Is History Repeating Itself?

Fri, 4 November 2005, 12:10

I’m worried. Having lived through the FISA/FOCA war of 1982, I was hoping Formula One was going to find its feet. Sadly this doesn’t seem to be the case. We are now faced with regulations being implemented with what on the face of it appears to be little or no research, and changed on a near weekly basis, and the very real threat of a breakaway by the car manufacturers involved in the sport. Add to this the dwindling viewing figures, and the disastrous “race” held at Indianapolis this year, and there you have cause for concern.

Since Jean-Marie Balestre was usurped in 1991, the power that was FISA has come under the wing of the FIA. Balestre was heavily involved in what is colloquially known as the FISA/FOCA war , funnily enough, a political battle over finances and control of the Formula One World Championships. Balestre’s opponent was one Bernard Charles Ecclestone, and after the drivers strike in Kyalami, and the badly supported San Marino Grand Prix, where only a handful of teams raced, those mainly operated by manufacturers, the dispute was settled when Enzo Ferrari brokered a compromise. This lead to the Concorde agreement, signed by Ecclestone and Enzo at Ferrari’s factory, that was supposed to create long term stability in Formula One.

Now one can add in some hastily contrived rules. In a matter of days, FISA (for which read Balestre), introduced a rule banning the skirts used to seal the gap between the side pods and the ground, to reduce the escalating speeds created by the ground effect under-bodies. To ensure this was enforced, the regulations also said, “that when in the pit lane all cars must have a 6cm ground clearance”. Now when faced with a set of regulations, many designers and engineers see a challenge. Step up Gordon Murray. When the Brabham team next appeared, the BT49 was seen to lower itself to the ground when out on track, thus sealing the gap where the skirts had once been. On it’s return to the pits, up she went, to well over the 6cm required.

FISA also tinkered with fuel capacities, and after allowing turbo-charging, baulked at the power available, artificially capped how much power was available, before banning them completely. They tinkered with qualifying, allowing special tyres, then limiting their use, and the quantity available, leading to ridiculous cars, with no suspension travel, to which not one driver admitted he liked driving. Certain teams seemed to attract particular attention, most famously Tyrrell, who had all their points for the season removed, it what was the most blatant misuse of power seen within the sport.

Now we could reverse the garagiste/manufacturer scenario, Change some of the places, perhaps Indianapolis for San Marino, and say some of the names? FIA for FISA, Mosley for Balestre, Minardi for Tyrrell for example, or GPMA & FOM/FIA for say FISA and FOCA, the near weekly changing of qualifying, and one could be forgiven for thinking that history appears to be repeating itself.

During these dim days for Formula One, between 1980 and 1982, it appears that one M. Mosley was the solicitor for one B.C. Ecclestone, and today the two are still strongly connected. Mosley is President of the FIA (apparently unchallenged, but there are suggestions that there were approaches made to the FIA to stand against him), and Ecclestone, President of Formula One Management. It is strongly rumoured that if you reverse the names, you have the Vice-Presidents, and if that is the case, it is beyond incestuous.

A recent press release from the FIA introduced the world to the CDG Wing (Centreline Downwash Generating Wing), in an attempt to increase over taking, but how long before today’s Gordon Murray finds a way to harness the boundary layer around the rear wheels to increase down-force. It just seems like we have all been here before.

The biggest worry is that unless Mr. Mosley and Mr. Ecclestone open the minds and ears to what they are being told, this time things won’t be sorted quite so amicably, and the GPMA, which is growing in strength daily, will be here faster than we know it.

Steve Holter

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