.
The confident way in which Max Mosley has conducted his campaign so far increasingly indicates that he feels the law is on his side. I think the court hearing in Paris where Ferrari were seeking an injunction, gave the FIA confidence that the agreement between them is binding, so they now to see Ferrari as a big fish, which is hooked on a line, albeit wriggling like mad.
So, after some more argument and maybe the odd lawsuit, that potentially gives you five of the existing teams on the grid next year; Williams, Ferrari, Red Bull, Toro Rosso and Force India.
Of the new entrants, it is very hard to judge from the outside which are dreamers and which have a realistic chance of actually building a competitive car and I’m certainly not in a position to guess who’s who. Even the existing team bosses are finding it hard to work that one out. The FIA is doing due diligence on them as we speak.
The rules as I understand it allow for existing teams to help the new teams with technology up to a point, but that point stops well short of customer cars. You could easily imagine a team getting the kind of support Force India gets from McLaren Mercedes, for example.
Beyond proving that they have sufficient funds to make a go of it and not fail in their first year, this co-operation will be the key as to whether some of the new entrants make it or not. I personally think that it is far harder to build an F1 car, let alone a competitive one, than most of them realise, but we will see.
If three of them get through the entry process, that makes eight teams on the grid with five spaces left. Co-incidentally there would also be five teams left in FOTA; Brawn, McLaren, Toyota, BMW, Renault.
This is the key point that Mosley has to judge correctly when selecting new entrants. If five of the new entrants are granted a franchise, then that would mean two of the existing teams would be left without a slot. But the signs are still there that one or two of them are seriously thinking about making an exit at this point, so there may only be three FOTA teams left looking for spaces, depending on whether they were inclined to capitulate.
It’s really a question of whether there are enough credible new teams and whether any of the manufacturers are prepared to climb down. In that scenario I could perhaps see Renault pulling out and Flavio Briatore buying up the team and entering it as Briatore GP, or something similar.
I can also see why McLaren and Brawn would not want to be left without a slot. Both exist only to race and have a lot of infrastructure and personnel to consider.
And that’s it really, beyond making the point that some new blood in F1 would be a good thing, but like everything else there is a balance to be struck. We need F1 to be F1 and not GP1 and we need a good mixture of established names and new blood which has a genuine chance of succeeding.
There is no way that an F1 team should need to cost £100 million a year to run, but equally there is no way that the guardians of the sport should throw away a well established, thrilling entertainment based on brilliant drivers and technological marvel.