F1 could be stuck in political quagmire until 2020

FIA president Jean Todt does not see Formula One’s governance changing before the current Concorde Agreement and commercial contracts with teams expire in 2020. F1’s decision-making process has come under scrutiny in recent weeks after changes to the qualifying format failed to mix up the grid as intended, and instead ruined the spectacle of the pole position shootout. Ongoing indecision over qualifying has only strengthened calls for a new form of governance after the drivers wrote an open letter attacking F1’s “obsolete and ill-structured” rule-making process two weeks ago.

Jean Todt
Jean Todt

The FIA agreed to the existing system  in 2013, and at the time heralded “a strong and stable sporting governance framework which includes the Formula One Group, the FIA and the participating teams”.

But when it was put to Todt that the system he agreed to in 2013 leaves the sport in a bind when it comes to rule making, he said: “That is the way of the triangular governance of Formula One. [We have to] wait until the renewal of the Concorde Agreement in 2020 and then decide to change the governance. It may be another president of the FIA because we are currently in 2016 and it cannot be before 2020.

“Unless the teams and the commercial rights holder and the FIA decide we want to change the governance, then we can do it tomorrow. But we can only do it tomorrow if everybody accepts to change the governance.”

Todt says it is the F1 Commission, which existed before his first term as FIA president, and not the Strategy Group, which he helped form, that is the issue.

“The Strategy Group did not change anything. The Strategy Group is just proposing something to the F1 Commission and the F1 Commission has always been there. It’s something I was thinking just yesterday, in the past we had the Technical Working Group and Sporting Working Group and the F1 Commission could only accept or reject proposals. So we are in exactly the same situation [as before the Strategy Group].”

Asked if he would take on full power if it could be agreed among the teams and Commercial Rights Holder, Todt said: “That would be more logical. The FIA should have complete control as a regulator and as a legislator of Formula One, but historically it has not been like that. The only time the FIA has been able to change something unilaterally is because of safety. Safety you could change without any consultation or any agreement and we still can.”

The only positive that may still come out of the qualifying debacle is that it could provide the impetus to shake up the current governance. However, Bernie Ecclestone is doubtful as the commercial agreements dividing the sport’s revenues are currently intertwined with the division of regulatory power in the Strategy Group.

When the Concorde Agreement was signed back in 2013, the FIA also said it “provides the FIA with significantly improved financial means to pursue its regulatory missions”. Ecclestone said any changes to the rule-making structure before 2020 would also impact on the commecial deal.

“In the end we could get rid of the Strategy Group because it’s a commission of the FIA, so we could change it like that,” he said. “But the FIA wouldn’t be so excited because it costs them 40 million to regroup with that, so it’s these little side issues sometimes that create big problems.”

He added: “The reason we [originally] had the Concorde Agreement was because it was a peace treaty. So that’s how we got this and we haven’t changed it. The world’s changed, everything’s changed but we’ve kept what we’ve got. The FIA should write the regulations and say these are the regulations, you all enter the championship, if you don’t want to enter up to you.”