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I wonder how many other people were as glad as I was when the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association issued a statement following the season-opening Australian Grand Prix?
The sport was still reeling from the fiasco of qualifying, a spectacle that delighted the fans with long periods of inactivity and saw Lewis Hamilton wrap up pole position with three minutes to spare.
Social media went into meltdown, heaping further opprobrium on a sport already overloaded with it since its leaders’ critical and derisive statements in 2014.
On Sunday morning the teams agreed to revert to the 2015 system. Unfortunately, however, nothing is that easy in the F1 world. These days no one person calls the shots, not even Bernie Ecclestone. There had to be a vote among FOM, the FIA and the teams on the so-called Strategy Group. And here the governing body revealed that it is completely out of touch with F1 reality. Far from rubber stamping the proposal, it counter-proposed a different format for the Q1 and Q2 sessions and a reversion to the 2015 system just for Q3. That, or else stick with the hopeless Melbourne format – a threat surely intended to generate the necessary unanimity for the idea of mild revision.
Incredibly, the FIA at no point appears to have considered going back to what was known to work.
In the end, neither McLaren nor Red Bull wanted another cockamamie idea that had not been thought through properly. So for Bahrain, F1 was stuck with something the fans were known to detest.
These are decidedly hard times for F1, politically, with weak management that cries out for a lone hero to step in and tell the rest how it’s going to be. I’d hesitate to put dear old Max Mosley into quite that category, but like Bernie in the old days he understood that benign dictatorship is all that works in a sport filled with such competitive individuals. Max set the rules (in collaboration with Bernie) and made the rest live by them.
These days that’s no longer possible, since Max’s successor, Jean Todt, sold out to Ecclestone in 2013 by surrendering the right to make the rules – the governing body’s raison d’être – in return for money to fund his political aspirations within the organization. To many, these seem far too inclined toward his ambitions within the realm of road safety. Thus we are saddled with the Strategy Group, comprising Ecclestone and Todt, plus Ferrari, Red Bull, McLaren, Mercedes, Williams and Force India.
This hapless body – which is still struggling to agree new technical rules for fast-approaching 2017 – is hamstrung by its members’ inability to agree, and the outrageous right of veto accorded to Ferrari.
Todt’s presidency has been notable for his apparent lack of interest in F1, the good work he has done to install sensible accountability structures within the Place de la Concorde, and his efforts in WEC, WRC and Formula E. But as well as the sell-out to Ecclestone, it will be defined by his abiding interest in the road safety side and the belief many hold that he is merely using his position as a springboard to a political career in that cause within the United Nations.
Which brings me back to the drivers’ emergence as a body with something to say.
Their comments are worth hearing, but to me there is something deeper going on here. I have heard suggestions that GPDA president Alexander Wurz would make a good presidential candidate in a few years, but that he is currently too young. I disagree.
The Austrian is a former F1 racer, a driver training expert and a successful businessman. He’s 42, affable, honest, intelligent and passionate about the sport. We have young drivers, so why not a young president?
Todt is up for re-election next year. Personally, I’d like to see Wurz take him on. Failing that, how about a compromise, with Todt appointing Wurz as the F1 Commissioner. That would enable him to pursue his road safety ambitions and give Wurz the political grounding he could then massage into a presidential run in 2021.
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