Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Rotten apples

Can it really be twelve years now since the infamous CART-INDY SPLIT occurred? And it seems more ‘N more evident that both warring factions were slowly sinking into the abyss, although both parties would still vehemently deny this a decade plus later.

Interestingly, Formula 1 was once at a somewhat similar crossroads nearly three decades ago. In the modern era of the sport; circa 1950-present, the Commission Sportive Internationale (CSI) was the original sanctioning body responsible for all of the rules, regulations and running of the Grand Prix circus.

Originally a young Englishman by the name of Bernard Ecclestone, who’d begun his fascination with motor vehicles upon racing “Scooter’s” with the help of his father at the age of 16, left school in favour of becoming a racing driver, Yet Ecclestone would eventually earn a degree in chemical engineering from Woolwich Polytechnic, but at the age of 19 he was competing in Formula 3 instead, prior to having a big shunt at Brands Hatch.

Thus Bernie decided to focus his attentions to his business interests instead, as his motorcycle & car dealership would become one of Britain’s largest. Ecclestone returned to motorsports in 1957 as Stuart Lewis-Evans manager prior to purchasing the Connaught Formula One team in 1958. He than ran cars for Lewis-Evans, Roy Salvadori, Archie Scott-Brown, and Ivor Bueb, even trying to qualify for that season’s Monaco Grand Prix, but was unsuccessful. Yet with Lewis-Evans Death the following year, Ecclestone quit Formula 1.

Bernie next returned to the sport as an young Austrian’s manager and business partner, his name was Jochen Rindt! Ecclestone would also be Involved with the Lotus Formula 2 team from 1968-69 with drivers Rindt and Graham Hill, yet upon Rindt’s death in 1970, Ecclestone would once again quit F1.

Bernie next bought the Braham Formula 1 team from Ron Tauranac in 1972 along with becoming the secretary of the Formula One Constructors Association. (FOCA)

Bernie diligently worked with the F1 Team Bosses, including Max Mosely, part owner of March, trying to implement a new team entry format as well as larger purses for the team’s appearances. Ecclestone would eventually become FOCA President in 1978 with Max Mosley as his legal advisor,

Also In 1978 the CSI was duly transformed into the Federation Internationale du Sport Automobile (FISA) with newly anointed President Jean-Marie Balestre, of whom originally had created the successful French magazine Auto Journal before ascending to the presidency of FISA. Yet Balestre and Ecclestone were at constant loggerheads in their showdown for the ultimate control of Formula 1, in what became known as the FISA-FOCA war.

In 1979 while the FISA wrestled to implement the banning of sliding “Skirts,” the FOCA refused to budge on the issue. These tensions came to a boil prior to that year’s Spanish Grand Prix, after the FOCA team drivers had all refused to attend the mandatory drivers meeting in Zolder and Monaco. Balestre responded by docking each offending driver a fine of $2,000 and suspension of their Licenses.

The Spanish Grand Prix then became a farce when the FISA attempted to cancel the race, which was then sanctioned by FOCA and run without Ferrari, Alfa Romeo and Renault, whom were all on the side of the FISA.

This controversy saw Formula 1 loose massive credibility with the public, as spectator attendance dropped, which in turn caused television broadcasters to ponder whether they should continue covering races live, which immediately made the sponsors rethink their position on the sport, as they would no longer amortize their massive capital investments into the participating teams since their products wouldn’t be seen on television. (Sound Familiar, Can you say CART vs. INDY?)

With the impending loss of sponsorship revenues, all of the parties involved agreed to table their feuding in favour of a “unified” sport and managed to finish out the season without further disruption.

But the bitter battle for control was nowhere near finished, as the 1980 season was barely over when Messer Ecclestone fired the next salvo in the FISA-FOCA war. At the beginning of November, he held a news conference to announce the formation of the newly created World Federation Motor Sport (WFMS) which would rest control of the sport from the FISA. The FISA immediately responded by stating that WFMS was disseminating false information and that very few Nation’s Automobile Clubs would endorse the non-affiliated series. Next the Grand Prix track promoters joined FISA’s side while the team’s sponsors stated that they would not support the renegade series.

On December 4, 1980, Goodyear whom provided rubber for the majority of the F1 circus dropped a bombshell by announcing its decision to withdraw from Formula 1, which left the majority of the British based teams without any source of tires for the fast approaching 1981 season. As the opening round, the Argentine Grand Prix was slated for January 25th.On January 19th, members of all racing teams met at Maranello for a meeting brokered by Enzo Ferrari. The meeting went for 13 straight hours, as they hammered out a working document, which would become known as the Concorde Agreement, named in honour of the Place de la Concorde where the FIA and FISA headquarters in Paris were located. This new agreement gave the two warring factions, clear stated responsibilities; with FISA remaining the FIA’s subordinate in control of running Formula 1, while FOCA was put in charge of negotiating the commercial aspects of the sport with the FIA’s concurrence.

The first Concorde Agreement ran from 1981-87, with subsequent extensions from; 1988-91, 1992-97 and 1998-2007 being signed by all signatories, although there has been some dissent over the years. Most notably in the early 1990’s when McLaren, Williams and Tyrrell refused to sign the Agreement in 1997 as they felt that Ecclestone had sold out the teams, as he’d coerced the transferring of FOCA’s control to the commercial arm of the FIA, the Formula One Administration. (FOA) for a 14 year span beginning in 1995, with “Uncle “Chopper” (Ken Tyrrell) being especially outraged, claiming that Ecclestone had sold the teams commercial rights to his own company, when FOCA granted Ecclestone the commercial properties of F1 In 1992. This was done via his newly founded Formula One Promotions and Administration Company. (FOPA)

In 1997 FOPA was lumped into a new umbrella company called SELC (Named after his wife, SLavica ECclestone) in order to prepare for Bernie’s ambitious plans of floating F1 on the stock market. Yet with mounting friction from several signatories as well as a looming European Commission investigation into SELC, the float was dropped and subsequently SELC has sold the majority of its company to CVC which now effectively runs Formula 1 under Ecclestone’s guidance.

Along the way Ecclestone also orchestrated the outing of his arch nemesis
Jean-Marie Balestre, upon becoming appointed FISA’s vice president in charge of promotional affairs in 1987. He then focused upon the business side of F1 after selling Brabham and it seems too coincidental that his whipping boy, Max Mosley was elected as the FISA’s president in 1991. Recall that Mosley had served as Ecclestone’s FOCA lawyer. Also, the FISA was disbanded in 1993 and a new organization known as the World Motor Sport Council (WMSC) took its place. Yes, the same WMSC which handed out the draconian penalties against McLaren for its involvement in Stepney Gate…

When the Automobile manufacturers attempted to form a rival breakaway series known as the Grand Prix World Championship (GPWC) Ecclestone targeted the sports biggest fish, successfully negotiating an agreement with Ferrari extending its participation in F1 under the Concorde Agreement thru 2012. This started the dominoes falling as Red Bull, Jordan/Midland and Williams soon sided with Ecclestone and the remaining manufacturers were given a new organization known as the Grand Prix Manufacturers Association (GPMA) in exchange for staying in the current Formula 1 fold. Although the current Concorde Agreement expired on December 31, 2007, it appears that a further extension has taken place as Messer Ecclestone continues to rule with an iron fist; hence Formula 1 maintains its lofty position as the piece de la resistance in the world of motorsports…