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