Formula 1 Insight

The Ghosts of Years Past

It seems that Brabham, one of the hallowed names of F1, has filed an entry for the 2010 season along with the other hopefuls. That includes March, another well known name from the past although not quite as illustrious as Black Jack's and Bernie's old team. For a moment, it might seem that the great and carefree days of the seventies are about to return.

Brabham badge

We should remember, however, that these are not the teams as we knew them; the rights to the names were sold after their demise and nothing remains of the actual teams themselves. These are effectively new start-ups, therefore, with perhaps even less chance of success than the GP2 teams moving up to try their luck. One can only hope that, should these two teams ever appear in the starting line-up for a GP, they do not completely shame the glorious names they have assumed.

Max Mosley's old team, March, has rather less to live up to than Brabham, having never won an F1 championship in its previous incarnations. Perhaps its greatest claim to fame was not the early days of Mosley involvement but the March-Judd 881, the first F1 car to showcase the talents of a young designer named Adrian Newey.

Brabham, however, is a name that will be hard for any new team to live up to. Founded on solid, no-nonsense values, its cars earned championships for Sir Jack himself and Denny Hulme before being sold to Bernie Ecclestone. Thanks to the expertise of Bernie's designer, Gordon Murray, the team was soon winning GPs again and provided Nelson Piquet with two of his three championships in the eighties. The decline after Murray left and Bernie sold the team is best forgotten, especially as it might prove an ominous pointer to the new entrant's chances.

Which leaves me in two minds regarding the revival of these old names. It would be wonderful to see them return with anything more than a shadow of their previous gravitas but this is unlikely, to say the least. One might even suspect that the entries have been made with a view to selling on to whichever FOTA teams find themselves excluded by Max's intransigence over the budget cap.

That such an idea should even occur to me is surely an indication of how low our expectations of the politics of F1 have become. Just as money is threatening to be the cause of the sport's degeneration into farce, so it appears also as a possible motivator for the wannabe teams lining up for entrance. And since when did any team in F1 participate for profit? It is traditionally an expensive game and teams have been fortunate to survive financially from year to year.

Not that I would argue for the continued spending of astronomical figures by the existing teams. Obviously, each team has to cut its cloth according to the means available and there was always going to be less money to spend in the near future. It is this strange idea that competing in F1 should be a profitable business that does not seem right. If that is now the ruling motivation behind the sport, it seems that the spirit of Minardi is indeed gone forever.


Couldn't agree more. Having said that-only one more thing to say.

Date Added: 03/06/2009

Ah, now, if Lotus were to return, my happiness would e complete... :)
Date Added: 03/06/2009

I thought the Leyton House March's in the 90's were very attractive cars.
Date Added: 03/06/2009

I love seeing all these teams interested in coming into the sport, but I dislike the fact that Mosely has succeeded in his standard tactic of divide and conquer. The budget capped entries have eroded FOTA's effectiveness, and I fear those teams will come to rue the day they agreed to enter an F1 that is governed in such an arbitrary way.

The budget cap issue obfuscates the fact that FOTA is really trying to change the governance of the sport. I hope that FOTA is approaching these new teams to state their common positions and goals. A team that is for a budget cap doesn't need to be for Max's version of governance. Yet entering under this set of regulations is validating behavior that has been damaging destabilizing the sport.

I think the dizzying possibility of actually contesting a season of F1 has clouded otherwise sensible teams. I would love to see Lotus out there (and Porsche!), but not with the possibility of having the rules change any time Max decides to set an ill conceived goal (like his latest idea to have one I4 engine used by all FIA sanctioned series with differentiation via peripherals like turbos and superchargers). If it weren't for Max's unpredictable behavior, teams like ProDrive would already be in F1. USF1 was on the way with or without a cap.

I support FOTA, and I don't want the mist of nostalgia to cloud my view of what is really happening to the sport.
Date Added: 03/06/2009

Aracer: Agreed, but not as pretty as Murray's Brabhams! ;)
Date Added: 03/06/2009

Marc: Absolutely right. And it is nostalgia for the name only, since these are new teams that hope only to trade off the value of a name they have bought.

I don't see how the new teams can be courted by FOTA - by signing on for 2010 they are actually agreeing to abide by Max's rules. How many of them are actually able to put a car on the grid is debatable anyway and there are bound to be failures amongst them. As tempting as it may seem for teams to enter while the conditions seem so favourable, they are risking a lot while the FOTA/FIA war continues. No one knows who will prevail in the end and the regulations could still change a great deal before next season. Ray Mallock (RML) is being wise in waiting until next year before submitting an entry.
Date Added: 03/06/2009

> It is this strange idea that
> competing in F1 should be
> a profitable business that
> does not seem right.

I couldn't disagree more strongly. This is all about resources and profits. If all these brilliant men were trying to be nice to their fellow men, they'd be be sitting in front of microscopes curing cancer, not building cars. Bernie and Flavio may not look like Hollywood starlets, but they're brilliant entertainers, and they're not stupid.

If Mosley (presumably Bernie's proxy) and Bernie or any other set of forces diminishes the fulfillment these teams find in racing, they'll send in a few lawyers and the contracts will be invalidated.

In Hollywood, they say the sex is the financial deal that gets a movie made; the actual film is just a cigarette afterwards. In the past two years especially, F1 has provided some outstanding entertainment. Let's not worry *too* much about how things work in the top offices; they were never really thinking of us anyway.
Date Added: 04/06/2009

F1 is increasingly seen as a business but it remains essentially a sport, whatever Bernie may think. It was here before Bernie and it may well survive him. Teams compete in F1 to be the best and they will spend whatever money they have to get to the front - hardly a profit-making endeavour, is it? That is why it is not a business and never can be unless you change it to the point of no longer being F1 (which, of course, is what Max and Bernie are on the way to doing).

The fact that no one appears to have noticed is that, if Max and Bernie succeed in their aims, the audience will melt away as they realise that F1 is no longer a sport and has become some sort of reality TV event. Without an audience, the money supply dries up and then what sort of business do we have?

What we are witnessing in the FOTA/FIA war is the battle between those who want to squeeze every last drop of money out of F1 and those who just want to compete in the same way it has been done for sixty years.
Date Added: 04/06/2009

Pink Peril
Fantastic comment Clive. Says it all, really.
Date Added: 04/06/2009

Thank you, Peril.
Date Added: 04/06/2009

Cridland: Apologies for no preview - one of those upgrades to the blog that my son might one day have the time to add to the coding. Never mind, he can fix the markup for his sins. ;)

Meanwhile Bernie and his stooge Max are grateful for your interest, and your sense of aggrieved honor: It plays into their hands nicely. I often suspect that I am doing exactly that but what else can I do? Sitting quietly and accepting their nonsense is temperamentally impossible for me.

You are right in that F1 is a business as far as Bernie and the manufacturers are concerned; both get what they want out of it, although the manufacturer teams are coming to understand that there are more important aspects to it that make it what it is (whether their respective boards understand that is another matter entirely). And the factor that must be present or the whole thing descends into some sort of freak show similar to NASCAR is that it remains a sport in which people compete for the right to be a world champion.

That transcends money, although at the moment large sums are paid to the winners. Take Button, for instance; he will likely be champion this year and suddenly there is talk of him going to another team with a bigger name and more bucks next year. Yet that is laughable - he will stick with Brawn because his motivation is the championship, not money. The same could be said for almost all (I am undecided about Raikkonen) of the drivers; they would drive for nothing if they had to.

The teams consume vast amounts of money but rarely do they make a profit. From their point of view, F1 is not a business at all. If it were, they would have got out years ago when they realized they were never going to be profitable. So we have a situation where those controlling F1 regard it as a money-making venture but those who actually create "the show" are still in it for the sporting competition. Ask Frank Williams how much money his team made in the last ten years. If that's a business, it's a crap one.

You say that no one has done more for the series than Bernie; that is presuming that I like the transformation of a perfectly good sport into a traveling circus designed to fill the pockets of financiers. Strangely, I do not. In many ways, I think that Max's present course of completely restructuring F1 with new and smaller teams, minus the giants we are used to, may well be the best hope for the future of the sport. I just think it would be better done by a process of evolution rather than revolution, thereby giving it a chance of retaining its fans.

But the loss of the fanbase would end all consideration of the sport as a business. Bernie's income would be destroyed overnight as the TV companies realized their viewers had disappeared. And that is why Bernie will have to persuade Max to reach an accommodation with the FOTA teams.

It is not news to me that Briatore cares nothing for the excellence of the cars. He is a businessman in Bernie's mold, interested in what is in it for him only. But his team cares.

All your questions regarding what makes a good race depend on my seeing F1 as a "show". Once again, I do not. It is a sporting competition and what matters to me is the engineering excellence of the cars and the skill of the drivers. I watched F1 before it ever became an entertainment and I will watch it as long as the two elements mentioned remain.

In fact, that answers your reflections on the various tweaks that could be introduced to make for better racing. I started watching F1 when the formula was for 1.5 liter engines and it was as satisfying then (perhaps more so) as in any of the turbo years. The important thing is the level playing field - everyone knows what they're allowed and they build the best machine they can within those limits.

The "show" is related to the business aspect of the sport and it has not always been present. Only when we see F1 as entertainment do we get involved in questions of improving the "show". Like all motor racing, it began as a bunch of guys getting together to show themselves quicker than the next guy. If a crowd gathered to watch, that was fine but it was not the aim. Unfortunately, the sport proved eminently watchable and the crowds grew bigger and bigger until Bernie came along and realized that he could make money out of this.

You can say that I am simplifying things too much but I do so to point out the essential ingredient that makes F1 what it is: competition. Take that away and we will be left with something rather akin to the movie industry, with the drivers as stars depending for their fame more upon their huge personalities than any particular skill and with the races lotteries and crash fests.

Oh, good grief, I think I just described NASCAR...

Thanks for the excellent comment, by the way. It is always a pleasure to discuss F1 with someone who knows the sport well.
Date Added: 04/06/2009

Mad, can you fix the italics, please? A closing tag missing in the comments somewhere and you know I can't edit comments!
Date Added: 04/06/2009

Thanks to all! There should have been an close-italics tag after the words "his own joke" Sorry
Date Added: 04/06/2009

Cridland []
> Sitting quietly and accepting
> their nonsense is temperamentally
> impossible

Agreed! Agreed! I too reserve the right to b***h & moan at any time, without warning!

> he will stick with Brawn
> because his motivation is
> the championship

Well, let's remember how desperate things seemed at Christmas. Button was a thirtyish guy with a single win and (at least) two horrible recent years on his tally. (Truth is that after ignoring F1 for 30 years I didn't start watching again until the 2007 season, so please speak up if I get this wrong.) His wattage as a driving hero had been substantially eclipsed by a younger countryman with a (then-) unsullied teenage demeanor. On New Years' Eve, it seemed entirely possible that Button would never race in Formula One again. His motivation was a *ride*, not just a whole championship. We're told that he and Rubens took enormous pay cuts to keep the enterprise in motion, and they're still all flying Easyjet. Bernie handed Ross Brawn the keys to a kingdom, certainly, but it's a kingdom on a budget... At least for *this* year!

> If that's a business, it's
> a crap one.

Oh, I don't know about that. Beyond the obvious considerations (ahem), I'd bet Frank Williams lives in higher style than I do! It's a risky business for the men within it. But right up until the moment things go wrong, these guys are –as the saying goes– farting through silk. The money Brawn is saving this year is his own: A few more stickers on that clean white car and he's flying first-class as well.

> may well be the best hope
> for the future of the sport.

Agree completely. You got it!

A comment to be posted here shortly discusses this. I think the FOTA/FIA conflict is the plot of a soap-opera. (Is "Coronation Street" the right UK metaphor?). Bernie is trying to force the point about constructor teams. He's probably wanted to expand the number of teams for years... The more teams we see on the grid, the more contracts there are for him to 'buy and sell and negotiate', as he says above. In this scenario, everybody wins! Bernie wins, you win, I win, the teams win! Everybody wins...

...Except Frank Williams. Not only would the contractual pie be split amongst more players, but competition would be thicker in the low-budget stratum, especially if any clown with few bucks in his pocket can buy a chassis and a motor and call it a racing team.

But Bernie can't be seen as challenging the long-beloved stalwart of Formula One, can he? So why not let the already-disgraced Mosley do the dirty work?... A financial crisis like this is an opportunity to someone who sees the chess board as clearly as Bernie does.

> [Briatore] is a businessman in
> Bernie's mold, interested in what
> is in it for him only. But his
> team cares.

Yes, and that's good enough! Four championships in ten (or so) years, right?

> Bernie's income would be
> destroyed overnight as the TV
> companies realized their viewers
> had disappeared.

Clive, you're much more optimistic about all this than I am. Again, I think people go to races to see shiny cars go fast, and sports teams exist to offer hospitality suites to corporate clients, amusing those fatcats as best they can. TV ratings were up for sunset in Albert Park, when you couldn't see anything anyway!

(Part of this cynicism comes from growing up near Indianapolis, where a half a million people used to show up to see handsome young men maimed by a cruel wall; whatever historical dignity was accrued by decades of this monstrous tradition was nonetheless squandered in a political squabble.)

> presuming that I like the
> transformation of a perfectly
> good sport into a traveling
> circus designed to fill the
> pockets of financiers.

I understand your resentment, I swear I do... But some good things have happened in the circus besides a bigger take at the box office. Forgive me for linking to comments at other blogs but I feel silly typing the same things over and over. Formula One is much better than it used to be for being so much safer. In the two years I've been back (so to speak), nothing has meant more to me than knowing that Kuciba *walked* from calamity the Montreal hairpin with nothing worse than a mild headache... And conquered a year later! People who know more than me say that Jackie Stewart is as responsible for this safety as anyone, and that Bernie (and the rest) had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the new millenium...

...But dragged they were! Things can improve in Formula One in important ways, and we shouldn't be too cynical.

Well, we should *try* not to be too cynical! No promises from this corner, mister!...
Date Added: 04/06/2009

To answer a few points:

Yes, Button's motivation at the beginning of the year was to hang on to his F1 drive if at all possible. But why hold on to it if not to prove his ability to be champion if ever given a car capable of it? And the fact that he took a pay cut shows that he still has the drive to prove himself the best - the money matters not.

Brawn traveled with his team on cheap flights even while he was working for Ferrari. It is a matter of keeping the team together and properly motivated and has nothing to do with saving money.

I think you give Bernie too much credit for business acumen. His only concern must be to preserve viewing figures so that he can continue to squeeze as much money from the sport as possible. You may not agree that the fanbase will desert in huge numbers if F1 is filled with shoestring teams without a history but it is a risk nevertheless. And I cannot see a good businessman taking that risk.

As for Bernie dumping Max, he would do it the moment his income is threatened. He already disagrees with Max over F1 needing Ferrari - and that is because he can see his income dwindling if the Ferrari fans depart.

From your comments on safety, I presume that you take the usual line of Max being responsible for F1's present safety standards. In fact, he was slow to do anything about it and, had he acted sooner when the dangers of Imola first became apparent, Senna would be alive today. He did what had to be done after Senna's death and deserves no great kudos for that. The improvements in safety were inevitable after that terrible event.

As for Sir Frank's underwear, I wouldn't know whether he "farts through silk" or not but I doubt it. The man is just too driven to be bothered with such things.

But you're right that I am more optimistic about things than you are. It pains me to think that Bernie might be right and F1 can get itself a viewership of the kind that just wants to swill beer and go ooh-ahh at the sound of the cars. I have to hope that he's wrong and such visions of the future will explode in his face.
Date Added: 04/06/2009

I sit here week on week and read through these postings and then I read the comments and I sometimes agree with the analysis or (on occasion) laugh out loud at the preposterous ideas mooted. There has even been the odd tear shed over the lastest proposal by those that wield the stick over the teams, but I dry my eyes and look forward to the next race in the full and certain knowledge that there are still some within the sport who simply want to go racing.
All political nonsense aside, the sport will continue long after the demise of the mad one and the short, blonde one. (may that scenario hurry along). The thing is that, delighted as I am to hear the name of Brabham emerge again from the past, it will have much to do to awaken the 'Spirit of Racing' that the founders of that esteemed company did.
I have always said that I just like to see a good race. I am a sucker for those that come from behind despite the odds and produce a race that proves driving skill.
Brabham, March, Lotus... Ahh the dreams of yesteryear. Let them come. Let them prove themselves alongside those that are true to the sport. Let us (the fans) watch and love racing as it should be - Mavericks that have vision and are free to invent and develop and be like the sporting racers that have given us a long and proud history.


Date Added: 05/06/2009

Great comment, Fractal. It expresses exactly how so many of us feel about the sport and the damage being done to it by the Terrible Two.
Date Added: 05/06/2009

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