Mat Coch writes:
In a sport famous for its in-fighting and capitalistic self-interest, McLaren's Jonathan Neale is adamant his team will sit in the newly formed Strategy Group as a "good citizen" of Formula One.
Made up of six representatives each from the FIA, Formula One Management and the teams, the Strategy Group will play an important role in deciding the future shape of Formula One. However, many of the smaller teams do not have a seat within the Group, raising questions and blood pressure within an ever suspicious paddock.
Force India's deputy-team principal Bob Fernley was among the first to voice concern, notably surrounding the Group's legality, though he conceded that the F1 Commission (which can rebuff the Group's decisions) means the smaller teams are not voiceless. The main bone of contention surrounds the agreements each team signed with FOM prior to the new Concorde Agreement coming into affect.
"I completely understand why those that are not at the table will feel that they're in some way disadvantaged," explained Jonathan Neale in the latest Vodafone McLaren Mercedes phone-in, "but since I'm not party to that that's just conjecture on my part.
"I didn't get the sense that what was happening was necessarily illegal, it was just different from what had been signed up to," he continued.
"My sense of that is that while a number of teams had reserved their legal position, it had more to do with this being a deviation from the bilateral agreements that were set up by FOM.
"We want to participate in rulemaking in driving the sport forward for the benefit of McLaren certainly but the sport as a whole," he added.
For those without a seat at the Strategy Group table, which met for the first time yesterday, there are concerns decisions could be prejudicial, with customer cars a prime example.
Full details of the meeting are yet to emerge, though Neale - who had not been fully debriefed as he spoke - doesn't expect an imminent revolution or resolution. "As an initial meeting it was about setting the stall out and developing the themes," he suggested.
"Customer cars is one of the hot topics, and it would be for anybody who is running an independent team model, but it does rather threaten that whole franchise," Neale added. "It would be unlikely that given the size of the agenda that the team were trying to work to that that was going to get decided in some neat way."
While the practice of customer cars may help the bank accounts for the likes of McLaren, it places increased pressure on the garagistes - midfield teams which are already stretched without the prospect of another two Red Bulls to contend with.
One of the six teams that comprises the Strategy Group, Neale sees McLaren's involvement as more than self-representation and to provide a voice for the likes of Force India. "We intend to be good citizens in Formula One," he affirmed. "We have a very good relationship with the FIA and a good relationship with FOM so we want to participate in rulemaking in driving the sport forward."