A number – a small number, perhaps, but a number nonetheless – of interesting quotes emerged from the second English Formula One Teams Association Fans’ Forum. The forum, held Tuesday at the Williams GP base in Grove, Oxfordshire, allowed F1 fans from around the country to pose questions to team chiefs Ross Brawn (Mercedes), Martin Whitmarsh (McLaren) and Bob Fearnley (deputy team chief, Force India) in a 45-minute question-and-answer session.
The session, which took place after an autograph session with Pastor Maldonado and an hour or so looking around the Williams GP museum, featured questions from a variety of different fans with, it should be said, differing levels of F1 understanding and vocabulary (one nigh-incoherent individual rambled on for almost two minutes without posing a question). TAP, as you would expect, had a few questions lined up, but we never got near the microphone…
Brawn’s admission that contract talks with Mercedes veteran Michael Schumacher was one interesting moment – particularly as he was responding to a question about what he’d be doing to lure away the drivers of his two peers on the podium. Brawn acknowledged that talks will begin “in the next six weeks or so” and it seemed fairly certain that, an agreement pending, Schumacher will remain at Mercedes next season.
Another pertinent questioner raised the issue of the current penalty system, which she complained was particularly inconsistent at present. Though none of the team directors were willing to stretch their necks out – Whitmarsh taking the bold step of pointing out that “Formula 1 is constantly looking to improve and if there’s a better way of doing something, we’ll look at that”, it was Derek Warwick, a panelist in the second half of the event (the ‘Legends’ panel) and an occasional driver-advisor to the F1 race stewards, who talked more fully about the decision-making process.
“A few changes might be coming [to the system],” said Warwick, who as the president of the British Racing Drivers’ Club recently chaired an FIA meeting in Paris regarding the penalty system. He and F1’s regular race director, Charlie Whiting, “came away with some good ideas.”
Inconsistency in penalties handed down, as well as the varying amounts of time being taken to reach them, were again at the crux of the second questioner’s complaint, and Warwick certainly had some sympathy. “There is a code out there but I don’t always agree with it,” he admitted. “A drive through is too harsh a penalty for some incidents and not harsh enough for others. There is still room for tweaking.
“There are penalties inherited over time. Is a drive through at Canada, where you lose about 15s, the same as one at somewhere like Abu Dhabi for example?”
Whitmarsh, meanwhile, was able to speak more openly regarding the ongoing malaise of the Resource Restriction Agreement (RRA). As head of FOTA, Whitmarsh is the key proponent of the system, but he did concede that it carries one major flaw at present.
“[The RRA] is legally binding, but it is difficult to enforce it between ourselves other than morally,” he said.
“I have to say that every team looks me in the eyes and says it is operating within [the rules]… But the question now is how do we raise the level of confidence in the policing of it? The FIA has to make a decision about whether or when it gets involved in the policing of an RRA and some people don’t welcome that.”
By “some people”, Whitmarsh was referring none too discreetly to the Red Bull teams, who have pulled out of FOTA over the issue, and Ferrari, who left some time ago citing frustration with the inability of the association to make key decisions.
Sauber, who left last December, and HRT, who were apparently expelled for not paying their membership fee, aren’t represented by FOTA either. This, above all else, is why the group finds itself under such scrutiny as to whether the regulations it endorses are being enforced.
- The Legends’ session, which also featured John Watson and Patrick head, was a much more light-hearted affair, and consisted mostly of Watson and Warwick telling stories about when they used to race. TAP felt it might have been nice to hear more from Head.
- Pastor Maldonado’s brief interview with hostess Leigh McKenzie at the top of the schedule produced the interesting comment that the Venezuelan is “looking forward” rather than dwelling on his Valencia incident with Lewis Hamilton. Any guesses why?
- One hopefully joking questioner asked the first panel’s opinion on the proposals for a London Grand Prix, at which point all three burst out laughing. Eventually, Whitmarsh managed to say “It’s a wonderful idea”, with the emphasis firmly placed on the last word of that sentence, while Fearnley grinned “We’re all really looking forward to it”. McKenzie went straight to the next question.
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