FOTA Threaten to Break Away

Okay, Jim and I simply couldn’t wait until Sunday to talk about the FOTA’s decision to start its own breakaway series. I am very nervous about this, as our all American F1 fans, because we know far too well the consequences of this decision. While I agree with FOTA on principle, I am not convinced that they can govern themselves. It’s this very issue that ultimately led to the demise of CART (Championship Auto Racing Teams) here in the states. And Indy Racing still hasn’t recovered from the fallout to this day.

First, a little history. For the bulk of the Indianapolis 500’s life the event was governed by USAC (United States Auto Club) a club basically run by the Hullman family, who also the own the famous brickyard. But in the 1970’s the teams that raced in USAC events got increasingly frustrated and eventually decided to start a breakaway series called CART. CART was the alliance of the racing teams, a democracy of sorts, who thought they could govern themselves better than USAC. In 1979 CART was born and quickly took over as the main open-wheel car series. While they enjoyed some success in the 1980’s and became quite popular in the 1990’s, they never seemed to be able to control themselves. As a result, costs elevated beyond control and their relationship with the Hullman family was tense.

In 1994 a young Tony George wanted to become more involved with CART, when CART refused to work with him, he said, “fine all start my own series!” Thus, in 1996 the IRL (Indy Racing League) was born. CART, full of ego and short on sense, decided to compete against the Indy 500 with the American 500, a race held at Michigan International Speedway on the same day, this act split the fans in two directions and created a rapid downward spiral for American open-wheel racing. As the two series competed against each other, fans precipitously abandoned the sport for NASCAR leaving both series to struggle for survival. Even the Indy 500, “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” significantly lost popularity.

When CART split from USAC it ultimately failed, Indy car is now fully controlled by the IRL and Tony George, who himself is a member of the Hullman family. And what exactly does Mr George control? An open-wheel series with one-tenth the popularity of it’s former self. A glorified spec-series with one showcase event.

My point is simply this, the FOTA will not be able to govern itself. There is simply too much ego, people will inevitably act in their self-interest as opposed to what’s best for the group. Without firm decisions, costs will sky rocket, manufacturers will leave and they’ll be left with nothing. Both the FIA and the FOTA need to come to an agreement, or everyone will suffer and we, the fans, will be left to watch the Sprint Cup at the “Pepsi presents the Mobil One Monaco Grand Prix powered by Intel!”

FOTA, please be bluffing…

7 thoughts on “FOTA Threaten to Break Away”

  1. Good insight into why this might be bad news – but ultimately – even if FOTA stay, isn’t the damage already done?

    If they all kiss and make up are the next 5 years just going to be the same thing brewing in the background, and the continued gradual erosion of the things that make f1 racing what it should be – really clever guys and really good drivers slugging it out on a Sunday afternoon.

    Too many regulations, too many rules, too much nonsense – unless someone new comes into play and smacks their heads together I can’t see how this can pan out well either way.

    I really hope there is a way forward from this but there is a hell of a rift to heal.

  2. Paul, I absolutely agree. Certain people need to go and significant change needs to happen, but two series competing against each other is all but guaranteed failure for both F1 and the FOTA. The two must come together and come up with some kind of compromise.

    And to be honest, this is a very alpha-male driven sport. Lots of ego, lots of money. To a certain extent, there will always be a rift brewing, as someone will always think they can do it better.

    But everyone in Europe needs to see the USA’s record of two competing series. ALMS v. Grand-Am; CART/Champ Car v. IRL; Toyota Atlantics v. Indy Pro Series (ladder championships). Even in drag racing they had NHRA v. IHRA until the NHRA gave in, bought the IHRA and combined the competition. None of these series gain anything from competing against the other. Instead of getting a bigger share of the pie, they lose the majority of the pie and fight over the remaining crumbs.


  3. Obviously I don’t really know anything about the US experience, and you guys clearly know better than me the dangers of the split. However…

    The FIA (or more particularly Max) seems hell-bent on ruining F1. There’s no problem with the increased regulations on cost etc in principle, they HAVE spiralled out of control and effectively closed the door on privateer teams (look at Williams this century). The real problem is the way that the FIA is imposing radical changes without any support from the teams themselves (or the fans for that matter). If FOTA can set up a true rival series (and I know that’s a big ask) then it seems to me it won’t be a rivalry at all – the new series will have all the teams and all the drivers, and apparently many of the traditional F1 tracks as well. The only advantage the FIA series would have would be that it’s called Formula 1.

    Who would you rather watch: Manor or Ferrari? My point is that it seems to me that it will not split the fans; the vast majority will follow the new series. (Although it’s probably also true that motorsport in general will lose many people.) I can’t see anyone enthusiastically supporting the FIA version.

  4. Thanks for writing Michael,

    I think the FIA and FOM could cause a lot damage to a competing series. In the first place, Ecclestone has already said publicly that he’d sue everyone for hundreds of millions of dollars. Whether he’d win or not is irrelevant, because many of the teams would have energy and time wasted in the courts. Also, the FIA governs many other race series throughout europe. What happens if they FIA tells every track that, if they accept a FOTA race, they’ll never run another FIA race, of any kind, again? And what about support series? What happens to GP2 for example?

    These guys will battle each other to a bloody pulp and then both the FOTA series and F1 would be ruined! I completely agree that the FOTA had to stand up against the FIA, but if they do indeed start a breakaway series, it will be bad for everyone. Let’s all hope that they can find a compromise in the coming days.

  5. This organizational dispute pushes everything else off the front page when it comes to F1, but I have found myself thinking that there is a pretty interesting story in the fact that the main mfg’s this year have watched as other teams have taken their engines and built better (or at least very competitive) cars around them. This seems to be true of Mclaren/Brawn, Renault/Red Bull, Toyota/Williams and to some degree Ferrari/Toro Rosso.

    About the only positive that I can see coming out of this organizational battle is the possibility of Ecclestone and Mosely getting humbled.

  6. First off. Barrrichello or Webber for the win tomorrow. unless it rains, in which case, “Kate’s Dirty Sister” will carry Vettel to Victory…

    Now… the horrid, dirty political bit. Whatever he says, Max is the problem here. He continually tries to stir things up and pit team against team. He’s probably even going to use this as an excuse to stand as FIA President AGAIN in November.

    He said to the BBC yesterday that he would offer his head if that solved things, but that the person who replaced him would do exactly the same as he would… Yet he won’t step down in November, “because only he can deal with the current situation” !?!?

    I would like to think that Max and Bernie actually WANT to destroy all the value of F1, so that CVC Partners (who own the rights) sell their shares back to the teams, and in a year or two, they can build it back up again…

    Because that’s what we are facing. The FOTA teams (possibly with Lola and Prodrive?) going off to form GP1, with Bernie, no FIA, no Max!

    Bernie bought the rights to the name “GP1” shortly after GP2 started. GP2 is owned by Briatore (and Bernie I think), so they already have a support race series.

    So we could easily have an F1, supported by F2, and a GP1, supported by GP2. The FIA would own F1 and F2. Bernie and Flav would own GP1 and GP2.

    Bernie is a business man. He’ll take GP1’s money to set-up a new series. Think of all the European and American (North AND South) race venues that can’t afford F1 anymore. GP1 could make cheaper deals, as more revenue would be going back to the teams, rather than the bankers. That in turn would lead to cheaper tickets, and more fans attending!

    Destroying F1, as unpalatable as it seems, and then re-building a new series from the ashes, may be the only way to remove the money-leeches (The CVC Bankers) from the equation… 🙁

  7. It’s peace in our time…or is it? I believe FOTA have missed a very real opportunity of delivering the top tier of motor-sport back to the fans.

    So Mosely has now supposedly gone, but Mr Ecclestone is still very much here. Having once again attended the British GP at the home of Formula one and paid £200.00 per ticket for the privilege. I reveled in the atmosphere generated by real fans at a real track. You could feel the optimism in the air for real change in F1, there was talk of a better series, with more relevant cars and rules. A series that would be returning to some of the famous tracks now sadly missing from the championship, in countries with a passion for F1, once again in front of huge trackside audiences.

    Without the breakaway we will be left with more of the same, boring tracks, producing predictable racing in front of empty grandstands. Is it not laughable that F1 describes itself as a world championship, yet ignores North America etc. I will find it hard to continue supporting this sport if it continues to chase money in the middle east and ignores real fans.

    Peter House (Bath, UK)

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