Why David Croft’s suggestion to remove the FIA from F1 is ludicrous

Thomas Maher
David Croft opinion feature image.

Sky Sports commentator David Croft comperes a a game involving both Ferrari drivers.

David Croft had an unusual proposal to suggest during the summer break, saying he’d like to see the FIA removed from F1’s rule-making process.

Since 1950, the Formula 1 World Championship has been organised, sanctioned, and ruled by French governing body the FIA, carrying on the work the body had carried out in organising international motor racing championships under their previous iteration as the AIACR.

In the 73 years since, the FIA have been responsible for the sport’s evolution in every way – the rulebooks ever expanding under their authority as F1 has become a behemoth of global sport.

David Croft suggests removing the FIA from F1’s rule-making process

Over the F1 summer break, Sky F1 commentator David Croft suggested that the FIA should no longer play any part in the rule-making aspect of the sport – instead wanting to see commercial rights holder Liberty Media take more control.

“I’d have to stop the FIA being the rule-makers,” he told the Sky F1 podcast, when asked what rules he’d like to see changed in Formula 1.

“That’s the trouble the commercial rights holder (Liberty Media) has, it’s that they don’t make the rules – they can have an influence because they have a standing on the F1 Commission, but they don’t make the rules… the FIA does.

“I think the time has come in F1 to actually bring the two parties a lot more closely aligned.”

Why would David Croft suggest removal of FIA?

Aside from the FIA’s International Sporting Code which is an overarching rulebook for all FIA-sanctioned series, the body also signs off on the Technical, Sporting, and Financial Regulations rulebooks that every competitor has to obey.

They are also the body responsible for supplying the personnel for enforcement of those rulebooks, and for the efficient running of every Grand Prix weekend – these roles range from positions such as the Technical Delegate and his staff, the Media Delegate for ensuring swift media operations, through to the FIA Race Director and the stewards.

It’s not surprising the FIA have come in for warranted flak in recent seasons – the governing body have proven themselves to be far from infallible, with matters coming to a head at the conclusion of 2021 as the sport descends into chaos.

A cursory glance at social media would reveal that there are quite a few fans who would be overjoyed to see the FIA removed from F1 – particularly following the debacle finish to the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix where decisions were made by then-FIA Race Director Michael Masi that resulted in the championship swinging out of Lewis Hamilton’s hands and straight into Max Verstappen’s.

It led to a huge backlash – a backlash that continues to this day, particularly amongst Hamilton’s legions of fans.

Croft’s proposal doesn’t make it clear whether he wants to see the FIA removed from the enforcement and sanctioning side of things, but examining his suggestion merely from the perspective of the rule-making process hints that the broadcaster is merely playing to that audience.

Indeed, Croft immediately seemed to realise the enormity of what he had suggested, back-tracking almost immediately as he contradicted himself by saying the current regulations had been driven moreso by Liberty Media than the FIA themselves.

“They are a lot more closely aligned and these regulation changes had been driven by F1 rather than the FIA,” he said.

“But we need to think about the show and the spectacle. Marketing sometimes needs to be a bit more important than engineering. But we need to also keep that balance in engineering as well.”

What involvement does the FIA have in F1 rule-making?

It’s an argument that Croft himself seemed to lose faith in, almost as he was speaking about it. The “show” and the “spectacle” was the sole reasoning behind the introduction of the current ruleset, and one can hardly argue that F1’s marketing hasn’t been top-notch under Liberty – the sport having grown into a mainstream event under their watch.

The facts are that the FIA, the owners of the F1 World Championship – the commercial rights to which are sold to Liberty Media – actually take a very democratic approach to rule-making within the sport.

While the rulebooks are signed off by the FIA, having been ratified by the FIA’s World Motor Sport Council (of which F1’s Stefano Domenicali is a member), it’s not like the FIA goes off and makes up its own rules without consulting other relevant parties.

F1 Commission meetings are held at regular intervals during the season. The Commission consists of a representative from each F1 team, a rep from each of the current F1 power unit manufacturers, a sole representative from the FIA, and one for FOM/Liberty Media.

The FIA and FOM representatives’ votes carry significant weighting at the F1 Commission, each given a weighting of 10 votes – the teams are given a single vote each. In order for proposed rule changes to make it beyond the Commission for further refinement and formal approval, there is a simple democratic process of voting for it – the FIA can’t simply bulldoze their own suggestions through.

Croft’s suggestion, then, would hint that he has lost faith in the ability of the FIA to either enforce the rules correctly, a more logical conclusion given the troubled positions the governing body does find itself in. An example of this would be the knots of language the regulations sometimes wrap themselves up in, leading to loopholes being uncovered.

Other frustrations could be how track limits are enforced – another situation of ‘a rock and a hard place’ for the FIA. Do they take the route of not enforcing track limits, opening up a whole can of worms as to what’s permitted or not, selectively enforcing them (also causing issues in interpretation), or outright enforcement that leads to ridiculous situations like this year’s Austrian Grand Prix?

As for the Financial Regulations, another source of annoyance for many fans as Red Bull were seen to ‘get away’ with their overspend breach last year, the punishments meted out were the punishments that had been defined for each transgression and agreed upon democratically. Changing that in retrospect, just because the team involved won the title, would thus legitimately call the rule-making process into jeopardy.

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What could go wrong from handing control over to Liberty Media?

Giving free reign to the US corporation Liberty Media to run rampant with the rules, from creation and ratification through to enforcement, also opens up the sport to other issues.

In a sport where safety is paramount, allowing a controlling entity whose concern is primarily on the commercial value side of things is… concerning. The FIA, as a neutral entity, has done meritorious work over the years to ensure the safety of the cars – a push that simply never stops, due to the various committees and delegations within the governing body that investigate incidents, crashes, and then recommend changes to rectify shortcomings.

Romain Grosjean’s continued existence on this planet after his 2020 Bahrain crash can be attributed to that FIA push. “Marketing over engineering” is probably not a suggestion that he, nor his family, would agree with.

Placing that responsibility solely into the hands of the commercial rights holder, no matter how well-intentioned they may be, risks that responsibility no longer being correctly prioritised or pursued.

The biggest hole in Croft’s argument is that the sport needs to consider the “show and the spectacle” as a priority. Which is exactly what the FIA appeared to be considering most at the time when Masi made the ill-fated call that changed everything back in 2021.

Consider also why Masi remains under a non-disclosure agreement with the FIA regarding Abu Dhabi 2021 – would Masi perhaps reveal that the drama of the moment was prioritised over cold, dispassionate, application of the rulebook?

Now imagine a ‘sport’ where the need for “show and spectacle” is the overarching concern. Just how far would an entity whose sole concern is creating that, in exchange for vast sums of money being added to their own value, go to make it happen?

Croft’s suggestion to remove the neutral governance of the FIA – the checks and balances to Liberty’s desire for drama and excitement – is therefore preposterous, and smacks of him jumping for a headline suggestion that he knows will gain traction amongst those who fail to see the FIA’s true value.

It is essential that the FIA, as flawed and clumsy as they regularly prove themselves to be, remain as involved in the administration side of Formula 1 as they can be, as long as their primary focus is not on the commercial value of the sport. Otherwise, expect reality to become scripted.

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