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More on F1 Ownership

Further to my recent post on Who Owns Formula One? and the clarifying comments by Mark Higgins, it now appears that CVC may be regretting their purchase. The ongoing dispute between the FIA and the GPMA (the F1 manufacturers association) over implementation of the engine freeze is making the future of F1 unsure and this impacts upon CVC’s ability to predict revenues from the sport. According to Update-F1, CVC has told the manufacturers to end the dispute.

This is interesting in view of the fact that the FIA announced yesterday that agreement on the issue had been reached. Today F1-live dot com reports that a spokesman for the GPMA, Xander Heijnen, has denied that any agreement has been achieved as yet.

Monaco

Pardon my cynicism but this seems fairly typical of the way F1 is administered; contradictory statements, unnecessary disputes and rigid refusal to compromise have been the norm for over thirty years. What surprises me is that CVC do not appear to have known this before they ever became involved. If they had done their homework before investing such huge sums in purchasing F1, they would have realized that it is a sport in constant turmoil where nothing is written in stone except that “change is here to stay”.

It is hard to feel any sympathy for CVC; they have bought their bed and must lie in it. But I must thank them for highlighting an aspect of F1 that is extremely irritating for the fans and the teams: the arbitrary decision-making of the FIA and its lack of effective consultation with those who have to abide by the rules.

Of course, the GPMA must accept its share of the blame too. Their inability to present a united front has not helped at all in this situation. I cannot see that the judicious use of compromise could not have brought about consensus between the manufacturers. When dealing with the FIA, you need unanimity or you’ll get nowhere.

Sometimes I wonder how F1 manages to remain the pinnacle of motor sport. Uncertainty is hardly a good basis for management of such an important sport. Can anyone else remember way back when the rules used to stay the same for year after year?

It would have been nice to add a picture of the F1 logo to this post (it’s a clever design, I think) but CVC would probably come after me demanding money if I did that. So I found a pic of what it’s really all about instead – F1 cars racing at Monaco.

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Microsoft, McLaren and the FIA

The potential storm over the FIA’s choice of manufacturer for a standardized engine control unit, as mentioned in my post Microsoft to Enter Formula One?, is brewing nicely.

Ever the diplomat, Jean Todt has played down suggestions that McLaren will have an unfair advantage since their subsidiary, McLaren Electronic Systems, will be working on the units. Whilst admitting that MES will have experience of the Mercedes engines that power the McLaren cars, he says that the FIA have been clear in their specifications and this should prevent any conflict of interest arising.

That seems a bit hopeful to me. If we are talking “conflict of interest”, it is obvious that the possibility should be avoided entirely by awarding the contract to a company unattached to any of the teams competing in F1. Without casting any aspersions on the good faith of the McLaren organization, the fact remains that the opportunity is there for a bit of tweaking to favor a particular team. Computer programming is an arcane science and Microsoft have already proved experts at sneaking unexpected and dubious nuances into their software.

Eau Rouge

Spa’s Eau Rouge corner – it’s prettier than a picture of a black box

Magneti Marelli, one of the major suppliers of electronics to F1, are surprised at the news that their services will no longer be required after 2007. Their Managing Director has wondered at the logic used by the FIA in coming to their decision. Clearly, he feels that the choice was made on grounds other than technical excellence and my cynicism leads me to the conclusion that money has once again been the deciding factor.

If F1 has to have a standardized ECU (and I can’t see that it does), should we not expect that any contract for such a device be awarded to the best system offered by a company without any conflict of interest? Magneti Marelli must have tendered for the contract since they are surprised not to have won it; yet they have a long history of supplying electronics to F1 teams and their current customers include Ferrari and Renault. I find it difficult to believe that their system was not as good as that offered by a company that has nothing like their track record.

So it has to be money that decided the issue. Either Microsoft MES tendered their system at a much lower price than Magneti Marelli’s or sweeteners were offered. And that brings the whole question of the FIA’s decision-making into doubt. Do we really want the sport to be governed by a body that considers its own income the most important factor in designing the regulations?

Maybe I am wrong. It is just possible that the FIA made this decision after careful consideration of all sorts of technical matters. But it would be helpful to know just why they opted for the Microsoft MES system. Do you think they’ll tell us if the storm gets big enough?

Separator

On a lighter note, we can hear what Microsoft says on the subject of F1. On one of their support pages, MS announces:

When you press F1 after a Web page dialog appears, Microsoft Internet Explorer may unexpectedly quit, and you may receive the following access violation error message:

Internet Explorer has encountered a problem and needs to close. We are sorry for the inconvenience.

I really don’t know what to say…

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Who Owns Formula One?

One of the latest news items is that CVC has sold MotoGP (for a mere $626 million) so that it can own Formula One. This has been announced without fuss on several networks but it raises all sorts of questions in my mind.

For a start, I didn’t even know that it was possible for F1 to be owned (or MotoGP for that matter). But apparently everyone else has known this for ages – at least, no-one seems surprised by the news.

And what exactly is being owned? F1 Racing-Live says that “CVC’s control of formula one is now official” but what the heck does that mean? It cannot be that they are in charge of the rules and regulations – the FIA does that. And the circuits are owned by various concerns around the world, as are the teams. Bernie Ecclestone sells the television rights to a media company every year so maybe this is what they’re talking about.

Bernie

Bernie Ecclestone

I googled CVC to find out more about the company. There are a few possibles but the leading contender would appear to be an American Cablevision System; which would fit with the theory that it’s the television rights that are being owned. But it’s only a theory – I’m guessing here.

And how much sense does it make that the owner of the television rights can sell them to anyone they choose, as appears to have happened with MotoGP? Wouldn’t that make a mockery of Bernie’s careful choice in the first place? Or am I being too trusting and all the FIA really care about is how much they can sell the rights for?

I find the whole business rather unsettling. To discover that one’s favorite sport is actually owned and “controlled” by a multi-million dollar and faceless corporation is a bit of a shock. In fact, it has uncomfortable undertones of F1 not being a sport at all but rather some sort of marketing exercise designed to lull the masses to sleep while their pockets are picked. And the masses means you and me, buddy. Oh, brave new world.

As the saying goes, I only ask because I want to know. If anyone out there does actually understand what this is all about, I’d be very grateful if they’d clue me in.

Separator

Update on Microsoft to Enter Formula One?:

It’s true. If Scoble says it is, it must be.

Do you have a view? 9 Comments