Is it a sign of happier times that Sauber and Force India have chosen not to wash F1’s expensive linen in public by dropping their official complaint to the European Union (EU)?
Or is the decision to withdraw the objection over a disproportionate distribution of monies predicated on how the F1 political tectonic plates might shift during the next few years? Given F1’s cynical default position, it’s difficult to ignore the latter.
The original complaint to Competition Directorate of the EU was made in October 2015. The dissatisfaction had been created by Bernie Ecclestone as a means to an end (his end, of course) when dealing with a potentially damaging threat to his business and that of his handlers, CVC Capital Partners.
Showing determined and surprising solidarity for once in their self-absorbed lives, the F1 Teams Association (FOTA) had actually threatened to do their own thing. Ecclestone, falling back on his tried and trusted tactic of using a machete made of money to divide and conquer, breathed large numbers in the ears of Ferrari and Red Bull and prompted the imminent collapse of FOTA.
In the vacuum that followed, other leading names trampled all over the remains of their so-called fellowship in an unseemly rush to pitch for bonus payments based on their historic importance and box office value.
All of which left the small teams very unhappy, particularly when the likes of Ferrari received an additional payment in 2015 that was a large as Force India’s entire budget. This was, without question and in terms the EU might understand, rules being made in an ‘unfair and unlawful’ manner.
The F1 landscape has since shifted. Perhaps aware of the impending ownership change, and having rather more pressing matters to deal with, the EU made a few encouraging noises but did next to nothing. A year into Liberty Media’s official take over of F1, a joint press release from Sauber and Force India says they are appreciating the new culture of transparency and an apparent willingness to discuss (among other issues), cost caps and a more equitable distribution of prize money.
If these two teams are reasonably satisfied then Ferrari, predictably, is not. Ignoring its usual threat of withdrawal from F1 (to do what, exactly?), Ferrari has actually strengthened its bargaining hand by consolidating an association Sauber via the link with Alfa Romeo. There will be increased technical support from Maranello, not to mention the services of Ferrari’s boy, Charles Leclerc, a very exciting prospect capable of making Marcus Ericsson’s presence appear to be worth little more than the financial support from his Swedish connections.
You can imagine the conversation as the tasty 2018 contract was slid across Sauber’s boardroom table: “Sign here – and also, if you’d be so kind, on this page where you promise to remove those nasty bureauocrats in Brussels from your contacts book.”
Force India’s decision to downgrade its grievance to a more local level must be taken at a face value dictated by the glowing prose in an accompanying press release. Nonetheless, could this industrious and tightly run team enjoy even stronger ties with Mercedes in a closer liaison that would work for both sides in the political climate going forward?
Either way, if Liberty Media are hopefully as good as their word, the long process of levelling the financial field is under way. The main players will bitch about their losses but, overall, the strength of the F1 game as a whole should be to their benefit – not to mention that of the long suffering fans, stamping their feet on the touchline and in danger of going home in growing numbers.