Just four days from now, the FIA will announce the successful entrants for the 2010 Formula 1 championship, and the row between the governing body and the teams has not yet been settled.
The only thing that looks certain at the moment is that Williams, the first team to break ranks with FOTA and submit an unconditional entry, will be on that list. The rest is all up in the air.
AUTOSPORT talked to team boss Frank Williams, who spoke about the reasons for his team to go separate ways and about the whole conflict between the FIA and FOTA.
Q. You have suspended from FOTA. Can you expand?
Frank Williams: Not really. We put our entry in, they didn't want us to but we did for reasons that have been into before. And they elected to eject, so to speak, so we've left.
Q. You've left or you've just left temporarily?
FW: We're out.
Q. You're out of FOTA?
FW: Well, expelled actually. If you're expelled from school it normally means you don't go back to school. Or not the same one, anyway.
Q. We were led to believe you have been suspended. Is that incorrect terminology?
FW: I've got no idea. In or out is fine.
Q. From your actions do we take it there is only one championship you'd consider entering and that's the F1 World Championship?
FW: Our primary choice would be the F1 World Championship. If, God Forbid, Paris got hit by a nuclear strike, there was no FIA championship and Bernie put something else together we would obviously wish to compete in that.
Q. You said there, if Bernie put something else together...
FW: Sure. Our business is motor racing and going racing in the FIA world championship. If there weren't a championship... we've got people to employ, we love what we do, that's what I mean in the absence of one, but if there were two we'd go with the FIA. Full stop. That answers your question.
Q. Do you want to beat the best of the best in racing?
FW: That depends who the best of the best are at any one time.
Q. If the best of the best have all gone somewhere else, then what?
FW: What you're saying is if certain of the manufacturers run their own championship. That's tough shit. We've made our choice.
Q. Nobody wants a war but there is a war. What's wrong in F1?
FW: There's not a war, there's just two positions, one from the FIA and I guess Bernie, and the other is a group of which we were members, F1 constructors, mainly a group of engine manufacturers, and if they don't agree with Max they may well go and form another championship.
Q. In Monaco we had a breakfast with Nico Rosberg and he said even when I was a child I remember hearing that kind of thing at the start of the eighties. Has it always been the case in F1?
FW: There have always been various types of entrant. The feud he was probably talking about was the twin formula for turbo engines. Balestre said that's about the right ratio for turbo engines versus normally aspirated, which of course it wasn't, and so that caused a bit of a row when the little guys turned up with skirts and tried to equal things out. There were probably 1000 barristers and QCs employed just to interpret British law. With our different laws there are always going to be different interpretations and rows ensuing.
Q. Perhaps off the record, but some team principals have said that Max has turned crazy?
FW: I have no comment at all about our relations with Max. They are totally open and straightforward, as they are with Bernie. There are many things Max has done in the past which I didn't agree with at the time, and some he was right and I was wrong, and some didn't quite work out.
Q. You commented that if you get expelled from school you don't go back. Does that mean you wouldn't join FOTA again under any circumstances?
FW: I said if we were expelled we wouldn't go back, but if we were invited back or our parents insisted we went back that would be different. Something like that anyway… screaming and kicking…
Q. Is Williams not therefore represented on any of the FOTA sub-committees -- technical, sporting, etcetera.
FW: No, but the rules are set and nobody wants the rules changed every six months. But correcting mistakes in rules is another matter. No big deal. But any technical change for less than a year's notice would require all competing teams to agree.
Q. What was your reaction to reading that March or Brabham could be back?
FW: Well I started at the bottom and some of these teams would have to start with a big gap in terms of know-how and technique but comment would be more relevant when they have arrived.
Q. How many teams do you think in fact are ready to come in?
FW: I truthfully don't know but there seem to be lots of aspirants.
Q. In the 80s your team won two races which didn't have representation from the major teams. Could we see history repeating itself next year?
FW: It's possible. The key feature in all of this, which is on my mind to some extent, is the supply of engines. At the last meeting before the removal of Williams from the FOTA group someone made the point, not lost on this team and me, that the engines on the grid today are brilliant pieces of engineering. And they almost never ever go wrong. And they last three or four times as long as a Cosworth did 30 and 40 years ago. It's fantastic kit.
Q. What has the decision to break away from FOTA done to your relationship with your engine supplier?
FW: We didn't make a decision to break away, we were asked to remove ourselves because we didn't comply with common policy.
Q. But you surely knew what the outcome would be?
FW: The outcome is that we are not part of their rule-making group.
Q. But what's it done to the relationship with Toyota?
FW: Testy a little bit for the first 10 minutes and then it settled back to normal.
Q. Would you continue with that engine next year?
FW: We have a contract. And we would wish to continue it, yes. I don't think the damage goes that deep.
Q. So no option to run a Cosworth next year?
FW: We're very happy with an up to date modern engine. The problem with the Cosworth is that it was a fine bit of kit in 2006 but as you know the stuff moves on pretty quickly. They've got a lot of catching up to do.
Q. Do you believe sponsors will leave the sport if…
FW: If it goes on for another season or six months of endless rumblings and fundamental arguments, yes, some will probably have their resolve and confidence shaken. But we haven't lost any despite the recession.
Q. But are some sponsors in the sport because they love to be in the same series as Ferrari?
FW: Ferrari is a key point but it's never really been kicked around and examined like that because this prospect hasn't come this close before for at least 20 years, if ever. The curious fact is that Ferrari is not part of the FIA camp. But without the FIA… I don't think anybody is going to die about this.
I think they will sit down eventually. I don't think Max wants this to turn to poo and treacle and all that stuff and be spread over the papers for the next six months - what damage he did, you did, we did… I think there is actually a will to let's just be human for a change and talk to each other.
Q. is it the money or the governance that's the biggest issue?
FW: I don't know because I don't really know what the manufacturers feel about the budget cap. They are against it, or some of them are, but whether that's just because they fear that their ability to compete strongly will be seriously curtailed, I'm not sure. But all these arguments are about rules - whether it's turbos or whatever, it's always about regulations.
Q. But at the moment you've entered a championship where the governance process is not the way it has been for the last God knows how long?
FW: I don't think Max is looking for a fight. He wants to avoid having teams leave, the smaller ones in particular, because they can't afford to continue. I would say he shouldn't be worrying if he's had six or eight or 10 serious entries already. It doesn't sound like hard times out there.
Now we know some of those guys are just hoping and they'll retract, but there's one or two people who'll turn up. But it doesn't sound like the demons are at the door and the flames are burning everything else around us.
Q. There's no chance of Bernie jumping ship and organising it all?
FW: I don't think so. I don't think it's got that energy anymore.
Q. Which brings us back to your statement where you said that you'd follow where Bernie goes?
FW: (Whispers) It's the money!
Q. That's a key point though, because for the Brawns and Force Indias it surely can't make sense for them not to be where the money supply is..
FW: That's right, yeah, sure.
Q. So do you see them jumping over the fence in the next few days or weeks?
FW: If Max makes it a little easier for them I would imagine that. As you said, this has happened a few times before over the past 30 years or so.
Q. When you decided to enter was that decision taken with your heart or your wallet?
FW: You can make your own judgement and I'll explain a little more but what was in the press release was the truth. First of all we signed a Concorde agreement with Bernie on 15 October 2005 and we signed Concorde for another five years and then all the teams, certainly this one, signed a renewed Concorde a year and a half ago for which he paid us, again. Substantial, generous capital payments in both cases.
Partly because of what they call the heritage thing whereby someone who's been around a long time gets paid, and I think that should be. But we were paid twice and we like to think we're pretty straight in business. Old habits become even older habits. But it's a difficult one for us because I want to repeat yet again – boring -- that the manufacturers engines are just magic bits of kit. They go wrong very rarely and of course they bring great prestige -- very important.
That's why the position we are taking is let's stay calm, say little, just let tempers cool down and get deflated. We're all human in this. Just let a little private talking and a bit of communication get another serious conversation going again. Max does not want war, neither does Bernie – he doesn't need it, he's getting on a bit. And he wants to enjoy his retirement eventually I presume. Plus he doesn't want to see what he's created all turn to poo. All of us want to see the same thing.
Q. How much would you have to change the structure of Williams to meet the cap next year?
FW: That's an emotional question actually because Patrick Head and I have spent quite a few years building up the business. We've made money, lost money, made money, lost money, quite erratic. But the next time around after the budget cap would make it easier to make money and remain a healthy, viable, saleable business. Eventually.
So one part of me says yes, could do with a financial breather but the other part is that dismantling Williams to get down to the 40 means firing, I don't know… Hang on, I must be careful because our people in the factory will read this, but what I'd say now is that it means further cuts.
Q. In retrospect are you sorry you sold the jet to buy a wind tunnel?
FW: I could answer cynically but no, not really. It's helped a great deal, helped make up the financial gap and it tells people we're pretty serious.
Q. It's been suggested that an elegant solution might be for an established team to take a new team into its factory site?
FW: We are looking closely, we haven't committed yet, at doing that. We've got a young team with enough money, we hope, to do a serious job for a couple of years, twenty years, in Formula 1, it needs assistance and Max is encouraging teams to help those teams.
I'd normally say (whispers), piss off, but in fact it's a question of having enough teams if some of the others do disappear and it also helps us defray costs and in the case of the budget cap we can offset some of the costs and charges, our overhead, onto the second team. It's all a bit complicated book-keeping. But that's going to be someone else's problem.
Q. Is the accounting really going to happen the way it's being sold?
FW: I think anyone wants to try and work it out. And if they refuse and the other teams think they are getting screwed by some clever dick, then it'll be au revoir. Max will make sure that happens.
Q. You talk about small teams and your son is involved with iSport, whose boss Paul Jackson wanted to put in an entry but felt he couldn't without knowing what he was entering, so does the sport not need to sort itself out first?
FW: I think that may have been down to a bit of inexperience and I don't mean that unkindly. Once you've been around a year or two, or a decade or two, you kind of get used to it. But I do believe both parties, one or two personalities excepted maybe, just want to sort something out over the tale and get on with our lives. We would support that strongly.
Q. Do you see that happening within the next couple of weeks?
FW: I hope it does. It's certainly possible. Almost probable. People get so emotionally involved in F1 but Max doesn't want to say look I've got all these GP2 teams in, it'd great, I've screwed all those blokes out of here. He doesn't want that at all. He wants to be remembered for having a highly profitable, world class sports property.