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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.


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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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?


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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