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The sto­ries F1’s big­wigs would rather you didn’t know…

F1 Racing (UK) - - NEWS - DI­ETER RENCKEN

F1’s early-sea­son qual­i­fy­ing fi­asco marked a low point in the sport’s so-called gov­er­nance process. The de­ba­cle has been flogged be­yond death, yet sim­ply can­not be avoided, as ev­ery ill cur­rently suf­fered by F1 is en­cap­su­lated in one reg­u­la­tion change that was framed for all the wrong rea­sons, then forced through with­out due re­gard to process.

To crown it all, the vote taken at F1 Com­mis­sion-level that changed a for­mat that was not even bro­ken, did not, ac­cord­ing to high-level sources, fol­low ex­ist­ing statu­tory time­lines. How so? Be­cause the rule-mak­ing pro­ce­dure de­mands that amend­ments to tech­ni­cal or sport­ing reg­u­la­tions re­quire at least seven days’ no­tice to be given in writ­ing to all teams be­fore they are ef­fec­tive. In some in­stances that no­tice pe­riod is 14 days.

Dur­ing the 2015-16 off-sea­son, pres­i­dent of the F1 Com­mis­sion Bernie Ec­cle­stone (also, of course, CEO of For­mula One Man­age­ment) pre­sented a pair of ‘flawed’ al­ter­na­tives for a new qual­i­fy­ing for­mat to the Strat­egy Group. This group, in turn, ap­proved the ‘least worst sce­nario’ of the two (the ‘elim­i­na­tor’ for­mat seen in Aus­tralia and Bahrain) be­fore es­ca­lat­ing it to the F1 Com­mis­sion ses­sion that fol­lowed al­most im­me­di­ately. No time had been al­lowed, there­fore, for the full im­pli­ca­tions of the change to be eval­u­ated.

The al­most far­ci­cal re­sult of this su­per­com­pressed sched­ule was clear to see in Mel­bourne and Sakhir: lit­tle won­der that team bosses later lamented a lack of time to run sim­u­la­tions on the new for­mat.

That time was pro­vided for, how­ever: ie the no­tice pe­riod of seven or 14 days for reg­u­la­tory changes. Some­how, though, no team in­sisted on the no­tice pe­riod be­ing ef­fected, or re­fused to im­ple­ment the rule change on ac­count of ‘in­suf­fi­cient no­tice’.

In it­self, this points to a com­edy of lapses across the board, for the ma­jor­ity of teams (plus FIA/FOM) em­ploy in-house lawyers, who should surely have a grasp of F1’s covenants.

The im­pli­ca­tions of this inat­ten­tion for due process ex­tend more widely than a fum­bled at­tempt to re-set how the grid lines up. For the ev­i­dence is that a raft of mo­tions have passed through the F1 Com­mis­sion – and up­wards for rat­i­fi­ca­tion by the FIA World Mo­tor­sport Coun­cil – since Novem­ber 2013, with­out hav­ing fol­lowed the process stip­u­lated by the 2009 Con­corde Agree­ment (in place till 2020).

It has, af­ter all, be­come cus­tom­ary to hold Strat­egy Group and F1 Com­mis­sion meet­ings back-to-back on the same day (to save costs). But that’s a weak ex­cuse, for with a bit of fore­sight the var­i­ous op­tions could be cir­cu­lated well be­fore the vot­ing dead­line.

The un­pop­u­lar elim­i­na­tion-style qual­i­fy­ing was pushed through with­out re­gard to due process

Therein lies F1’s la­tent prob­lem: a lack of co­he­sive strat­egy de­spite the ex­is­tence of a group go­ing un­der that name. Re­sult? De­ci­sions be­ing taken on a knee-jerk ba­sis.

So how did that hap­pen? The gov­er­nance struc­ture was changed in Novem­ber 2013 by sub­sti­tut­ing the Tech­ni­cal/sport­ing Work­ing Groups with a Strat­egy Group to stream­line the reg­u­la­tory process. Yet doc­u­ments from the F1 Com­mis­sion meet­ing in Novem­ber 2013 state: “Com­po­si­tion and vot­ing struc­ture to be as set out in the 2009 Con­corde Agree­ment.”

Sources say this clause was never re­scinded. Thus any reg­u­la­tion change de­bated by what passes for a Strat­egy Group and then ap­proved by the F1 Com­mis­sion within a week (or two) could tech­ni­cally be il­le­gal. Cor­rect: the changes made to the 2016 qual­i­fy­ing pro­ce­dure had no reg­u­la­tory ba­sis, so could have been chal­lenged at any time, by any team, had they thought to do so! So the blus­ter and fuss of Aus­tralia and Bahrain – all that wasted hot air and ink – could eas­ily have been avoided.

This kind of sit­u­a­tion is not atyp­i­cal. Sev­eral team bosses and other F1 Com­mis­sion mem­bers say that agen­das for meet­ings are dis­trib­uted only a short time be­fore meet­ings – or even dur­ing them. Yet mem­bers must vote on crit­i­cal is­sues al­most im­me­di­ately. The re­cent mo­tion to ex­tend D-day for 2017 body and power unit reg­u­la­tions be­yond 30 April is just such an ex­am­ple. Strictly speak­ing, then, they should be de­layed to 2018…

For the record, the F1 Com­mis­sion con­sists of 25 seats: the FIA, FOM and all 11 teams are rep­re­sented; then add eight race pro­mot­ers; one each for tyre and en­gine sup­pli­ers; plus two spon­sors. All 25 have a vote, mean­ing Mr Rolex (rep­re­sent­ing spon­sors) has the same vot­ing power as the FIA pres­i­dent. Yet no broad­cast­ers are rep­re­sented, de­spite their com­bined con­tri­bu­tions to F1’s cof­fers be­ing roughly on a par with those of pro­mot­ers.

In terms of reg­u­la­tory process, F1 has buried it­self deeper in holes it can­not re­verse out of. But the les­son from the fi­asco of early-2016 qual­i­fy­ing is that the sport can’t just cir­cum­vent its own statu­tory pro­cesses if it wishes to avoid self-in­flicted wounds. That gov­er­nance process is there for a rea­son.

“In terms of reg­u­la­tory process, F1 has buried it­self deeper in holes it can­not re­verse out of”

Oh, what a tan­gled web we weave…

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