Step one: Strong Governance
Let's face it Formula One is bloody good. Even if it doesn't float your boat one has to admire the success of the sport: The TV audience is fantastic: the races are now often genuinely exciting (certainly if the beginning of last year can be repeated); the cars remain awesome, even the ones at the back of the grid; the engineers just keep delivering clever, clever stuff; and this is all done in a glamorous shiny package that gives the audience lots to gossip and chat about.
Unfortunately there are dark and ugly clouds that hover continuously above Formula One. These threaten to rain on the parade. This dark side has always been part of the scene, but it's really time to get rid of it. What do I mean by this? We all know that the sport has a shady past with rumours of corruption; funding sources of the most dubious nature; and bullyboy tactics a plenty. The sport should have the confidence to rid itself of these shabby associations, but still they persist. At any time in my lifetime I'm sure one could have plugged in to F1 gossip and there would be a flood of hearsay accusations and gossip pointing to acts that fall below the standard that is expected in today's world.
One hears all kinds of things. Today it goes along the lines of: 'It's not looking so good for Bernie in the bribery scandal, can you believe what went on?'; 'Is the recently constituted new board of Mercedes a master stroke of getting FOM friendly faces in control there - a Machiavellian move to remove the Team's objections to Concorde?'; 'Can it really be true that two or three teams will have a veto on changes to the rules, i.e. the sport is no level playing field, but actually one where advantages to some are written into the constitution.'; 'Did Adam Parr really get booted from Williams as a condition of gaining a Concorde signature?'; 'Can it really be the case that Red Bull just flouted the Resource Restriction Agreement with a load of doublespeak and then simply walked away when accused by other teams of cheating on the agreement.?' I've no real idea if these snippets of pitlane whispers have foundation in fact or are just the usual gossip, but for sure such gossip never goes away from Formula One. Thing is that many believe these things to be true and others are more trusting. Give a little time to go by and a new list of black sleaze will circulate, and one always thinks that there's some truth.
It's probably like advertising; you know half of these claims are perhaps true, if only you knew which half. In most sports and most democratic governments (at least) such issues would be tackled head on. Formula One's government is the FIA. Are they in control? Do they think these things are outside the realm of 'bringing the sport into disrepute'? I know that the political structure of Formula One is fragile and Byzantine however if the FIA are not there to set the standard, who is?
Why is a clean upright sport important to all those honest and hardworking folks, which constitute the enormous majority in the teams? One way or another a great deal of Formula One's money supply has dried up. Sponsors have deserted the sport. The most ominous choked fountain is the loss of Formula One's traditional big supporters; the automotive industry both in terms of manufacturer teams and tier one suppliers (people like Bosch, Bridgestone, and Delco). Certainly they don't like the unsavoury rumours mentioned above and don't want their brand damaged by such associations.
There are other clouds that threaten: There's a commonly held view that F1's audience is ageing and the sport is losing the interest of the under twenties, I don't know if real evidence backs this up. However, if so it's pretty troubling. As for Formula One and its 'green' or 'sustainability' credentials, well I don't see the sport being lauded in these respects. This could be the soft underbelly that will cause its downfall in a world that is growing increasingly threatened by environmental problems. More importantly the financial health of many of the teams is not good, well bad I fancy and next year they have to pay double for their engine package, a cool €20m if what I'm told is true. This is a disaster for the majority of competitors and suggests a spineless FIA which is happy to see a pseudo monopoly at the top of the team list. Lastly I think it appalling that it does not feature the very best, 'there by talent' drivers, instead it's back to a playground for well trained and staggeringly well financed rent-a-drivers, there only because it enables the second tier teams to make ends meet.
Formula One can rid itself of all these unwelcome facets. Given such popularity there is no reason why the sport can't be run to the highest standards of integrity. It can make itself appeal to the motor manufacturers again. Consumer brands will be comfortable that the borrowed imagery associated with sponsoring is without tarnish. Family brands like Pepsi, Macdonald's and Apple might find the sport attractive. Formula One simply does not need dubious money sources. It certainly can have the very best drivers, there on merit alone. It could be, and surely should be, a hotbed of development to make car technology more efficient. Can it be a sound and buoyant business for ten or so teams, running on a level playing field? Of course it can. Would this improve Formula One for the average viewer? Well maybe not in the short run, but I fancy for the sport's long term future it would do only good. And who should be pushing the sport firmly in this direction? The FIA.