- The Inside Line
'Respect mah authoritah'Kate Walker July 20, 2014
In an early episode of South Park, Eric Cartman starts working for the town's police force. Hardly a paragon of virtue or justice, the overweight cartoon eight-year-old rolled around town on his tricycle, clubbing people with his truncheon while shouting "respect mah authoritah".
It wasn't the sort of policing that would win any awards for fairness, justice, or right, but it did get results.
What Formula One desperately needs right now is some policing lessons from Cartman. The teams have long since established that they do not respond well to carrots, and instead require sticks if they are to abandon their own self-interest for the long-term good of the sport.
Since he was first elected in late 2009, FIA president Jean Todt has tried treating the teams like reasonable adults, appealing to their better nature with regard to discussions on cost caps, cost reduction measures, and listening to - and responding to - complaints about decisions that were made long before the Frenchman took over the FIA presidency.
But the teams are not adults, and they do not respond well to reason. Instead, the Formula One paddock is comprised of eleven rather unruly children, all of whom want to keep the biggest slice of cake for themselves. Partly because they like cake, and partly so that they can rub it in the faces of their rivals.
Children misbehave because they are testing their boundaries, pushing the limits until they discover just what they can get away with and what will earn them five minutes on the naughty step, thinking about what it is they've done. The teams are the same, thanks to a sport that has been designed around the very notion of testing boundaries, of pushing regulations to the limit of what's legal.
Former FIA president Max Mosley was very much of the spare the rod and spoil the child school of team parenting, using his authority (authoritah?) to punish those he thought guilty of transgressions either real or imaginary. It wasn't fair, but as any parent can tell you, life isn't fair. Nor is motor racing.
But Mosley went too far, and it was partly in response to his over-authoritative presidency that the teams were able to club together and cooperate in the name of mutual self-interest, much as fighting siblings will club together and lie to avoid punishment.
Under Todt's considerably more liberal regime, the teams - lacking a common enemy - stopped cooperating on political matters and reverted to their combative state. This left them open to 'divide and conquer' manoeuvres from the commercial rights holder, who has long since used that approach to model the sport in the image he sees fit.
Which is why we're in the situation we have at present, with F1's big teams rolling in the clover as the smaller outfits beg for scraps.
No one wants a return to the Mosley era. But much as a good parent will ensure their children take their medicine and finish their vegetables, Todt must now impose his authority on Formula One, plugging his ears to his recalcitrant children's complaints of injustice and unfairness. They have proven they don't know what's good for them. Todt, with his big picture thinking, does.