Speaking recently at the FOTA/Santander fans’ forum in London, McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh hailed a new era in Formula 1 leadership. While he he didn’t mention former FIA president Max Mosley by name, he left no doubt as to whom his remarks were directed.
“We are racing more naturally now,” he said. “In fairness now, to Jean and the FIA, even from where I am sat, things happen in the race and you think that is going to cause so much aggravation – but it doesn’t. And even drivers are thinking that now.”
His remarks were made in reference to Fernando Alonso’s recent criticism of the FIA on the heels of the European Grand Prix in Valencia. The clumsy handling of the safety car deployment during that race, and the confusing rules involved, caused Alonso to lose a possible podium finish. As a result, Alonso claimed that the race results had been “manipulated.”
There was as time when a driver might have received an official censure from the FIA for saying such things publicly. During his presidency, Max Mosley was known to have skin with the thickness of tissue paper. He wasn’t one to take criticism lightly. Moreover, the FIA sporting historically forbade drivers from making disparaging remarks about the FIA in public.
But under the stewardship of the new president (and former Ferrari honcho), Jean Todt, the FIA seems to be experiencing a kind of glasnost. Although Alonso later tempered his remarks, saying they had been made in the heat of the moment, there was never a hint from the FIA that an official rebuke might be forthcoming.
Whitmarsh has indicated that this seems to be typical of a new openness and transparency in Formula 1 leadership. “Alonso was fairly outspoken,” he said, “but actually people want a bit of that, and it doesn’t worry me. In the past you have not been able to question. There has to be a limit, some fine lines, but not being able to question a referee’s decisions, or umpire’s decisions or stewards’ decision? And frankly you have not been able to do that. People complained about a sterility of conversations and debate within the paddock, but there was a regime where you were not even allowed to [question] have we got it right? As that would bring the sport into disrepute.”