F1: Manor gets its first taste of paddock politics

By LJ Hutchins

CalendarSunday, June 28th, 2009

 
 

F1 newcomer Manor is getting its first taste of paddock politics after it was revealed the FOTA teams are preparing a formal complaint against FIA chief steward Alan Donnelly over the handling of its PR strategy.

This follows news that the £40 million budget cap, an essential ingredient in the applications of prospective new teams, will now not be in place. Instead the newcomers can look forward to as-yet-unspecified ‘technical assistance,’ perhaps of the sort enjoyed by Force India through its partnership with Mercedes.

Today The Guardian is reporting that the FOTA teams are preparing a formal complaint against Donnelly, often described as FIA president Max Mosley’s right-hand man, “amid suspicions his company has been involved in helping to set up grid newcomers Manor.”

The teams are thought to be uncomfortable about Manor’s partnership with Nick Wirth, an engineer who worked with Mosley through the March and Simtek Formula One teams, and who has recently carried out technical research on split-wing design for the FIA. Wirth is working as Manor’s technical director.

The paper says that Jane Nottage, an associate director of Donnelly’s company Sovereign Strategy Ltd which deals with global policy and communication issues, is understood to be giving her time to the Sheffield-based team on a pro-bono basis to run its public relations strategy.

It also claims that Donnelly escorted a Manor executive around the paddock to introduce him to his future colleagues.

If the complaint comes to pass it will be the second made by FOTA about Donnelly in a fortnight. The teams recently wrote to the World Motorsport Council claiming that he had acted improperly by canvassing support for Mosley during the Turkish Grand Prix. The FIA has rejected the claim.

But Donnelly’s position, communicated through “a close associate,” is that he has no direct involvement with Manor and that he has stayed well within FIA rules.

Manor team principal John Booth has separately been talking to Autosport about the effect on his team of the scrapping of the budget cap, saying it is too soon to know how his plans to race will be affected.

He said: “Every time you think you’ve got it sorted out it all changes again, it’s like walking on quicksand. But until we see what the Concorde agreement is, if they ever sign it, then we’ll comment.

“[The removal of the budget cap] makes it more difficult of course, but I think we can just about manage it. It just depends what the target is in two years time, what 1990s levels were. Honestly, it’s almost impossible to comment.

“It’s great that all the cars are going to race in one championship, but I can’t really comment on the agreement until I know what it is – it was very broad wasn’t it?”

We think that it is frankly very worrying that a 2010 team principal finds himself entered into a championship with rules different to the ones under which he applied, and with little clear idea of the situation he will be facing.

And it is very easy to understand the decisions of Prodrive and Lola – teams that we would very much like to see graduate to F1 – to withdraw their prospective entries as soon as the current situation began to become messy.

While we welcome the decision of the FOTA teams and the FIA to step back from a breakaway series, we believe it is crucial to the future of F1 that new teams are able to join and become competitive – perhaps the most crucial challenge it faces.

With Manor facing this current combination of paddock politics and financial uncertainty, it’s particularly easy to see why they wouldn’t bother.

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