How neutral was the 2010 team selection process?

03/07/2009
NEWS STORY

The F1 world was stunned when Manor, Campos and USF1 were recently revealed to be the three new teams which would join the F1 grid next year. However, according to the Guardian, one man in the FIA seemed to have a good idea as to the identity of one of those teams several weeks before its selection was announced.

Alan Donnelly, the official representative of FIA president Max Mosley, has already been criticised for his consultancy firm, Sovereign Strategy, allegedly doing public relations work for the Manor team. However, if true, this conflict of interest would be nothing compared to what has come to light today.

The Guardian reports that on 29 May, two weeks before the FIA announced the identity of the three successful bidders for a place on the 2010 grid, Donnelly sent a sponsorship and investment agreement about Manor to a certain 'Royal Highness' who he hoped to meet in Saudi Arabia.

The email (complete with spelling mistakes), which is allegedly from Donnelly, says "I attach both the investment and sponsorship agreement for your consideration. Virgin have signed to be investment partners with a share holding of around 20%. I will be in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on Saturday evening and look forward to seeing you at our planned meeting at 3pm on Sunday, with representatives of Manor and Virgin. However if you woud like a pre- meeting with me privately on Sunday then please let me know, I will ofcourse be available."

If Donnelly really was touting around investment opportunities in the team before it got to the grid it raises huge conflict of interest issues.

By selling stakes in Manor, Donnelly would have been helping the team get investment which thereby improved its financial position. Clearly, no one connected to the FIA should have been favouring any prospective teams and particularly one which also has the involvement of Nick Wirth, who was one of Max Mosley's business partners in the 1990s before he launched the Simtek F1 team.

Furthermore, one has to wonder whether Donnelly would have bothered brokering deals for a team which didn't get to the grid. Then again, how could Donnelly possibly have known that it would?

According to the Guardian, Donnelly was in Saudi Arabia on official FIA business, holding meetings with its sports ministry, potential investors in new circuits and the Saudi Motorsport Federation. "I also met potential investors in Formula One," he said. "It would be odd for an FIA representative to refuse to assist in any of these projects."

That may be so but there is a big difference between assisting with a team and brokering the sale of a stake in it.

If Donnelly's response in the Guardian is anything to go by, it doesn't look as if he is denying that the email really was from him which in itself seems to raise a further question about his competence.

The email is signed off 'God Bless' which certainly does not seem to be an appropriate way to address anyone in the Arab world. After last year's revelations about Mosley's private life, the FIA surely doesn't need more embarrassment heaped on it by blunders like this.

The clean-cut Richard Branson must be cringing on reading this and it is hard to imagine how he got sucked into this crazy scheme in the first place. It could well be argued that sponsors should stick to what they do best, which is sponsoring not owning teams. Having been in F1 for less than a year Virgin is not exactly experienced in F1's eccentricities and it could soon pay the price following this latest revelation. If the email is accurate, Virgin will have gone from sponsoring the likely world champions Brawn to owning a stake in a team which, assuming it does make it to the 2010 grid, is unlikely to be regularly challenging for points far less wins.

Pitpass hears that FOTA is to demand that the team selection process is not just reviewed but started from scratch. With this latest development that seems a sensible move.

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Published: 03/07/2009
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