It has long been accepted that the Formula 1 establishment handles Scuderia Ferrari differently to any and all of the other teams.
In recognising the value they add to the sport as a result of the Italian marque’s heritage, their continued participation in Formula 1 since its inception in 1950 (although they didn’t race in the very first Grand Prix at Silverstone it must be noted!), their fanbase in Europe and crucially the USA – a market F1 has been desperate to crack for decades without a huge deal of success, and the prestige of their brand, Formula 1 & the FIA considers them deserving of special treatment.
This includes better financial reward than any of their competitors (around $60 million just for turning up on top of any prize money earned) and a greater say in regulatory affairs too.
Many people argue this arrangement is so skewed in favour of one competitor that it devalues the sport. On the other hand, a Formula 1 without Ferrari is a significantly devalued one too, and so F1 finds itself between a rock and a hard place.
But unless you’re a keen Formula 1 fan you most probably wouldn’t be able to tell that such favouritism exists, such is Ferrari’s temperamental form.
If they were to dominate the sport (as they should be doing with such an advantage!) then it might be more of an issue, but when they’re picking up the odd win here and there between intermittent crises of strategy, driver meltdowns & management as Mercedes dominate, nobody seems to mind too much.
However, every now and again, the bias is exposed, and it isn’t received too well amongst the Formula 1 community.
And so, after lengthy question marks over the legality of Ferrari’s power unit – specifically around its fuel flow – the FIA released a statement to say that while it has no evidence of any wrongdoing by Ferrari, ‘a settlement’ has been reached between team and governing body, the details of which will remain private and no more will be said on the matter.
Obviously this suggests that there is validity in the suspicions that Ferrari have been up to no good, and that they’re happy to give the FIA a few quid to have the matter go away.
Unsurprisingly, the rest of the F1 paddock aren’t too happy about this, prompting the seven non-Ferrari affiliated teams – Williams Racing, Mercedes, Red Bull, Alpha Tauri, Racing Point, Renault and Mclaren to release a joint statement stating that they were prepared to go to court in order to “pursue full and proper disclosure” of the settlement.
The FIA responded by saying that its actions were in full accordance with their own regulations and in justifying its stance added “the complexity of the matter and the impossibility of providing unequivocal evidence of a breach.” which roughly translates as “We know Ferrari were doing wrong, we’re not sure we can prove it, and they’ve bunged us a load of cash so that we won’t even try”.
These ‘deals’ have been part of F1 for decades, as teams tread the fine line between what’s legal and what’s not in an effort to gain some sort of advantage that could bridge the gap between failure and success, and so it should come as very little surprise to onlookers.
What slightly surprises me is that Ferrari – who must have known that whatever they were doing was almost impossible to trace (I think by now any doubt that they were actually cheating has been removed!), that they agreed to settle rather than to simply plead innocence and let the FIA do their thing knowing they’d find no evidence of it.
And they knew that because the FIA wouldn’t have agreed a settlement in the first place if they could prove Ferrari were cheating.
That is… (tin foil hat on) unless the FIA COULD HAVE proven Ferrari flouted the rules and they’ve turned a blind eye to it because they’re Ferrari.
On this occasion, perhaps like never before, the FIA have found themselves with two seriously powerful adversaries to Ferrari – Mercedes Benz and Red Bull – that seem to be refusing to roll over in the face of apparent injustice.
And so I’d be surprised if today’s statement by the FIA will be enough to pacify them on this occasion, and so this is likely to rumble on in the coming weeks and months.
Stay tuned for more juicy developments!