Back to the Future: The FIASCO War

By Don Capps, U.S.A.
Atlas F1 Columnist

In the area southeast of Madrid, some of the most bitter and bloodiest fighting of the Spanish Civil War took place. Therefore, it seemed appropriate that the area was once again the battlefield of what was rapidly escalating into a bitter - and at times quite uncivil - war between the Federation Internationale de Sport Automobile (FISA) and the Formula One Constructors Association (FOCA). This was scarcely what the organizers, spectators, sponsors, and most of the potential participants in the Spanish Grand Prix at the Jarama circuit had in mind for their visit to the Iberian plain.

In retrospect, it seems a bit amazing that this bitter episode in Grand Prix history began with a modest flap over fines for not attending driver meetings. That, however, is merely in retrospect. At the time, many had been anticipating a meltdown over something. It was clear that the driver fines were merely the first thing that came along that Jean-Marie Balestre could put hands on. If not that, then it would have just something else.

The first battle of the FIASCO War was waged in late-May 1980 at Jarama, the early skirmishes having led FISA President Balestre to come to the conclusion that FOCA simply was not getting the message. It was time to marshal the troops and let the FOCA know that the FISA meant business. The hapless organizers caught in the midst of this battle were from the Real Automovil Club España (RACE). Their circuit, their race, their hopes for a modest profit - all wound up being held ransom and at the mercy of others.

The fines owed were distributed thusly:

  • $7,000 ($2,000 + $5,000) for not attending the meetings at Zolder or Monte Carlo - Elio de Angelis (Lotus), Mario Andretti (Lotus), Alan Jones (Williams), Emerson Fittipaldi (Fittipaldi), Jacques Laffite (Ligier), Jean-Pierre "Jumper" Jarier (Tyrrell), Didier Pironi (Ligier), and Alain Prost (McLaren);

  • Absent at Zolder, but present at Monte Carlo - Jan Lammers (ATS), Tiff Needell (Ensign), Nelson Piquet (Brabham), Carlos Reutemann (Williams), Keke Rosberg (Fittipaldi), John Watson (Williams), and Ricardo Zunino (Brabham); present at Zolder but absent from the Monte Carlo meeting - Derek Daly (Tyrrell), Jochen Mass (Arrows), and Riccardo Patrese (Arrows); those drivers missing only one meeting were fined $2,000.

    The fines were due prior to the start of the first practice session at the Spanish Grand Prix. The FOCA said that the fines were unconstitutional since the motion had not been approved during the FISA meeting in Rio. The FISA responded with the expected retort that the FOCA were quite mistaken and the fines were indeed due and due now. Once it became obvious that the fines were not going to be paid, the FISA requested that the respective Autorite Sportive Nationale (ASN) for each driver not paying the fine rescind the driver's competition license. The French ASN, the FFSA, was only too happy to oblige the request - particularly since Balestre was also the president of this organization.

    In the days leading up to the first day of practice on Friday, May 30th, the now openly warring organizations were not in a mood to utter the "C" word - compromise. The FISA was in a combative mood, as some fines had been paid but the vast majority were still outstanding. Likewise, the FOCA was utterly convinced that the fines were not legal and asked the drivers not to pay them. The FISA placed the blame on the FOCA for asking its teams to urge their drivers to not attend the meetings, something Grand Prix Drivers' Association (GPDA) president Jody Scheckter accused FOCA spokesman Bernie Ecclestone of doing so as to provoke a confrontation. Some of the cynics among the crowd noted aloud that Scheckter drove for a team which did not belong to the FOCA, Ferrari.

    The FISA insisted that the individual drivers were responsible for paying their own fines and that no one else would undertake that duty - certainly not their team, sponsors, or even race organizers. The latter is significant since the RACE had offered to place a deposit with the FISA in the amount equal to the sum of the fines owed by the drivers. The answer was a firm "NO!" from the FISA to the RACE, who were now having visions of disaster dance before their eyes, since the possibility that the event would not be run was becoming a more distinct possibility each passing day.

    On Thursday evening, Balestre unleashed a broadside at the FOCA at a press conference. Balestre made it clear that no one with an outstanding fine would be allowed to practice come the next day. This was exactly what the officials from RACE dreaded to hear. It is at this point that they attempted to place a deposit with the FISA so they could have a race and let the headaches pass on to the next organizers of the next event. Once again, Balestre said that only full payment by the individual drivers would suffice.

    It was pointed out by a FOCA member at the press conference that this was rather a case of changing the rules in mid-game since Essex had already paid the fine for Mario Andretti so as to allow him to compete at the Indianapolis 500, an event on the FIA International calendar. Plus, Nelson Piquet had not been turned away from competing at the Nurburgring the previous weekend. Balestre fumbled for a moment, but then said that these had been "mistakes" and that both still owed their fines.

    The president of RACE, the Marquis de Cubas, then asked the question as why was it that the drivers who did not attend the drivers' meeting at Zolder were allowed to participate at Monaco? If they had not paid their fine, why were they not therefore suspended for Monte Carlo? Balestre lamely explained this away by saying there had not been sufficient time to do so. At this point de Cubas closed in for the kill: If that was the case, that there was not sufficient time between Belgium and Monaco, how there suddenly become sufficient time between Monaco and Spain? Balestre refused to answer the question.

    At this point, the wrangling continued on for a short while, but it was plainly clear that Balestre was not going to allow the race to be run under the sanction of the FISA if the fines were not paid and the FOCA teams attempted to run the event with the drivers. That the FOCA was the promoter of the Spanish race was not lost on any one present. It was clear that Balestre was hoping to withdraw the FISA sanction of the race causing the FOCA to take a bath on the losses that would incur.

    When Friday morning finally rolled around, the results of some of the late night verbal fistcuffs were becoming known. After arguing with Balestre and getting nowhere, the president of RACE, de Cubas, told Balestre that he was not welcome at the circuit and that should he attempt to visit the track he would not be admitted. That the RACE actually owned the Jarama circuit was a twist which had, up to this point, somehow escaped the FISA. If there had been only the skirmishers exchanging a few rounds, this was the point where the two forces had their movement to contact become a hasty attack or defend proposition.

    The RACE announced that it had assumed the sporting powers delegated to the Federacion Española de Automovilismo (FEA) by the FIA and the FISA. Needless to say, this little development left more than a few scratching their heads, many on both sides not expecting this development. The RACE pointed out that in the FIA Yellow Book it stated that to assume this authority the RACE merely had to inform the FIA (Federation Internationale de l'Automobile) in writing, which it was doing. In other words, the RACE were going to run the Spanish Grand Prix without the FISA. The RACE were taking back the sporting powers handed over to the FEA in October 1979 on the grounds that the FEA had not used this properly. The RACE was throwing its lot with the FOCA and aligning itself according.

    The small problem that soon surfaced was that the FEA had no desire to run the Spanish Grand Prix outside the jurisdiction of the FISA. Meanwhile, the FOCA and the RACE stated that the Spanish Grand Prix would be held and that since the RACE was sanctioning the event, there was no need to have the officials from the FISA present at Jarama. And, by the way, since the event was being run without FISA, this also meant that it was not necessary for the participants to have a FISA license.

    So, over four hours after it had been scheduled to begin, the first practice for the 1980 Gran Premio de España finally got underway. Well, the first "official" practice that is. Earlier, at the originally scheduled time, the Ferrari, Alfa Romeo, and Renault teams had sent their cars out to circulate the track and hope that local driver Emilio de Villota in a Williams FW07 Cosworth Ford stayed out of their way. After maybe a half hour, the session was red-flagged by the organizers from RACE which informed the FEA and the FISA officials that their presence was no longer welcome. And neither were their fellow travelers. Balestre was not among those asked to leave, having remained in Madrid after stating that he had said all that he needed to the previous evening.

    Not all the teams participating in Grand Prix (or Formula One) racing were members of the FOCA. The Ferrari team had an arrangement with the FOCA to handle its travel arrangements and other similar details during the season. While not a member of FOCA, Scuderia Ferrari were perfectly happy to use the organization to represent it when it benefited the team. It was a relationship developed from a position of mutual benefit and not one which was based on shared ideals. The return of Alfa Romeo to the Grand Prix ranks in late-1979 meant that the team would not be eligible for FOCA membership until later in the 1980 season. Membership in the FOCA required that a team complete a minimum of a season in the championship series before being asked to join. Prior to the events at Jarama, the FOCA had extended the offer of membership only for Alfa Romeo to decline the offer. In addition to Ferrari and Alfa Romeo, Renault was another team choosing not to join the FOCA and making a set of arrangements similar to that of Ferrari.

    When the "official" practice finally began, four teams did not participate: Ferrari, Renault, Alfa Romeo, and Osella. Renault explained that it was neither for nor against the FISA - Balestre - but simply did not wish to find itself participating in an event which was being conducted on what seemed to be very shaky legal grounds. As a major manufacturer, Jean Sage explained, Renault could not allow this sort of thing to happen. However, the teams stated that while they would not run in practice, they would remain on site should a deal be negotiated which would allow the event to run as originally proposed: a FISA-approved round in the World Drivers' Championship.

    Oh, yes, there were actually teams in Jarama to participate in the Spanish Grand Prix. The first practice session saw the Ligier team in the top two spots, Jacques Laffite edging Didier Pironi. Behind were the Williams drivers, Carlos Reutemann and Alan Jones, in that order. Behind these came Nelson Piquet in a Brabham.

    On Saturday, the best time in practice was set by Alan Jones, but it was not quite quick enough to push Laffite off the pole. Overnight Balestre and Ecclestone had held talks which basically got nowhere. Balestre was determined not to compromise on the original issue, the fines, and even should that be resolved there was the matter of the FEA, RACE, and the FOCA to untangle. And the only way to untangle it was in a way which left the FISA holding the high ground at the end of the day. Naturally, Ecclestone and the other members of FOCA didn't quite see it that way.

    Blunt as ever, Frank Williams put it this way: "I refuse to be administered by an incompetent - it's my livelihood, or him. All Balestre has is an armband - he doesn't run any cars, he doesn't pay my bills, he doesn't have one penny invested in my business or any of the teams here." In late-1978, similar words had been voiced in America and now the organization known as Championship Auto Racing Teams, or CART, was now running the National Championship Trail that once belonged to the United States Auto Club (USAC). More than a few observers took a moment to pause when they read what Frank Williams had said. This was further evidence that the battle was shaping up and soon the blood would really begin to flow.

    One of the four teams which had sat out the first practice session did show up for the Saturday session: Osella. Enzo Osella changed his entry to that of his sponsors and found this a sufficient device to allow him to participate in the race while still not getting too far away from the FISA camp. In the meantime, Marco Piccinini was in the Brabham motorhome with Bernie Ecclestone and others who were doing their flat best to get him to place the cars in the race. There were strong "signals" from both Renault and Alfa Romeo that if Ferrari raced, so would they. Naturally, with an eye on Balestre and his possible reaction, Jean Sage said that Ferrari exerted absolutely no influence on whether or not they would race. Alfa Romeo echoed Renault.

    At the end of five hours, Piccinini emerged from the Parmalat motorhome. Despite the final practice being delayed pending the decision as to whether or not Ferrari, Renault, and Alfa Romeo would participate, it was now clear that Ferrari had not changed its mind and would sit out the race. Renault and Alfa Romeo quickly fell into step with Ferrari. As Piccinini patiently explained, Enzo Ferrari had given his guidance and that guidance meant that Scuderia Ferrari would not participate in a non-FISA event. Ciao.

    The "FISA teams" then packed up and left. Not unnoticed was that the only drivers to attend the Zolder and Monte Carlo driver meetings were Jody Scheckter, Gilles Villeneuve, Rene Arnoux, Jean-Pierre Jabouille, Patrick Depailler, and Bruno Giacomelli - the drivers for Ferrari, Renault, and Alfa Romeo respectively.

    As if this were not enough for the FOCA and RACE, the Spanish Minister of Sport announced that the RACE had no authority, no "right," to take the sporting powers from the FEA. However, the RACE officials were determined that there would be a 1980 Spanish Grand Prix and on Sunday there would be a Grand Prix regardless of whether some folks liked it or not.

    On Sunday, Balestre departed Madrid for the FIA Plenary Conference meeting in Athens. That afternoon, 22 cars took their places on the grid at Jarama and ran the 80 lap race as scheduled. It was an event with a higher than usual rate of retirements, only six making to the finish:

      1st Alan Jones, Williams FW07B Cosworth Ford
      2nd Jochen Mass, Arrows A3 Cosworth Ford
      3rd Elio de Angelis, Lotus 81 Cosworth Ford
      4th Jean-Pierre Jarier, Tyrrell 010 Cosworth Ford
      5th Emerson Fittipaldi, Fittipaldi F7 Cosworth Ford
      6th Patrick Gaillard, Ensign N180 Cosworth Ford

    Now the question was: did the event constitute a round in the World Championship? With Balestre being given the support of the FIA Plenary Conference, it was apparent to even the Untrained Eye that the FOCA were going to pay for their efforts in Spain. The reaction of Balestre was swift - the FOCA position on the FISA Executive Committee was removed, as well as the similar position for the FOCA representative on the F1 Commission. The Plenary Conference supported Balestre on these moves. Since Ferrari informed the Plenary Conference that FOCA did speak for the team, FOCA could therefore be said to not speak for all the teams and therefore was not necessary as a member of these committees.

    Balestre also said that all the drivers who took part in the "illegal" Spanish Grand Prix would be dealt with in a manner more lenient than would be the case for the FOCA teams. He said that he understood the very difficult, if not impossible, position in which the team owners placed them and realized that they were merely pawns in the game. However, be that as it may, until further notice they were banned from participating in any FISA-sanctioned events.

    Needless to say, the state of Grand Prix racing in the early days of June 1980 was one which suddenly seemed a replay of the CART vs. USAC battle of the previous season. Normally calm and reasonable people were now up in arms in support of one side or the other and ready to duke it out with other normally calm and reasonable people. More often than not, many were asking the question, "What the hell is going on here?"

    In the wake of the Athens meeting, there were additional discussions planned between the FISA and the FOCA. The site was to be Lausanne. And, Balestre made clear his intention not to attend, turning over matters to Secretary General of the FISA, Yvon Leon. The discussions were held in the European Headquarters offices of Philip Morris, whose displeasure as a sponsor (Marlboro) at how matters were going where not being hid from all involved.

    Amazingly, under the watchful eye of the Philip Morris officials, an agreement was hammered out between the battling parties. It was a compromise designed to restore peace, harmony, and stability to Grand Prix racing. In the agreement both parties made concessions and there seemed to be a sense that any further crisis had been averted, or at least now made manageable. The agreement was sent out to all the sporting journals and it seemed that peace was at hand.

    It was until Jean-Marie Balestre read the agreement. He was furious at what he read and this anger was not helped by the fact the agreement had already been distributed to parties far and wide. Balestre snarled that he had been under the impression that the agreement would not be released until at least a week had passed so that the parties involved would have time to read the agreement over and have further discussions should they be necessary. That Balestre was informed only when a telex of the agreement was laid in the in-box on his desk in Paris and the contents as much a surprise to him as they were to many journalists did not bode well for the future.

    Damage control began immediately and the FISA Executive Committee were sent copies of the agreement and polled for their approval of the agreement - the majority rejecting the agreement outright. This set of events caught several of the players by surprise. Max Mosley admitted to being "confused" as to exactly what was going on since he thought that they had a deal. That Balestre now refused to accept the agreement prompted the FOCA to request another meeting with the FISA in Lausanne to discuss the latest problem. Several on both sides of the table said out loud that things seemed to go very well when certain personalities were absent from the negotiating process. One group very upset by the sudden reversal of fortune was the sponsors. John Hogan of Philip Morris and the representative for the other sponsors during the negotiating sessions expressed his dismay and anger at the antics of Balestre in drop kicking the "Lausanne Agreement" right into the wastebasket.

    After a brief interval when peace threatened, the FIASCO War was right back where it had been before Lausanne - fiery words and vows of no quarter. The FFSA announced, incidentally, that whether or not the FOCA teams were there or not, the French Grand Prix was definitely on.

    After a huddle and no little barbed discussion, the FISA treasury was suddenly enriched by all the fines levied against drivers as a result of missing one or both of the drivers' meetings at Zolder and Monte Carlo being paid - by the individual drivers. This sudden move caught many by surprise, not the least of them being the FISA.

    The FISA had been busy lining up allies, calling a meeting of the race organizers and asking that they bring along their contracts with the FOCA. A few told the FISA that their individual contracts were no one's business but their own. The FISA responded lining up all the ASN's of the nations hosting rounds in the World Championship. The only ASN's not signing a communiqué pledging allegiance to the FISA were the Royal Automobile Club Motor Association and the Confederacao Brasileira de Automobilismo. Needless to say, this was not an act calculated to endear them to Balestre.

    Floating around more and more frequently was the notion that the FOCA would follow the lead of CART in America and form its own Grand Prix series. While pretending that such a thought was utter nonsense and concerned them not at all, the FISA agreed to another round of discussions with the FOCA, this time at the Post House at Heathrow. Or was it to be at Paul Ricard? Or Paris?

    In the meanwhile, Guy Ligier had taken the attractive financial offer from Talbot to invest in the Ligier team. Ligier was under great pressure from Balestre to renounce his FOCA allegiance. Despite the link to a manufacturer, Talbot, Guy Ligier went to great pains at the press conference announcing the deal for the 1981 season to reiterate his support for the FOCA.

    Goodyear, one among many sponsors, once more made it perfectly clear that it was giving its involvement in Grand Prix racing much thought and the idea of withdrawing was not an idle threat. In the weeks between the Spanish Grand Prix at Jarama and the French Grand Prix at Paul Ricard, there was a general malaise which seemed to have infected many of those involved in the sport and many more that followed their activities. As the French Grand Prix approached many wondered, "What the hell is going on here?" More often than not, the answer was, "Damned if I know, but it sure seems to be an ugly mess!"

    To be continued next week...

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    Volume 9, Issue 6
    February 5th 2003


    The Cult of a Personality
    by David Cameron

    A Driver's Dream
    by Karl Ludvigsen

    Back to the Future: The FIASCO War
    by Don Capps

    Missing Senna
    by Thomas O'Keefe


    Bookworm Critique
    by Mark Glendenning

    On The Road
    by Garry Martin

    Elsewhere in Racing
    by David Wright & Mark Alan Jones

    The Weekly Grapevine
    by Tom Keeble

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