Some of you might know that after a eight-year run at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Formual 1 racing is not returning for the 2008 year. Now, if you read the transcript, Tony George is very nice and accomodating to Bernie Ecclestone leaving the door open for the future because frankly, it's a good show that brings four days worth of income to the Speedway. But at the root of it is the egomaniacal Bernie who's kingdom of F1 is his and his alone.
Over the eight years of my experience at the US Grand Prix in speaking with the multitudes of international visitors who come to Indy, there's not one of them who won't make a comment about Bernie and his "control" issues. From the television rights, to the rules changes (and unfair interpretations to the team not in the big four), to his disdain for showing up in Indy to be greeted by banners that were only 3 weeks old after the Indy 500 race he is the ultimate definition of a control freak. His extremely outspoken interview this past June where he said that the F1 doesn't need the United States and that there are plenty of countries lining up to have an F1 event in their country was, to me the death of F1 at Indy.
Now, add to the kick in the teeth of not having F1 in the US (again), the dismissal of Scott Speed from the Scuderia Toro Rosso team. Scott was a multi-year project who was the direct focus of STR sponsor Red Bull. Red Bull had a contest to put an American back in F1 after many years of absence. SpeedChannel estimated that roughly $53,500,00 has been invested in this initiative and that Scott was actually really making improvements. Clearly, the suggested "dispute" and "assault" of Speed by team boss Franz Tost is likely at work here, but the PUBLIC statement made by this F1 team (again, all under Bernie's eyes) is that he's been let go due to performance.
So let's look at his performace against that of his teammate Vitantonio Liuzzi. (courtesy of SpeedChannel)
Yes, clearly Speed was the poorer performer of the two on the team (are you KIDDING me?). Liuzzi is SO good that even Sebastian Vettel (who replaced Speed for this weekend's Hugarian Grand Prix) finished in front of him having never been on the Hungaroring before in his life!! This would be the equivalent to ME finishing 32nd in the Indy 500!
Back to Bernie for a second: So a team manager basically strangles his driver and gets no penalty, no reprimand, no investigation from the F1, but defending World Champion Fernando Alonso holds up his teammate (and "$$" future Bernie annuity, Lewis Hamilton) in the pits for the Q3 period and he's docked five positions on the starting grid and McLaren could not earn any Constructors points for this race. If this happened between teams, I could see the severity of the penalties, but within any given team, it sounds like a team squabble that can handle itself. Of course all the events from the weekend now has Freddie wanting off the team as clearly his teammate is the focal point not only for Vodaphone McLaren Mercedes, but for F1 and Bernie's interests.
In the end, the money talks for Bernie and that's really about it. In the eight years I've been watching (and I'll be the first to admit, I never watched it prior to them coming to Indy), he's threatened Silverstone that they were going to be pulled off the schedule (never going to happen now that Prince Lewis is here to stay), he's basically humiliated Michelin into submission (they didn't help themselves at the 2005 USGP), he's made it so expensive to race each year that Jaguar is gone and people like Eddie Jordan are absent from the sport, and the fact that the qualifying rules change almost year to year to penalize the teams who dominate keep F1 a laughing stock to anyone not enamored with the glow of it all. There was a group trying to break away from this stronghold a few years ago, but the roadblocks they faced when Bernie got the sponsors to go exclusive made it difficult to start.
Yes, it SOMETIMES is the finest racing in the world, and it's SOMETIMES cutting edge technology that might make it into production card 10 years later, but at the end of the day, it's not any better than NASCAR, ChampCar or the IRL except that it costs 100 times more! Not every team can be competitive (on any circuit), but only having 4-6 cars that dominate out of the 20 or so doesn't make it very fun for the people to watch. If you attend an F1 one event, you can only really buy merchandise from three teams, Ferrari, Mercedes and BMW. Super Agurri Honda came to Indy off of an amazing race in Montreal, but you couldn't buy a single item to support them.
Bernie, I will still probably tune in to the Sunday morning coverage on Speed only because Varsha, Matchett, Hobbs, and Windsor make it worth watching, but I really am going to check out for the most of it. I'm not arrogant enough to say I won't watch until another American races (who knows when that might be) but it's going to take a lot for me to really care about F1 again after all of this. To Scuderia Toro Rosso, shame on you for allowing this to happen. We (American race fans who support Scott Speed) will not forget about this.