The scenes at Imola in the last 24 hours and the expressions of passion and enthusiasm that the Senna memorial event has aroused, come at a useful moment for the sport of Formula 1 as it contemplates what it wants to be in the future.
In future years, this 2014 season will be characterised as one where the sport went through something of an identity crisis. The change to hybrid turbo engines is supported by many, but the FIA, the manufacturers and the supportive teams have not carried everyone with them on this project so far. And they have failed to get their message across about the amazing technology behind the new formula which promises so much for the wider society.
Granted there have been some teams and some powerful figures who have had an agenda to undermine the message and the changes, but the dissenting voices do have one common message; that F1 should be about hard racing, pushing to the limit and fighting.
This was what came out of Imola loud and clear; the symbol of Senna, the ultimate fighter, the man who pushed the limits harder than anyone else. That is what made him so popular. Also the true essence of what makes Formula 1 great is that it is the meeting point of technology and driver skill, neither one dominating the other to an excessive degree and, at is best, the two should be perfectly balanced.
Many would argue that this is not the case today.
The question for the F1 Strategy Group, which has been tasked with steering the course for the future, is how to ensure that the sport presents itself in this appealing way, rather than as a dry technical exercise as it currently appears to many today, while at the same time maintaining a strong technology story, which also wows the fans.
The F1 Strategy Group is tasked with looking into the future. But you don’t need a crystal ball to see that already there are problems with this approach.
The Group met yesterday, there was no communication of what was said nor what was decided. The primary aim of the meeting was to discuss cost control, after the top teams threw out plans to introduce any kind of cost cap last month. As the voting structure is split evenly between the FIA, Bernie Ecclestone’s company and six leading teams, it was fairly easy for the “anti” lobby to win the day and FIA president Jean Todt’s desire to see meaningful cost control was pushed back on this occasion.
It looks like the only way the big teams will agree anything on costs is for it to be written into the regulations, but this could end up a compromise, a piecemeal measure. The big beasts will not accept the kind of measures that the other teams feel are essential for their survival.
Not surprisingly the medium sized and small teams do not like this; they have always been opposed to the idea that the future should be decided by the monied elite and as the meetings take place and nothing comes out of them the frustration grows. There are a few teams which are close to the edge and the second half of this season will be very interesting. They have been asked to submit ideas for cost control and will no doubt do so, but they’ve been down this road before. Without buy-in from the big teams they cannot carry the day.
What everyone is waiting for now is to see whether this “disenfranchised” group will go for the nuclear option, which is to challenge the legality of the F1 Strategy Group under European law. They aren’t likely to do that as things stand. But as Ecclestone entered the court room again today in Munich on the second scheduled day of his bribery trial, the question being asked behind the scenes is whether a legal challenge to the F1 Strategy Group may arise later in the year should the judges find against Ecclestone.
Either way, Ecclestone has said that he sees himself working on strategy for the business of F1 and increasingly leaving the day to day running of the business to others.
What this week’s events in Imola and the powerful response around the world have shown is that F1 is hugely popular and capable of pulling in new young fans.
There is a strong future for the spirit of intense F1 competition which Senna embodied; provided that it is presented in the right way.