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DATE News (chronologically)
11/21/07
f1
With no Concorde replacement, will F1 implode?  Forget, for one moment, about the so-called "issues of the moment": the McLaren appeal, the espionage crisis that Renault will soon have to face and the annual driver market hullabaloo. There is a much bigger issue floating along just below the waterline in Formula 1 which is much more important than all of these as there are now only six weeks left until the end of the Concorde Agreement.

This confidential commercial contract that has been the structure of the sport - admittedly in various different forms - since March 1981 when the F1 teams and the FIA agreed to settle their differences over commercial arguments that had been disrupting F1 for several years. This contract dictated the way in which everything has been run since then. The rules of the sport, for example, are appendices of the Concorde Agreement.

When the world celebrates New Year 2008 that will all be over and, at the moment, there is no clear idea what will happen next although the teams are entered in the 2008 World Championship. That was necessary back in April 2006 during one of the FIA's manoeuvres to get the rule changes it wanted. This forced dissenting teams to decide whether to sign up or face having no say at all in the rule-making process. Only those teams who had entered were allowed to take part in the rule-making discussions. The teams that signed up were BMW Sauber, Honda, MF1 Racing (now Force India), Prodrive, Red Bull Racing, Renault F1, Ferrari, Super Aguri, Scuderia Toro Rosso, Toyota, McLaren and Williams.

Prior to that Bernie Ecclestone has convinced all the teams to sign a Memorandum Of Understanding that defined a new financial structure for F1 for the period 2008-2012. The intention was for all of the sport's revenues to be consolidated and for the teams to get half of the money produced by the sport. The problem was that there were still disputes over how the decision-making process should be structured and, to a lesser extent, what the rules should allow. That memorandum was never converted into a contract because different teams had different arguments about specific issues. Williams, for example, believes that the current Concorde Agreement must be retained because its deal with Ecclestone included a clause saying that the Concorde Agreement arrangements would be largely unchanged.

The problem in recent months has been that of customer cars. Some teams see the logic of customer teams, others are fundamentally opposed to the idea because they argue that they will be forced out of business as the big teams expand and push their cars down the finishing order. The second half of the current season has shown that Scuderia Toro Rosso was able to use Red Bull cars to get results that were far better than those that would have been achieved had the team built its own machinery. And the Prodrive F1 project - which is now on hold because of the lack of a decision about the rules - was clearly intended to be strong enough to put cars into the top 10 right from the beginning.

There is some logic in allowing the big teams to expand to four cars - it beefs up the grid and brings improved value for money for those involved - but if it cannot fairly be done without wiping out long-established teams which have invested in the sport for many years, helping to build up the business to its current level of success, then it should not be done at all. These teams are stakeholders in the F1 business and should have a right to a voice.

There is also a philosphical argument that the very basis of Formula 1 - what makes it different - is that teams have to be constructors and that if other systems were more attractive they would have enjoyed far more success than they have.

There is plenty of evidence to back up this point. In the early 1980s CART was established for constructors. In the early years there was much variety with challengers from companies such as March, McLaren, Penske, Chaparral, Eagle, Wildcat and Phoenix. Other manufacturers such as Longhorn, Coyote, Parnelli, Lightning, Interscope, Primus and Rattlesnake did not win races but were all active to a lesser or greater extent. But the bigger constructors were able to invest more and by the mid-1980s March and Lola were so dominant that even Penske had stopped building his own cars.

After that others came and went but in the end only Lola survived and CART was left with no choice but to become a one-chassis championship. Given modern aerodynamics this creates dull racing and so series such as CART's successor Champ Car and GP2 have had to resort to such devices as push-to-pass buttons and reversed grids, which do not appeal to the existing racing audiences and do not seem to attract new fans very much. More at Grandprix.com
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