On Thursday night the Bahrain saga staggered to a conclusion when the organisers admitted defeat and said that they were now looking forward to a race in March 2012 – which is the route that the World Motor Sport Council should of course have decided in the first place. One of the key players behind the scenes has been FOTA Chairman Martin Whitmarsh, who had to tread a very fine line as McLaren is part owned by the Bahraini government – and yet he appears to have taken a firm stance on FOTA’s behalf. This writer had an exclusive chat with him about how things have developed.
Q: Are you pleased that this story finally seems to be over?
“I’ll be pleased when I can talk openly about it, and that isn’t now! In fairness we took a decision which was to get the teams together. We formed an opinion. We sent a private letter – I know people leaked it but it didn’t leak from me – and we expressed some views. And there’s a process which I hope will come to the right solution. If other people want to jump in and claim they’ve done it or they sorted it or take the credit for it, then that’s good, I don’t mind.”
Q: What do you think of Jean Todt’s response to FOTA?
“I spoke to Jean quite a bit over the last few days. You can get into the legal interpretation of Concorde and the International Sporting Code – and bear in mind the letter we sent had to satisfy 11 teams – the lawyers can argue it each way. I think we’re missing the point if we get into a discussion about the legality or the interpretation of the regulations. I think there are more fundamental issues that need to be discussed than interpretation of the regulations. I’ve heard what happened in the World Motor Sport Council – I don’t know whether he’s released the transcript of that yet but I have had the transcript – and in fairness to Jean he in an orderly and disciplined manner chaired a meeting, sought views and opinion around the table, and did get a unanimous decision.”
Q: The tone of the letter was that the FIA had done everything correctly…
“In fairness I think he did.”
Q: He also said that Bernie is there representing the teams…
“I don’t think Bernie is there to represent the teams frankly, but there you go.”
Q: So how did FOTA react to the original decision?
“A decision came out. As soon as it came out on the Friday I called for a FOTA Executive conference call to be held. At the time people were travelling and all over the shop. We got one together on Monday, and it was thoroughly debated. And following that, we wrote the latter and expressed our views.”
Q: The question people ask is how could Ferrari express one view in the meeting and then be part of a different view a few days later.
“In fairness I think Ferrari didn’t express a view one way or the other in the meeting, in the transcript I’ve read.”
Q: So it wasn’t as unanimous as has been said?
“It was a show of hands, which doesn’t come across well on a transcript! But a show of hands for and against was requested, and after an apparent verbal silence Jean says ‘So it’s unanimous then?,’ and no one said, ‘No it isn’t.’ I don’t have a video, I only have a transcript. In fairness to Jean on that one he asked and he got a unanimous judgement.”
Q: Do you agree that there are no winners in this, everyone in F1 has lost?
“I think it’s very unfortunate, and there aren’t any winners. Hopefully no one’s looking for winners. It’s a great event, it’s a fantastic paddock. The way it’s panned out this year, I don’t think we should be looking for winners. Ultimately we want F1 to be the winner. One of the problems of this sport is that there are egos who want to be personally winners, and that’s not what we should be about. We should be about sport and the fans winning. And I think that’s what FOTA is trying to do, really just trying to take a view and express a view on what is the right thing for the sport.”