Monday, June 22, 2009

High Noon For Formula One

By Mitchell

When last we saw Max Mosley, president of FIA (the world automobile racing governing body), he was managing to extricate himself from a sordid Nazi-role-play sex scandal, thus confirming his status as the ultimate survivor. It now appears, however, that his time may have run out.

For the last few months, a battle for control of auto racing's premier class, Formula 1, has been brewing just below the surface. The battle pits Mosley and FIA against the Formula One Teams' Association (FOTA), made up of the primary F1 manufacturers - Ferrari, McLaren, Toyota, BMW, Brawn - in other words, the cars that most gearheads want to see race. Mosley has proposed drastic changes to F1 - a spending cap being the most significant, though by no means the only change. Mosley insists that in the current economic climate, such changes are necessary for F1's survival.

FOTA, in response, has fought the draconian spending change, and has come out against other changes as well, including regulations that would make the cars more identical, less technologically advanced, and - well, taking away much of what makes F1 what it is. The manufacturers insist that Mosley's changes, if approved, would kill F1.

Over the last week, the issue has come to a head, with FOTA announcing their plans to start a breakaway racing season next year. Such a move threatens to plunge the sport into a disarray similar to that which came as a result of the American open wheel racing split a decade ago, from which IndyCar has yet to recover.

FIA is meeting in Paris on Wednesday, and word is that Max might find himself ousted, in which case FOTA might - just might - come back into the fold. Race fans are split on it; while many recognize the threat to the sport posed by a breakup, many more have simply had it with Mosley and Bernie Ecclestone, the president and CEO of Formula One Management (and a man with his own anti-fan club, as Bobby will readily attest). We should know more after that Wednesdsay meeting, but everyone seems to agree that Mosley is in serious trouble, and this time there may be no way out. If Max goes, the sport may be saved.

Now, if you're like me - in other words, both a big fan of sports and an avid follower of politics - then F1 is a dream come true, combining the best (or worst) of both worlds. Formula One is, without doubt, the most political sport on this planet, a combination of Watergate and the Super Bowl: race results are overturned by rules violations that are discovered hours after the fact, cars refuse to race because of safety concerns, some races are decertified but go on anyway - you name it. Does Ferrari really control FIA? Are officials out to get McLaren? Is there, in fact, a bias against British racing teams? Will the United States ever get an F1 race again? In-fighting, name-calling, and lawsuits (both real and threatened) are a way of life. Truly, there is nothing more glorious in all of sport. Fans are drawn to the off-track drama as much as they are the races (many of which, to be honest, offer far less excitement as well). It is, literally, a fascinating thing to see, in the same way that a train wreck keeps your eyes glued to the scene. And only F1 could possibly offer up a scandal on the scale of Max Mosley's - and then go on to overshadow it.

If you detect any sarcasm, cynicism or parody in my words, don't make too much of it. F1 really is one of the world's most exciting sports, and there's no doubt the politics add some spice to it. This is what keeps us coming back for more - that and the talent displayed by the world's greatest racing drivers.

And, of course, to see what Max is up to next. You can't get that kind of entertainment anywhere else.

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