I made a promise to myself some time ago to avoid mentioning Brexit in these columns (mainly because I’ve never come across a more muddled, confusing mess in all my years – and that includes discussion about F1 tyre choices and usage) but that nice David Richards and three Formula 1 teams have forced my hand.
Richards, as head of Britain’s racing authority Motorsport UK, has waded into the tiresome debate by lobbying the British government over the country’s exit from the European Union. He’s apparently got the support of three teams, whose identity is being kept private. Basically, they don’t want Britain to leave (or, to coin the new verb, to ‘Brexit’) without some form of deal.
This comes as no surprise on two counts. Just before the now infamous referendum that sparked off the hysteria in June 2016, Richards told me he was in favour of Britain staying in.
And secondly, teams feeling the need to hide behind anominity says everything about this toxic debate and suggests this trio doesn’t actually have strong feelings either way because in truth, and like the rest of us, they have no effing idea how any of this will work out.
But, hey, we’d better say something because, if it crashes and burns, we can claim ‘Told you so!’ And if it settles down and works out reasonably okay, we can keep schtum (a word Mercedes, by chance, would understand) and carry on racing as if nothing has happened.
In any case, it’s difficult to envisage Prime Minister Theresa May putting the concerns of F1 teams with nine-figure budgets even close to the top of her agenda in the weeks following the largest defeat suffered by a government in the House of Commons since – oh, I don’t know – Henry Segrave won the 1923 French Grand Prix in a Sunbeam.
That was back in the day when the Sunbeam was the only racing car worthy of international note built in Britain. Segrave was up against Bugatti, Fiat, Alfa Romeo and other manufacturers from the Continent. Now, of course, the majority of teams are based on this side of the English Channel, so much so that I’ve heard F1 rather rudely described as a British championship run overseas. Whatever the label, it’s a substantial business that Richards and the ‘Secret Three’ claim to be under threat.
This could be painfully true. It could also be viewed as the same brand of Project Fear dished up daily by ‘Remainers’ and the media outlets that support them. Who knows?
Let’s take just one strand of this diverse discussion. Concern has been raised about the absence of a deal jeopardising trade arrangements with EU member states. It could mean difficulties for teams crossing the borders surrounding the nine European Grands Prix.
But surely that begs the question about how movement has been achieved fairly effortlessly to and from the other 12 races in places as diverse as Singapore and Brazil? Each country has its importing and exporting idiosyncrasies that the teams have learned to cope with. It’s hardly been the end of the world as F1 knows it.
And if it’s such an issue, how did the likes of Lotus, BRM, Brabham, Tyrrell, McLaren, March, Williams and Surtees cope prior to Britain joining the European Economic Community (forerunner of the EU) in 1973?
If the carnets and paperwork haven’t since been streamlined and simplified by digital technology then you may as well say F1’s three confidential complainants will be travelling to Barcelona by bus because they’re so concerned about saving money and the future of F1. As if…