Back to the Future: The FIASCO War

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

As the Federation Internationale de Sport Automobile (FISA) and the Formula One Constructors Association (FOCA) took a breath and stepped back from the top step in their respective trenches as June was blending into July, the FIASCO War went into something that resembled a lull. There were still potshots being taken here and there, but the fierce close combat of the sort that took place at Jarama and in the days following had now tapered off. After a series of meetings at various places and the payment of the FISA-imposed fines were paid for by the drivers, there were now whole days when neither FISA nor FOCA launched a press release downrange at the other.

Ironically, the next race on the schedule was the French Grand Prix, which was to be run at the Paul Ricard Circuit in Southern France, and the organizing club was the Federation Francaise du Sport Automobile (FFSA) whose president was a certain Jean-Marie Balestre…

Jacques Laffite at the French GP, 1980In the days leading up to the French Grand Prix, those actually having to run the event and pay all the bills were wringing their hands, moaning, and shaking their heads. That the race would be affected by the events of June was not a question, only how much? Would the fans stay away? Would there even be a race? Of the latter question, Balestre made it clear that there most certainly would be a race, even if only four or five or six cars showed up. Naturally, those paying the bills wished to see spectators crammed into the grandstands and the enclosures, each having parted with the necessary number of Francs needed to gain entry to the circuit. Needless to say, the news that all the fines had been paid by the FOCA drivers themselves and that there might be a full grid came as good news. Only, did the spectators with those much needed Francs believe it?

On Thursday, June 26th 1980, the FOCA teams rolled into town ready to conduct the business that is Grand Prix racing. While there were still those meeting in motorhomes and various other places over the weekend, the drivers and mechanics got down to brass tacks and set about finding the best combination to cope with the Paul Ricard circuit. The Ligier team was quick right out of the box on Friday, Jacques Laffite setting the best time with Rene Arnoux in his Renault next up followed by Ligier teammate Didier Pironi. Just behind were the Williams drivers, Carlos Reutemann and Alan Jones.

On Saturday, Pironi was fastest in practice, but not fast enough since the times were down from the previous day. With a full grid, this meant that some drivers got the Wooden Spoon and would be spectators on Sunday. The unlucky members of the Order of the Wooden Spoon ended up being the Ensign of Jan Lammers, Geoff Lees and David Kennedy in the Teddy Yip Theodore Shadows. Well back on the grid were the Ferraris of Gilles Villeneuve and World Champion Jody Scheckter. On Sunday, Alan Jones got past Laffite with less than 20 laps to go to take the victory, with Pironi and Laffite finishing ahead of the Brabham of Nelson Piquet, the Renault of Arnoux, and the Williams of Reutemann. Jones and the Williams team made no bones at how delighted they were to win this particular race, especially since the crowd was perhaps the biggest to date for the event at Paul Ricard.

At the mandatory drivers' meeting, all the drivers were present but one: Pironi. Needless to say, more than a few noted this with some alarm and wondered just what Ligier was up to. As it turned out, Pironi had been delayed by traffic. This unforeseen development was immediately communicated to the FISA officials, who agreed that it was due to force majeure and therefore his absence was excused. There were more than a few sighs of relief when this was found to be the case.

While there were those getting about the usual business of motor racing, others were doing their best to ensure that Grand Prix racing continued to exist. Although there had been talks in Lausanne and at Heathrow - both from which proposals emerged but went nowhere - there seemed to be a consensus forming among the members of the warring camps that something had to be done. After the teams departed, there was a meeting at Paul Ricard on Monday to find a workable basis upon which to build an agreement.

The meeting of the FOCA teams at the Post House Hotel at Heathrow lasted nearly 13 hours. A number of points were agreed upon by the teams. On Monday, these points by the FOCA teams were presented to the FISA group working this touchy situation. At Paul Ricard, the FOCA teams were represented by Bernie Ecclestone and Colin Chapman. In addition, Carlo Chiti from Alfa Romeo, Marco Piccinini of Ferrari, Gerard Ducarouge of Ligier, and Gerard Larrousse of Renault, along with Enrico Benzing and Jean-Marie Balestre of the FISA, with Huschke von Hanstein, Jabby Crombac, Curt Schild, and Paul Frere. The talking points were: the use of less efficient tyres rather than banning sliding skirt ground effects systems; that the constructors needed to be given a greater voice in determining the formula used, the proposed fuel-flow formula in particular; that the constructors likewise be given a wider representation on the FISA Formula One Commission; and, finally, that there be greater stability in the regulations.

The meeting was lengthy and each item was discussed in detail. Ecclestone and Chapman were articulate and Balestre listened carefully to what was said. When the meeting finally ended, it was agreed that another meeting would take place following the British Grand Prix. There was a document issued after the meeting which laid out the points discussed and those needing further discussion. In summary, the Ricard note made public the following:

  • The current F1 would be extended until the beginning of 1985, which includes retention of the sliding skirts; if there was unanimous agreement by the constructors, the fuel-flow formula would take effect in the third season following the vote;
  • There would be a 10 kilogram weight increase in the minimum weight of the cars for the 1981 season;
  • Only a unanimous vote of all the constructors would allow the FISA to modify the regulations prior to January 1st 1985;
  • The means to reduce cornering speeds would be through the use of less efficient tyres, probably through the use of a threaded design; and there be eight seats for the constructors on the Formula One Commission, five for the FOCA teams and one each for Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, and Renault.

    It seemed as if there was now cause to believe that peace was nearly at hand. Although Balestre stated that some of the requests from the Paul Ricard meeting were beyond his powers to grant, the FISA Executive Committee and the Plenary Conference - meeting in October - would have to approve many of the points. He said he mentioned this since several of the FOCA teams wanted the proposals to take effect immediately. However, he noted that this did not come as a threat of further action, but rather as not understanding the workings of the FISA. What was important was that there finally seemed a movement towards some form of resolution for the ills troubling Grand Prix racing.

    The 1980 British GP took place without incidents. Alan Jones won.While there was some concern that the Dutch Grand Prix did not have a contract in place for its race, the by now usual headlines of the FISA and FOCA bickering faded and were replaced by a return to the coverage of the events that actually pertained to motor racing. The news surrounding the British Grand Prix were the announcements that Jody Scheckter would retire at the end of the season, Pironi and Laffite would remain with the Talbot Ligier program in 1981, Goodyear was concerned about the tyre situation in F1 and speaking with the FISA Technical Committee, the failure of Desire Wilson to qualify at Brands Hatch, the recovery of Clay Regazzoni after his horrific crash at Long Beach, and the victory of Alan Jones as a signal that Williams were truly a power to be reckoned with. Scarcely a word on the FIASCO War.

    It seemed that the Good Ship Grand Prix had weathered the storm and was once again on calm seas. Indeed, the problems of American racing were now the gist of the political mill. Then in quick succession Patrick Depailler was killed while testing at Hockenheim and the FISA issued a bulletin on the items discussed and actions taken by the Executive Committee. The Executive Committee confirmed that the Spanish Grand was conducted illegally and the results were null and void - the race never happened as far as the Championship was concerned. Those competing in the race were fined 3,000 Swiss Francs with the penalty suspended. Any promoters conducting a "pirate" Grand Prix race in the future would be dealt with, an opinion shared by the representatives from the 13 ASN (Autorité Sportive Nationale) attending the meeting.

    In addition, the FISA stated that after discussion and review of possible means to reduce cornering speeds, sliding skirts would be banned as of January 1st 1981. The proposal for the use of "inefficient" or threaded tyres was deemed not acceptable. The two companies supplying tyres to the F1 teams, Goodyear and Michelin, disagreed on this point, which led Goodyear to publicly voice its disappointment that Michelin refused to agree to more work in this area.

    Initial comments from Max Mosley of FOCA were along the lines that it was "more conciliatory" than he expected. Frank Williams, however, was in no mood to be so careful with his words. Williams was clearly angry, since he thought that those most involved in the actual conduct of the sport needed a far greater vote and voice in how things were done.

    Also in the bulletin issued by the FISA Executive Committee was a strong condemnation of the organizers of the US GP at Watkins Glen, the problems with security and spectator safety due to the antics at the "bog" being specifically mentioned. The Watkins Glen organizers were ordered to post substantial bonds to guarantee that improvements would be in place prior to the race being run in October. After having narrowly survived movement of the race to a date earlier in the year, it was clear that things were not going well in New York.

    While no missiles were launched and no raids were made on the other's trenches, there was little question after the announcement from the FISA Executive Committee that the troops had been ordered back to the top step on the parapets with new rumors of war making the rounds. Some of the more bellicose rants were coming from Goodyear who roundly condemned Michelin for its refusal to entertain any discussion on tyre restrictions. Goodyear then announced that it had informed the FISA that it planned to phase out its participation in Grand Prix racing. Goodyear was making it clear that it was furious that it was being equally blamed for any failure to produce an agreement on reducing cornering efficiency through reducing tyre efficiency through the use of threads or reducing the size of the contact patch.

    The FOCA issued a release reminding Balestre that he had promised to find some means through the use of tyre restrictions to slow the cars by four seconds a lap. That did not seem to be the case in the opinion of the FOCA. With 23 of the 27 cars participating in F1 equipped with Goodyear tyres, the FOCA wondered aloud if the head nod by Balestre at Paul Ricard was done simply to avoid any more problems. Surely, the FOCA said, this couldn't be true? Or could it? That the FOCA was not happy was readily apparent to even the FISA gnomes.

    If nothing else, the German Grand Prix was run without much turmoil, the greatest concern being the lack of a cause being announced for the fatal accident of Patrick Depailler while testing at Hockenheim for the event. Jacques Laffite took the checkered flag ahead of the Williams duo, Reutemann leading Jones across the line. Despite a stop for tyres and only qualifying 16th on the grid, Gilles Villeneuve managed sixth place with a tenth place car, showing that there was still much to make one pay attention to what happened out on the track.

    The relative calm extended to the Austrian Grand Prix, where Jean-Pierre Jabouille reminded one and all that Renault were still in the game. Alan Jones was scarcely a second behind at the finish followed by teammate Reutemann in third. A remarkable performance was turned in by Bruno Giacomelli in an Alfa Romeo, running a very strong fourth until the rear suspension failed.

    Jean-Marie BalestreAfter some earlier concerns that the Dutch Grand Prix might not be held, all was taken care of and with the exception of Alan Jones, a good time was generally had by all. Nelson Piquet took the lead on the 13th of 72 laps and simply ran away with the race. With the Spanish Grand Prix score dropped, Jones now held only a two point advantage over the Brabham driver. In general, it was an event of the sort that folks were once again getting used to - the racing was the focal point and not the maneuvers of the warring FIASCO parties.

    There were rumblings, however, on the scene as the future of the US GP at Watkins Glen seemed to be in question. A decision on the race was to be dependent upon an inspection to be conducted on September 5th. There was news that the South African Auto Club was in negotiations to purchase Kyalami and put it firmly in the FISA camp. And the FISA told the teams that, first, the 1981 regulations would be voted upon by the Plenary Conference on 8 October and, second, that teams wishing to participate in the 1981 World Championship needed to submit their entries not later than December 1st. While maintaining a general low profile, there was mumbling from various FOCA teams about the banning of sliding skirts.

    Then, just as many were happy to see the troops stand down from their attack positions, there was a raid which got the troops back to their attack positions. In an interview, Balestre mentioned that, oh, by the way, the FISA will now be the recipient of the starting and prize monies of the organizers and not the FOCA. The FISA would then distribute the monies and not the FOCA, which meant that any under the table deals were now going to be difficult to conduct. The FISA, being the nice group of jolly folks that it was, would only skim maybe one or two percent of the gross - a significant supplement to its treasury which was dependent almost entirely on the fees that it charged for the homologation papers it issued to the manufacturers. To stabilize costs, the FISA would agree to five year contracts with the organizers which would prevent the steep jump that FOCA laid on them for the current season. Although there were organizing clubs with FOCA contracts valid for the next several seasons, as the contracts expired, the FISA would take over.

    Balestre also stated that the FISA now had a good idea of the workings of the complex financial details of the current contracts. It was explained that the money was allocated according to points earned in the current and previous seasons, and by positions held in the intermediate and final race results. All this was held in the greatest secrecy and denied to the public. With the FISA in control, Balestre stated, the veil of secrecy would be lifted and like in other sports - where the money went and who got it would be public knowledge.

    Balestre stated that the FOCA would still exist and that should it still wish to provide for a fund to assist members of the organization, that was all well and for the good as far as the FISA was concerned. Balestre mentioned that it had intervened to convince the organizers to pay the FOCA asking price of $575,000 for the race versus the $500,000 that the Dutch organizers were stating as their top offer. After all, Balestre said, the World Championship was the property of the FISA.

    Balestre went on to further state that the FISA would make available a new rulebook governing Formula One some time in the late September or early October time frame. It would restore the real sporting power back to the FISA, he promised. He also mentioned his concerns about the safety of the current cars, mentioning the need for better protection in the front and cockpit areas of the cars; the need to find a way to resolve the qualifying tyre problem as well as reducing the size of the tyres as a measure before reintroducing threaded tyres; and the need to introduce a limit on fuel consumption as another means to slow the cars. Most important was the necessity to reduce the costs of Grand Prix racing and to keep them reasonable.

    Another item Balestre voiced support for was a limit of no more than 14 events on the Championship calendar, starting with keeping the seasons to no more than 16 and then reducing that number to 14. Any problems for the next season, Balestre suggested, would be handled around the time of the December 1st deadline for the entries for the 1981 season. Balestre made it clear that he intended to avoid having to do battle on the day of the first practice of the first race of the season. He also made it clear that any attempt to run "pirate" races would be dealt with swiftly by the FISA, licenses and fines as well as bans being the result.

    Just days after the Balestre interview was published, the FOCA huddled in London to mull over this new turn of events. The meeting was kept quiet. There was little escalation on the part of the FOCA, but the tempo of raids and interdiction barrages went up a few notches. The notion of the FISA taking over the distribution of the monies to be paid only produced head nods when it was suggested that the real point of the war seemed to be finally out in the open - the FISA wanted to enrich itself and the money was the issue. While there had been several of the FOCA teams displaying not a particularly strong sense of loyalty in the fighting up to this point, the ranks quickly seemed to be closing as this was seen as the opening of a new campaign against the FOCA.

    It was fairly quiet at the Italian Grand Prix, which was being held at Imola rather than Monza in 1980. Renault were able to make full use of their turbos, and Arnoux and Jabouille sat on the front row in that order. Sitting in the fourth slot on the grid was an Alfa Romeo, that of Giacomelli, with the first Ferrari two rows behind - even the immense talent of Villeneuve could not salvage a better starting position than eighth on the grid. In the race itself, Nelson Piquet won with Jones second, which meant that Piquet now led Jones in the Championship by a single point. Most walked away from the race impressed at the almost total lack of political bickering, especially after the Balestre interview.

    Instead, the FOCA quietly took the FISA to court, the preliminary hearing taking place in the British Commercial Court.

    Bruno Giacomelli in the Alfa Romero, 1980Meanwhile, in Canada, there was the sight of the reigning World Champion not qualifying for the race along with a huge and mighty shunt which necessitated a restart. Pironi jumped the start and was penalized 60 seconds, which meant that all Alan Jones had to do was stay within that time of Pironi since the way the Ligier driver was lapping, catching him was virtually out of the question. With the retirement of Piquet when the engine blew, Jones was once ahead in the Championship.

    Just three days after the US GP, there was to be a meeting of the FISA Plenary Conference. At Watkins Glen, Bruno Giacomelli put his Alfa Romeo on the pole, something no one really expected. In the race itself, Jones led teammate Reutemann over the line in a Williams one-two. However, there was a distinct feeling that the US GP might not be at Watkins Glen in 1981. Finances were a shambles, and many of the teams were saying that they wished they had boycotted the event as they had earlier threatened to do.

    Now the attention swung to the actions of the Plenary Conference in Paris. Since the last Plenary Conference met, there had been not a little bad blood between the FISA and the FOCA, not to mention the Battle of Jarama. What was decided in Paris could literally be the beginning of a peaceful resolution to all the wrangling and arguing. Or, it could be the signal for an all-out war between the FOCA and the FISA.

    It was an ominous sign that Bernie Ecclestone was quoted in an American newspaper as saying that the FOCA was fully prepared to run their own independent series next year if the FISA rejected their new proposals. Those proposals were said to include FOCA supporting a fuel flow formula with a fuel limitation of 210 litres and agreeing to a reduction of the size and other aspects of the sliding skirts over a period of time. On the issue of the FISA taking - seizing was the usual FOCA term - the commercial aspects of Formula One, the FOCA was as adamant in its opposition as the FISA in its intent to do so.

    Much depended upon the October 8th meeting of the FISA Plenary Conference. Most held their breath while others sharpened their bayonets...

    To be concluded next week...

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    Volume 9, Issue 7
    February 12th 2003

    Atlas F1 Special

    Interview with Ralph Firman
    by Will Gray

    The Cult of a Personality, II
    by David Cameron

    The FIASCO War Continues
    by Don Capps


    Off-Season Strokes
    by Bruce Thomson

    The F1 Trivia Quiz
    by Marcel Borsboom

    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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