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Formula 1 drivers warn success of sport could be jeopardised

Formula 1 drivers have demanded change at the top of the sport, saying its decision-making process is “obsolete and ill-structured”.

Grand Prix Drivers’ Association (GPDA) directors Jenson Button, Sebastian Vettel and Alex Wurz have written a letter on behalf of the drivers.

It urges the owners and stakeholders of F1 to” restructure its governance”.

Many issues can be traced back to F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone, but the letter does not mention the 85-year-old.

It claims that some recent decisions are “disruptive”, avoid “the bigger issues” and “could jeopardise F1’s success”.

Writing the letter is an extraordinary step by the drivers, which reflects the strength of their feelings on the matter.

What are the drivers concerned about?

The GPDA has been careful not to single out specific issues but collating recent remarks by many drivers and Wurz – and developments over the winter – it seems likely they are referring to a number of issues.

These are:

  • decisions on rule changes such as double points in 2014, changing the qualifying format and restricting radio communications for this year, and fundamental errors in the formulation of the turbo hybrid engine rules; plus ideas that have been discussed but not yet accepted such as weight handicaps, reverse grids and qualifying races
  • the move towards pay TV, which is at the centre of declining audiences
  • the failure of the strategy group of leading teams, F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone and governing body the FIA to make significant progress in mapping out a clear direction on the sport’s future
  • what is perceived to be an inequitable distribution of income, heavily skewed in favour of the top teams
  • making a decision on F1’s tyre supplier for financial reasons when many of the teams and drivers have misgivings about Pirelli

What does the letter say?

“It is fundamental that the sport’s leaders make smart and well-considered adjustments,” it reads.

“We feel that some recent rule changes – on both the sporting and technical side, and including some business decisions – are disruptive, do not address the bigger issues our sport is facing and in some cases could jeopardise its future success.

“The drivers have come to the conclusion that the decision-making process in the sport is obsolete and ill-structured and prevents progress being made. Indeed, it can sometimes lead to just the opposite – gridlock.

“This reflects negatively on our sport, prevents it being fit for the next generation of fans and compromises further global growth.”

The drivers add: “The future direction and decisions of F1, be they short- or long-term, sporting, technical or business-oriented, should be based on a clear masterplan that should reflect the core principles and core value of F1.

“We need to ensure that F1 remains a sport, a closely fought competition between the best drivers in extraordinary machines on the coolest race tracks.

“F1 should be home only to the best teams, drivers and circuits, with partners and suppliers fit for such an elite championship.”

Do all the drivers agree?

Wurz, a former F1 driver, told BBC Sport the GPDA “operates by majority vote” and added: “In this case, it was an extremely clear vote regarding the desire to express our opinion.”

He emphasised the letter is “not a knee-jerk reaction” to the fiasco over thechange of qualifying rules for the first race of the season.

“This statement was well-considered and planned between all drivers for quite a while now and discussed again in Melbourne,” Wurz said.

The GPDA is careful to make the letter sound as reasoned and unconfrontational as possible.

It emphasises the drivers “seek competition and love our sport almost unconditionally, which makes us most probably the people with the purest interest for F1, beside our fans”.

It says the drivers recognise the sport’s leaders “act with the very best intentions” and emphasises the letter “should not be seen as a blind and disrespectful attack”.

What do the drivers want now?

Wurz said that The business model and the way F1 is run “needs to be addressed and redefined, followed by a clear road map or masterplan”.

He added: “We are not convinced that individual updates to sporting or technical rules are the solution a) to stop F1 losing viewers and fans; and b) to initiate global growth.

“The desired outcome to the drivers’ statement would be to achieve points a) and b).

“Personally, I believe the answer to F1’s global growth is mainly based around its business model.

“Over many decades the business and sport have grown amazingly, but things change and we are most definitely witnessing a sudden and fast-changing landscape of media and consumer behaviour, to which we should adjust in carefully considered steps.”

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