Atlas F1

The Good, The Bar and The Ugly

by Roger Horton, England

So the relatively short-running but high profile saga of the BAR dispute with the FIA over its dual branding policy is over. Apparently it was all the lawyers' fault. They acted without instructions from MD Craig Pollock and made statements that did not represent his views...

Furthermore, we are told that BAR now totally accepts the authority of the FIA and World Motorsport Council and has apologized for the whole affair. The FIA on its part has indicated that the matter is now closed and no further fines or race bans are likely to be forthcoming. Whew. Well that's all right then, for a while there I thought this was going to end up with real tears!

A mechanic's outfit or a clown's?This was always going to be an unequal struggle. It was naive in the extreme for the decision-makers at British American Tobacco (BAT) to believe that they could so easily overturn the authority of the FIA or their power brokers, who are essentially Max Mosley and Bernie Ecclestone.

The days of tobacco sponsorship are clearly numbered. The prevailing wind in Formula One is for the increasing involvement of motor manufacturers which are seen as "clean" and non-controversial. The hard fought concessions that the tobacco companies won, in delaying the implementation of rules that apply to everyone else, are just too precious to be jeopardized by having the new kid on the block kick sand in the authorities faces by introducing two new brands at this late stage.

The popular sentiment that this was some type of David verses Goliath contest (with the tobacco giant BAT ironically cast in the role of David) is very wide off the mark. The heavy hitters at BAT are used to fighting constant legislative battles with national governments of all types. A 'mere' sporting authority maybe looked upon as an easy mark. They clearly broke Rule One of life in F1: "Thou shalt not upset Max or Bernie." It now appears from the statements released from Geneva that this lesson has now been well and truly learned.

All, of course, is not perfect in F1's world and it has become fashionable for fans and some sections of the media to criticize it at every turn. But show me any other organization of this size and complexity that transports itself around the world to 16 or so countries every year, with the precision that matches - or even comes close to - Formula One's efficiency. It is so often the case that these successful operations are run by "benign dictators" who can, at times, ruffle feathers - but whose success is built around getting things done.

A glance around any F1 paddock tells its own story. The overall organization required is mind boggling. At the recent Australian Grand Prix almost 350,000 people entered the gates over the four days of the event. Fans usually vote with their feet, so by any yardstick the Melbourne event was a huge success. On the way home from Australia, race winner Eddie Irvine, amongst others, stopped off to attend the official opening of the new Sepang circuit in Malaysia. The Malaysian government - clearly seeing the value of using the "show" that is Formula One to put their country for at least one weekend of the year firmly on the world map. This deal was not worked out by a committee - but with decision makers from both sides that can deliver on their promises. This is F1's great strength and is so often misunderstood when some of those decisions are seen to be arbitrary.

I have no doubt that dual branding, that is running cars of the same team in different liveries, will eventually return to F1. The principle makes sound economic sense and when the huge money supply from the tobacco companies is turned off, the rule makers will bow to the inevitable.

The power brokers that run F1 do not make all the right decisions, but they make more right ones than wrong ones, which in the running of any business is the yardstick. More importantly, they get most of the major decisions right, which is how F1 has progressed from the "grass track" era of the fan-only involvement of the sixties to the mainstream sport it is today.

So for the BAR team it is back to the things that really matter. Making their car go faster and getting it to finish in Brazil. Clearly from their performance in Australia they have a mountain to climb in both departments. Some they can maybe fix, others - like the lack of grunt from the Supertec engine - they clearly can't. Ricardo Zonta showed enough to indicate that we have seen the arrival of a major new talent in Formula One and Villeneuve pressed on in his usual style.

And the ugly? yes, you guessed it. The car, with its dual branding answer to the regulations dictated by those good guys - is just plain ugly!

Roger Horton 1999 Atlas Formula One Journal.
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