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The FIA Gods Challenged

There is no doubt about it, the FIA do not like to have their decisions questioned. Way back in October last year, David Coulthard was smacked down for daring to put forward the GPDA’s view on safety matters and there are many other examples of the governing body reacting angrily to criticism.

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David Coulthard

Now I see that even mighty Autosport magazine has had to print a retraction of earlier FIA-related statements made in a column of theirs. The fuss revolved around just how many teams were unhappy with the FIA’s sudden reduction of the engine formula from 3 liter V10s to 2.4 liter V8s, although I find it hard to see what was wrong with Autosport‘s columnist pointing out that not all the manufacturers were in favor of the change. Perhaps the problem really lay in his earlier assertion that the FIA had yo-yoed a lot – to hint that the FIA might be a tad indecisive would definitely be heresy.

The whole episode illustrates the FIA’s increasing tendency to see itself as infallible and above criticism. Which is a silly attitude to strike in a sport as contentious and full of differing interests and opinions as F1. The governing body would do wonders for its image if it were to accept criticism gracefully and listen a bit more. No-one has ever said that their job is easy and it is only to be expected that some will disagree with whatever they do; you can’t please all of the people all of the time.

The FIA would like us to see it as a forward-looking body that prepares for the future – hence their sudden fascination with green issues and the interests of car manufacturers. But they seem to be missing something very important about the brave new world of tomorrow: that in the information age, everything becomes known and is examined ad infinitum. They may be able to prevent the traditional media from voicing any uncomfortable opinions but the internet is a different matter entirely. Even governments have failed in their efforts to keep a lid on that beastie.

So the FIA would do far better if it were to act with more consideration of the views of those involved in the sport (and that includes the fans) and to be a lot more transparent in their actions. Except, of course, it can’t. So many of its decisions are driven by financial considerations and shady deals that it dare not explain some of them.

You may think that is a rather wild assumption; but it seems that Michelin agree with me – they are taking the FIA to court over the way in which Pirelli was selected as the sole supplier of tires to the World Rally Championship. Which brings to mind the odd way in which Microsoft MES were chosen as the suppliers of ECUs and Magneti Marelli’s doubts over the process.

The love of money is the root of all evil…

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David Coulthard and Young Drivers

I see that David Coulthard thinks that Lewis Hamilton has been given his F1 chance too early. The Scottish veteran feels that a year testing for an F1 team would have been better experience for Hamilton, rather than having to be compared with his teammate, Fernando Alonso.

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David Coulthard in the Red Bull RB2

There is some sense in what Coulthard is saying; there have been drivers who have been pushed too far, too soon (I think Jos Verstappen was one) and who never reach their potential as a result. But, equally, there have been others who rose to meet the challenge and did well.

Ironically, David himself was one of the latter. His chance came after Ayrton Senna’s death at Imola, when he was promoted from test to race driver in the Williams team. And, although he had to relinquish his seat a few times for the returning Nigel Mansell, he did well enough to beat “our Nige” to the Williams drive the following year.

Coulthard went on from there to become the solid, dependable driver he is today and he never looked to be out of his depth in F1. So it may be a bit unfair for him to doubt Hamilton’s ability to survive such an early entry to the sport.

I presume that it is Coulthard’s position as spokesman for the Grand Prix Drivers Association that is producing his recent cluster of controversial statements. If so, he is doing an excellent job, keeping the association in the eye of the press and not allowing issues to die a death through lack of attention. It may well be that he will prove better at handling the media than his waning reputation as a driver leads us to expect of him on the track.

But I think David could well be a surprise to us in 2007. If the Adrian Newey-designed Red Bull is any good, it is entirely possible that Coulthard will make better use of it than Mark Webber, whose reputation for speed is not as badly dented as the Scot’s. In fact, this coming season is the make or break year for both of them and they know it. Webber is thoroughly fed up with having to compete in inferior machinery and has already made noises about giving up if the Red Bull is less than hoped and Coulthard is having to fend off rumors of retirement, being the new grand old man of F1 that he is. It will be the last stand of the old guard and I wish them well.

It’s that business of being compared to a very quick teammate that is the most telling point in Coulthard’s latest statement, however. If Hamilton can stay within a reasonable distance of Alonso, we will know that he has made it; if he cannot, it could easily turn the current expectations sour and lead to him following the usual route of such drivers – a career of second drives, occasional hopeful flashes intersperesed with long periods of mediocrity, and the soul-destroying task of trying to be noticed while driving machinery that is less and less competitive.

Which Coulthard should know all about. But, give him his due; he has not given up and is as eager for next season as a chance to prove himself as any young blade. I just hope that he’s wrong about Hamilton, however.

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