There’s no doubt that team unity is a fickle thing. It was in the 1980’s during the FISA-FOCA war and continued to be through the Formula One Teams Association (FOTA) age. Teams are interested in their own backyards and while FOTA was meant to gain a unified voice, ultimately Red Bull, Toro Rosso, Ferrari, Sauber and a MIA Martin Whitmarsh has placed the final nail in a coffin labeled Formula One Teams Association.

“I can confirm that FOTA has been disbanded, as a result of its members having re-evaluated their requirements in the face of a changing political and commercial landscape in Formula 1.” Said FOTA’s secretary general, Oliver Weingarten.

For many, FOTA represented a rare opportunity to consolidate team power in which to shape the future of Formula 1 and this seemed like a charter that was much needed given that Formula One Management had sold out the series to Kirch which eventually moved into BayernLB’s hands over insolvency of the German media group.

After an alleged bribe from Bernie Ecclestone, the series then roosted in the hands of CVC Capital Partners. CVC may not have known much about running the commercial side of F1 but what they do know is how to skim all the cream from the top and plunder their investments for stakeholder value. No re-investment, no marketing campaigns, no serious interest in future-mapping F1’s 20-year success plan—simply an investment in which to hold status quo and reap the rewards.

FOTA’s demise is unfortunate and potentially costly to the future of F1 but that’s not to say that teams couldn’t unify again should they feel the future is being misdirected. The big question is if teams can actually have a unified voice and Bernie Ecclestone has proven time again how disparate and selfish needs for their own organizations benefit and survival trumps the need for unity. Only when the stakes are great and the series is making sweeping, all-encompassing changes the teams cannot live with will there be a unified shout.

FOTA was eroded, naturally or helped by Ecclestone money, when the issue of cost cutting arrived in F1. Sure, threatening a breakaway series in light of the FIA and CVC’s lack of direction during the Sex Scandal days of the Mosely regime seemed logical but start picking at balance sheets and things get very touchy. This divisive topic ultimately stalled FOTA and Ecclestone’s politicking and deal-making ensured its destabilization by luring Red Bull, Toro Rosso, Ferrari and Sauber our from under the FOTA banner. Remaining FOTA president, Martin Whitmarsh, soldiered on but his ouster at McLaren during the recent Woking junta means that FOTA is dead.

The newly formed Strategy Group that the FIA announced this year is meant to take the place of FOTA and it remains to be seen how effective this group will be given it’s debut decision is double points, one has reservations as to if this group truly has the unified voice and clarity to see F1’s best interests.

FOTA was the right idea at perhaps at the right time. It’s demise is certainly unfortunate as the series needed this group if only to keep the players honest and to keep the team interests salient to the conversation when it came to big-rock issues that impact all teams in a more global fashion. Issues such as double points, regulation changes and commercial rights moves or IPO opportunities. In the end, the teams comprise the show and the show has had the gout for several years now. Sad that the teams failed to lend their unified voice to the diagnosis and treatment regimen.

An F1 fan since 1972, NC has spent over 25 years in the technology industry focusing on technology integration, AV systems integration, digital media strategies, technology planning, consulting, speaking, presenting, sales, content strategy, marketing and brand building.
  • peterriva

    FOTA folding? was there ever a tentpole? Or indeed a tent?

    • I maintain that when the mission of FOTA turned from safeguarding the series from the scandal and the new owners to very intimate things such as cost caps and cutting, that’s when things went too far. FOTA should not have taken on initiatives that delved into the P&L rather remained at 30K feet to combat lunacy at the commercial rights and regulatory levels that impact all teams regardless how much they spend or how competitive they are or aren’t.

  • jeff

    Todd, do you, or anyone else, understand F1’s hierarchy? I don’t get the delineation of responsibilities/duties to F1.

    As I understand it, FOM takes care of logistics and, in conjunction with the FIA, legal issues, technical rulings, and so on. I think race and test scheduling, commercial rights/merchandising, and so on. FOTA was and now the Strategy Group acted as a sort of Union for the teams. Is this correct?

    It seems like arbitration and policing are all over the place in F1, with tasks best-suited to one faction for some reason allotted to another; I don’t know how anything gets accomplished.

    • It’s very complex, that’s for sure. The FIA, FOM (CR owners) and the teams all work in a symbiotic fashion but not always in harmony. The power struggles over the last few years have really mixed things up and without knowing what the bi-lateral agreements are between FOM and the teams or the bi-lateral agreement between the FOM and FIA, it’s hard to know where the jurisdictional responsibility is exactly.

      It’s always been proffered that the FIA manages the regulatory side but they provide much more than that. FOM handle the commercial aspect but are very involved politically with the regulatory decisions and direction of F1. Teams have pull as well and can create initiatives through the proper due process of the FIA. It’s confusing but if you look at what FOTA was attempting to do, you can see that it could be a missing voice in the collective if the teams are kept divided.

      The big move would require teams to put aside their own individual benefits and revenue in favor of the future of F1 regardless of if they reap rewards or are even involved in it in the future. This requires a very selfless role and one that most teams aren’t willing to play. I think, for them, they could as easy race in a new series as opposed to F1 as they feel they ARE the show. Teams get animated when they feel they are on the short end of the stick as far as revenue sharing or some regulatory decision that is counter to their ability to perform.

      • jeff

        Thanks, that helps clear up what the intended roles were/are of each branch.

        Just from reading, it seems like a structural body with absolute oversight is needed; as much as I hate that, some times “a buck stops here” hierarchy works in getting self-interested parties to play nice.

        I’d thought that was the FIA,with FOM working on advertising for lack of better terms and FOTA as the Union or checks and balances to FIA as alluded earlier; instead it looks like everyone vetoes everyone else, and because of in-fighting between the teams, they can’t, say, effectively force FOM into a collective bargaining agreement for merchandising rights (i.e. mutual profit-sharing.)

        What a friggin’ mess. I’d think FIA would be that head, keeping FOM at bay, and the natural result of FIA’s authority forcing the teams to create some sort of Teams’ interest group, but I guess not.

  • charlie w

    No one will miss it. FOTA was as effective in Formula-1 as the UN is in establishing world peace.

  • F1derbar

    Todd, why isn’t F1blog reporting on this??:

  • Rapierman

    Are there teams that could use an “attitude adjustment”? (Harsh, I know, but I’m an Air Force brat. I wish there was a better way to say it, but I’m not aware of it.)

  • Tom Firth

    Fota failed when Ferrari and Red Bull left it. Losing Two of the biggest political powers in the series meant it became far less effective.

    If FOTA had kept hold of those two, Who knows.

  • gsprings

    Officially every team and man for himself