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Poachers turned gamekeepers: how the FOCA became the new FIA
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The FISA-FOCA war was all about a battle between ‘garagistes’ and ‘grandees’. In the eyes of the latter, they were fighting mere spannermen who simply bought stuff and bolted it all together to go motor racing. You could hardly compare that to the great in-house efforts of Ferrari, Renault and Alfa Romeo, could you? In fact, the distinction – and the mutual disdain that goes with it – harks back to a much earlier age. It was Enzo Ferrari himself who as early as the fifties coined the expression garagisti as opposed to grandi costruttori. This was the time in which the likes of Cooper and Lotus bought a Coventry Climax engine to go racing – and thoroughly started to beat the manufacturers. Soon, Ferrari was staging a lonely fight as the old guard were overwhelmed by a new wave of British ingenuity.

The waves kept on coming. And with the same democratic practicality, time and again. Yes, there were great ideas involved too, such as the rear-engined lightweight car, or the monocoque. But the strength of the British takeover of Grand Prix racing lay in its numbers. Anyone could buy an engine and a gearbox and be competitive. Until the FISA-FOCA war was finally over privateers were in the game too, as rolling chassis built by one of the British constructors were readily available for a decent price. Ferrari hit back twice when the FIA changed the regulations, but soon the British were back on top – if internal Ferrari politics hadn’t already done the trick, which in 1966 happened rather sooner than in 1961.

On the second occasion, the ‘Return to Power’ in 1966, another two great and priceworthy British products put the garagistes back on par with Ferrari – the Cosworth DFV mated to Hewland’s gearbox. This time, relative rule stability led to ever increasing tensions into the seventies while the biggest regulation change of the time – the deformable structures that were introduced at the 1973 Spanish GP – led to even more ill will. The same happened with other safety-inspired changes such as the radical ban of aerofoils after the 1969 Spanish GP or the huge mess-up over the number of starters at the 1972 Monaco GP or the 1970 Spanish GP. (Yes, it seems that there was always a lot of trouble brewing in Spain, the 1980 and 1981 editions at the height of the FIASCO war being no exceptions.)

Part of the problem was that the foundations of Grand Prix racing lay on the European continent – in France, Italy and Germany. The FIA was based in Paris, the very first Grand Prix was held in France, Grand Prix racing’s most famous team came from Italy, the greatest Grand Prix circuit in the world was laid out in the Eifel, and the most influential national authorities within the FIA came from the big continental countries. While there were several non-British kit-car constructors, ranging from ATS to Osella, many lines were drawn along national borders or, to put it more bluntly, in the middle of the Channel between France and England. If the war was a clash of personalities, they represented their national identities as well: it was Italo-Franco-German pomp and circumstance against British spunk and cockiness.

While money was always in the centre of the conflict, technology formed the ammunition. In the late seventies the manufacturers came up with turbo engines to move the goalposts as the constructors pioneered ground effects to compensate for the comparative lack of grunt in the DFV. Both sides tried their hardest to have the other technology banned as a means to keep or gain control, until the arguments went through the roof, eventually leading to outright war.

So let’s try to understand why the war become so vicious and vitriolic. For that, we need to look into the long, very long build-up to the conflict. We’ve just read that the first wave of British practical engineering ended the manufacturer years in Grand Prix racing. Ferrari – as the sole survivor of that era – had to profit from a sudden rules break to pose a serious and successful challenge in 1961, but then it dwindled as politics brought the company to its feet. Three seasons into the 1.5-litre era the Brits ruled the roost again, also dominating proceedings in the lower categories with their phalanxes of customer chassis. It’s in this atmosphere that the Formula 1 Constructors Association (F1CA) was founded. The reason for its foundation lay in a third group of people, who continually had to choose sides in the conflict: the organisers. If technology was the ammunition, the Grands Prix circuits formed the battleground – and not just on Sunday afternoons. But the organisers weren’t always stuck in the middle. At one time, before television existed, they were the most powerful of all.

The sixties: the constructors gain political clout

The World Drivers Championship that was going into its 14th season in 1964 wasn’t the first such championship. Before the war, the AIACR (the FIA’s predecessor) awarded the title of European Champion to the driver with the best results in the Grands Prix of most acclaim. It wasn’t that the AIACR organised the championship, it merely awarded points to the finishers in these Grands Prix and the resulting arithmetic led to the appointment of a Champion. The organisers of these individual races had to adhere to the Grand Prix rules determined by the Commission Sportive Internationale (CSI), which was later transferred to the FIA, but apart from that they were responsible for accepting their entries and determining their starting and prize money.

We all know these classic races and their organising clubs: the French GP and the ACF, the Monaco GP and the ACM, the Italian GP and the Automobile Club di Milano, the German GP and the ADAC, the British GP and the RAC, the Belgian GP and the RACB, the Swiss GP and the ACS. They held the prestige and everyone wanted to be part of them. That’s why the AIACR and later the FIA wanted them to be part of their championships. The organising clubs held all the cards: they could send out invitations and refuse others, they could determine the number of starters and the stars that were guaranteed a place on the grid. They also decided on starting money for each entrant, usually based on the popularity of the team or driver with their audience. There wasn’t any scientific formula applied to the process, so the organisers could fairly simply dictate who was popular and who wasn’t. Some of them even played underhand games by doctoring their attendance figures to a level that would happen to lie just below the minimum needed for the starting money to be paid out…

In 1950, the FIA decided that it would re-introduce a similar drivers championship to the one held before the war. This time it would be a World Championship but the prestigious races that would be selected as points qualifiers were generally the same as before the war. The ‘World’ part of the championship’s name would come from including the International Sweepstakes 500 at Indianapolis which, after all, was America’s most prestigious race. In the first years, the championship was some sort of honorary title. As before, there was more value in winning the French or Italian GP than winning the championship, like there was just as much value in winning a GP that didn’t qualify for World Championship points. It was hardly as it is now, with the British GP being no more than ‘round 9’ of the FIA F1 World Championship.

Gradually, the championship gained in importance but it was still far away from being an F1 championship. In 1952-’53 the organisers decided that it was wiser to stage their prestigious events as F2 races, and the CSI simply followed suit. It was the Grands Prix that mattered and not whether they were run to F1 regulations – see also the ten-year inclusion of the Indy 500.

The change to the 1.5-litre era, which would render it impossible to keep on including the Indy 500 in the championship, moved Grand Prix racing one step closer to being the same as F1 racing, although F2 cars would be seen on Grand Prix grids throughout the entire decade. Furthermore, a constructors championship, introduced in 1958, made things more interesting for the British newcomers. Suddenly, it wasn’t just a drivers championship. Gone was the simple distinction that Grand Prix racing was for drivers and sportscar racing for makes.

It’s in this atmosphere that a clash was inevitable. But at first, the clash was different to the one in the early eighties when the constructors were at loggerheads with the governing body, with the organisers sitting in the middle. This clash was all about – on the one hand – the growing importance of the championship and the constructors entering it with their self-designed racing cars and – on the other hand – the organisers trying to maintain their position of power. The party stuck between the front lines was the governing body…

And so, early 1964, a constructors association was formed by Lotus, Cooper, BRM and newcomer MRD (Brabham) as a united front to race organisers. Its goal was to negotiate a better package of starting money, prize money and transport costs and avoid being played out against each other, which was the first lesson in every race organiser’s handbook. This Formula 1 Construction Association (F1CA) was inspired by a similar Formula 2 Constructors Association (F2CA) that was founded to deal with the FFSA for the F2 races that were held on French circuits such as Pau, Clermont-Ferrand, Reims, Albi and Rouen. Team Lotus was on a high at the time, Jim Clark just having taken his first world title, and it took the natural lead in the F1CA, just like it had done in the F2CA. As with the F2CA the day-to-day business of the F1CA was taken care of by Lotus team manager Andrew Ferguson. Colin Chapman agreed to a yearly pay of 15 pounds per member team, and so for years the F1CA was nothing more than a side job for Ferguson, being run from the secretary’s home on the grounds of Chapman’s grand Carleton Manor near Norwich.

When the F1CA first clashed with the organisers, in the autumn of 1967, it set the scenes for the Anglo-French friction that was to form the basis of many of the following conflicts. The problem arose when the battle of gallic sentiments between the ACF and the FFSA over the French GP began to effect the British constructors. The ACF had been the organiser of its country’s main event since 1906, when it conceived what has become known as ‘the first Grand Prix’. As a matter of fact, the French GP was officially named the Grand Prix de l’ACF until 1967 after which the French motorsport federation took over from the French automobile club in 1968 and renamed it the Grand Prix de France. Only in 1972 the hatchet was buried. The four Grands Prix de France since 1968 were subsequently renumbered to reflect the continuum that was represented by France’s most important race (apart from Le Mans, of course). The war between the ACF and FFSA was some sort of a miniature version of the FISA-FOCA war, with the ACF in the traditional corner and the FFSA, along with most of the race promotors, drivers and constructors, were in the corner of progress.

Fighting the battle for the FFSA was colourful Raymond ‘Toto’ Roche, the man who in pre-war days had created Reims-Gueux and would stand right in front of the roaring grid before dropping the flag. When he was replaced as FFSA chairman by an octogenarian ACF baron, all hell broke loose. Suddenly, there was talk of the ACF banning foreign constructors from taking part in the Grand Prix. This understandably alarmed the F1CA. However, the British constructors found themselves on the sidelines of the argument because officially this was CSI territory. There was nothing they could do, apart from teaming up with the Grand Prix Drivers Association (GPDA), at the time led by Joakim Bonnier, to confront the CSI with their apparent lack of action. In a December 1967 meeting in London, the three parties agreed that in future the CSI would do its best to involve both constructors and drivers in matters that concerned them.

In the end the French issue was resolved when the French government hammered its fist on the table and took away the organising rights from the ACF to give them to the FFSA. It meant victory for one of FFSA’s founders in 1952, a former journalist named Jean-Marie Balestre, who was appointed FFSA secretary in 1968. Balestre would become FFSA president later on to maintain the association’s powerful role within the FIA. And how could it not, with its seat located at the Place de la Concorde in Paris, which happened to be where FIA’s headquarters was as well?

The early seventies: the CSI becomes the F1CA’s prime target – and it’s mutual

In the following years F1CA, often teaming up with the GPDA, gradually increased its involvement with matters concerning the constructors and drivers – which, broadly interpreted, could be anything. Their protests were still primarily aimed at individual organisers but over time they also implied a criticism of the CSI and the way it enforced its regulations.

Two prime examples of this are the spats over grid numbers in the 1970 Spanish GP and the 1972 Monaco GP. In Spain, the GP returned to Jarama after being held at Montjuich Park in 1969. The Jarama organisers decided to restrict the number of starters to 16, with guaranteed starting places for the World Champion and each ‘works’ team’s number-one driver – typical old-school organising tricks. This would mean that 12 cars had to fight it out for the six remaining spots on the grid. It was arranged that a 30-minute part of each Friday practice session would be used to select the six drivers that would be added to the ten guaranteed runners. The times in these half-hour parts would not be used to determine grid positions. However, during the course of the day the teams demanded an additional 30-minute session for every runner, which they got, except that they forgot to agree on whether the times would be allowed as qualifying times. Some drivers, including Denny Hulme, who had been fastest in the two previous sessions, didn’t see the need to take part. But then the Spaniards decided to disregard the times of the first two sessions! Understandably, this led to fierce protests with the teams that had their number ones take a rest during the final session. The conflict wasn’t resolved on Saturday, as the teams had to start all over again to set their times. Fortunately for them it wasn’t wet. Again, the final 30 minutes of the second session was used to determine the remaining six qualifiers. It had been the usual mediterranean chaos between the teams and the organisers, but it didn’t end there.

On Sunday morning there seemed to be a deal for the other six cars to take part in the race after all. This meant that 20 cars were rolled onto the grid, as Courage and Eaton would be non-starters because of their practice troubles (Courage had a sizeable crash and extensively damaged his De Tomaso, while Eaton’s car was scavenged to repair team mate Oliver’s car). But then, just minutes before the start, the CSI intervened. Their members present insisted that the organisers could not go against their own rules which they set out before the race. And so the cars of De Adamich, Miles, Siffert and local hero Soler-Roig had to be wheeled away again, the race getting underway 20 minutes late.

The Spanish debacle was enough reason for the F1CA to try and engineer a standardised agreement with the organising clubs to set the size of the field. They succeeded in doing so for 1972. Instrumental in the F1CA’s tougher stance was the arrival of new Brabham owner Bernie Ecclestone, the former Jochen Rindt manager and one-time Grand Prix entrant. His confronting attitude was groomed by his years in the second-hand car and motorcycle business, so by trade he was precisely the garagiste the grandees would accuse him of. Not that that bothered him. Once he was let in as a new F1CA member he made known that he wasn’t satisfied with the way Andrew Ferguson had been handling the overseas travel arrangements on behalf of the teams. He didn’t waste any time in taking control. It happened in a March 1972 meeting, where he put a counter proposal on the table, effectively offering the team bosses a better deal than Ferguson had managed to come up with. As we have now come to know as usual business for Bernie, he had his lucrative transportation deal pre-cooked in the oven with transport company Cazaly Mills & Co, from which he would receive an interesting percentage. It would later grow into FOCA Travel. He also claimed that he would be nailing down the organisers on paying out higher sums of starting and prize money. Seeing the figures right before their eyes, the team owners were persuaded into siding with the new guy. It meant the end of the road for Ferguson as F1CA secretary. He was to be followed up by Ecclestone’s protégé Peter Macintosh.

No less than two months later the F1CA teams showed they were ready to fight. Having signed an agreement with most European organisers – including the Automobile Club de Monaco (ACM) – just weeks before to allow grid sizes of 25 cars, which indeed had been the case for the Spanish GP that preceded the Monaco GP by a fortnight, the teams found that new ACM president Michel Boeri wanted to have none of that. In 1971, the ACM had already succumbed to pressure by increasing the number of starters from 16 to 18 but Boeri refused to raise it to 25 – which, conveniently for the teams, happened to be the total number of entries for the event. Instead, the new chairman pointed to the CSI regulation that exempted the Monaco GP and allowed the ACM to maximise the grid at 20 – which, incidentally, would become the norm again in 1976. The problem for Boeri was that his own ACM had verbally agreed to the 25 starters. Even the CSI itself had telegrammed to the FOCA that they agreed with 25 Monaco starters.

Soon, the word was that the CSI was trying to reassert its power through its close gallic ties with the ACM, using young Boeri as a front. The F1CA’s reaction was that of revolt. They blankly refused to start practice until the grid number was up to 25 again. With CSI president Prince Metternich in Paris, the French CSI representative and FFSA president Jacques Blanchet tried to smooth things out as he placed himself between Boeri and the teams’ spokesman, March founder and F1CA’s legal eagle Max Mosley. Ecclestone and Mosley had immediately hit it off when the former arrived on the scene as a team owner, and Mosley used his francophone language skills to negotiate with Boeri and Blanchet, while in the background Ecclestone called the shots.

Meanwhile in Paris, Metternich wasted no time in holding a press conference in which he stated that the F1CA wasn’t interested in the extra grid positions but wanted to make a statement against the new deformable-structure safety regulations that would be imposed in 1973 – thereby further fuelling the political impact of the conflict. Back at the Principality, Boeri tried to strengthen his bargaining position by promising that the issue would be resolved while the cars were practising. But Ecclestone took the offer for what it was – a transparent ploy – and held his ground. No 25 starters? No race. His bluff paid off. Boeri gave in and signed to increase the grid to 25 cars.

As a result, Jacques Blanchet came out of the argument as a loser and was soon side-tracked as the FFSA president. His successor would be a man who wouldn’t take no for an answer: Jean-Marie Balestre.

On the back of his Monaco victory Ecclestone had the other organisers firmly in his targeting visor. He not only sought a substantial raise of prize money for 1973, he also demanded that the F1CA be entitled to distribute the money more evenly amongst its members. Now, the CSI unequivocally sided with the organisers as their cry-out led to the formation of a new body, Grand Prix International (GPI). This was set up to negotiate with the F1CA on behalf of the organisers, lining up the two parties for a heated end to the season. GPI’s hard-line chairman, Dutchman Henri Treu, first tried to break the F1CA union apart by offering individual deals to each and every team and when this didn’t work he sought the support of the CSI – which he got. The plan was for the CSI to allow F5000 and F2 cars into the World Championship, thereby bolstering the grids and weakening F1CA’s monopoly on the drivers. It was quite a desperate move. But Metternich, who had been an approving by-stander in the conflict, gave his permission, sealing the future animosity between F1CA and CSI for good.

The CSI president persuaded the RAC, which organised the British GP, to announce this measure by publishing the rule book for their 1973 race, which would be open to F1, F2 and F5000 cars. It was hoped that the RAC, which held most credibility with the predominantly British constructors, would sway the F1CA into accepting GPI’s financial terms for the 1973 season. Instead, the teams were furious: either the RAC turned their GP back into a proper F1 race or the teams wouldn’t show up. Now Philip Morris stepped into the argument as well, having become an important voice through its new Marlboro sponsorship agreement with BRM, as it declared that the tensions between the CSI and the F1CA were hurting the sport. This made some organisers twitch in their chairs, and their unease swelled when Ecclestone pounded out individual deals with some of the overseas races, such as the South African GP, which of course had to pay for travel costs that weren’t a concern to the European events.

Then Mosley and Ecclestone played their trump card, as the CSI allowed its deformable-structure regulations to come back at them like a boomerang. These new rules, which would be in force from the 1973 Spanish GP, had been dragged into the Monaco GP fued and become one of the CSI’s main tools for restoring ‘order’ in the F1 paddock. With the 1973 Argentinian GP right around the corner, however, Metternich got them thrown back smack in his face. It was Max Mosley who publicly questioned the CSI’s integrity by pointing out these new rules and comparing them with the governing body giving in to GPI’s request to allow F5000 and F2 cars onto 1973 Grand Prix grids. How could the CSI be a supporter of safety if a race following the Spanish GP, i.e. the British GP which had just published its 1973 rule book, was open to cars that did not conform to these safety rules?

The result was that one by one the organisers signed deals with Ecclestone for 1973. As for the embarrassed RAC – they wouldn’t admit defeat to second-hand car salesman Ecclestone. Instead they phoned Max Mosley that they agreed to F1CA’s terms. As a last resort, Treu tried to get Enzo Ferrari behind him but even the Old Man knew a lost battle when he saw one. It meant the end of the road for the GPI and the rise to prominence for the successful Ecclestone/Mosley combo, as television now began to grow into a factor of importance.

The mid-seventies: the CSI loses out again

Into the seventies the F1CA gained an enormous amount of power. There was a steep rise in starting money, prize money and travel funds it got from the organising clubs, while its influence was stretching into other fields of Grand Prix racing as well, such as track safety, paddock entry, pitlane safety, promotional activities and corporate VIP hospitality. It also decided which venues would be getting a Grand Prix in what year, as was the case with the Belgian GP, where Ecclestone proved to be a politically astute man, devising an alternating scheme between Nivelles and Zolder to keep the Walloon and Flemish factions in the country happy. But when the drivers made it known to the association that they hated the Nivelles circuit, Ecclestone had no qualms putting all his eggs in Zolder’s basket, even though the CSI wanted the Belgian GP to return to Nivelles in 1976. Paris could cry what it wanted but the association’s word was law.

Meanwhile, the away races in North and South America, Africa and Asia found out what a hard-bargaining man Ecclestone really was, as he worked towards new three-year deals with most organisers in Europe and the world. Bernie set an example with the Canadian GP by boycotting the 1975 race when the organisers didn’t want to bow to his demands. They pleaded with the CSI, which didn’t want to take on the F1CA on its own turf, and then lost out in court. The only reason the Canadian GP was back on the calendar in 1976 was a title sponsorship deal with the Canadian Labatt’s brewery. The same almost happened to the inaugural Japanese GP in 1976, which found out that Ecclestone didn’t sleep any worse by onesidedly upping the ante on a done deal, as he threatened with a boycott of the Fuji race just months before it was about to take place. As usual, the Japanese pulled the shortest straw and had to increase the transportation fee that the F1CA was asking. Ecclestone’s reasoning was that the huge costs increases were only for the good of the organisers, as they were now forced to become efficient businesses instead of the amateur lot they had been. Kicking their sorry arses into professionalism was how Bernie called this practice, and he undoubtedly felt that the better terms the teams were getting – and his own growing profits – were simply pleasant side-effects to the overall good cause.

It was the time when FIA-bound Prince Metternich decided that he needed a man at the CSI office who would be able to take a tougher position towards the constructors and protect the interests of a governing body which hitherto had been powerless to the association’s every wish and command. As a result, Pierre Ugeux was awarded the presidency. The Belgian seemed like a clever choice. He didn’t come with a great deal of motorsport heritage but had become known as a terrier-like deal manager. Also, he wasn’t representing the traditional French and German powerhouses within the FIA but being francophone he would feel quite at home at the Place de la Concorde.

Ugeux looked like he was off to a great start when he came back to Paris in November 1975, proudly presenting the Brussels Agreement. In this, a fixed price of 275,000 dollar was set for European organisers to have the F1CA teams appear at their 1976 races. In fact, the agreement was finally settled on a price of 270,000 dollar but Ecclestone simply upped it to 275,000 with a stroke of his pen. That didn’t go well at all with one of the men present, Jean-Marie Balestre, FFSA president since 1973. Uguex however was pleased with such a remarkable result, as it came right after he introduced himself to F1 by stating that the 1976 World Championship was off until there was full agreement between the CSI, the organisers and the F1CA.

Encouraged by this early success Ugeux then set about doing what Metternich had failed to do with GPI – trying to get the organisers to form a united front against the constructors. Now, he said, the CSI would be entirely on their side. This time, however, the RAC sided with the F1CA. The chairman of its motorsports arm RAC MSA, Sir Clive Bossom, was a member of the FIA board and he warned Ugeux and the CSI to back off unless they wanted him to address the matter to the FIA board. Bossom was given his ammunition by Max Mosley, who had found that such a consortium of organisers would be violating the Treaty of Rome. Ironically, Bossom was among the people who had agreed to Ugeux’s appointment.

The Belgian was undeterred. He knew he had the support of both Metternich and his powerful German ally Fritz Huschke von Hanstein, the former Porsche competition boss who was now head of the AvD, the German GP organiser, and an important CSI member. As the bulk of the organisers met to agree on their common ground they formed the One Hundred Thousand Dollar Club, named after the bond they would forfeit if anyone dared to break free and negotiate individually. Leading the club were Hanstein and Balestre, supported by ACM’s Michel Boeri and the two Juan Manuels of the Argentinian ACA, Fangio and Bordeu.

The man who was to oppose Ecclestone at the negotation table was one of Bernie’s old pals, a former Marlboro EMEA director named Patrick Duffeler. The Brussels-born American who in the winter of 1973-74 had been responsible for the transfer of Marlboro money from BRM to McLaren, held a personal vendetta against Ecclestone since he was said to have been offered a bribe by the diminutive Englishman after failing to follow up on a letter of understanding committing Marlboro to Brabham for 1974. Duffeler had been trying to form a new Marlboro superteam after BRM turned out to be a terrible investment which desperately failed to live up to their promises in 1972 and ’73. The same could be said of the Williams team, whose boss had been so persistent with Duffeler that he managed to get Marlboro as a secondary sponsor to Milanese manufacturer Iso, as hard-working Frank renamed his cars to Iso-Marlboro for two years. Prime candidates for the new superteam were McLaren and Brabham, and both were very keen on the deal, since Marlboro would be upping its sponsorship budget tenfold compared to what it started with in 1972.

Leading the new team would be Emerson Fittipaldi, who himself introduced Texaco’s John Goossens to Duffeler as a co-sponsor. McLaren seemed like the favourite but they had trouble with their incumbent sponsor Yardley which, ironically, also had had to make way for Marlboro at BRM and, poignantly, was wholly owned by Philip Morris’s bitter rival British American Tobacco. In short, it plainly refused to leave. Meanwhile, Brabham with its sensational young designer from South Africa, Gordon Murray, was looking like a very interesting alternative to Marlboro-Texaco and Fittipaldi, and Bernie Ecclestone obviously agreed. Duffeler and Ecclestone met up in Switzerland to sign a preliminary contract after which Bernie suggested to Duffeler that he might have some expenses for all his trouble – according to Duffeler at least. Whatever did happen that day, everything changed on the next, as McLaren’s Teddy Mayer phoned Duffeler to tell him that they had worked out a deal with BAT. Yardley would be sponsoring a third McLaren for Mike Hailwood, leaving the door open for Marlboro-Texaco to sponsor the main team. Brabham was left in the cold, and the team’s cars started the 1974 season in plain white livery while having to resort to pay drivers in the second seat.

With their history, Duffeler looked like the perfect man to challenge Ecclestone. On behalf of the organisers he formed World Championship Racing (WCR), a new body aiming to agree three-year deals with the F1CA. But the association reacted in a peculiar way: it simply would not to talk to WCR. This meant that time was running out quickly to the first GP of 1977, which would take place at Buenos Aires on January 9. There was every chance of a very thin grid after Fangio and Bordeu ceremiously ripped their F1CA apart, an act to which the F1CA responded with its obvious retaliation: hasta la vista, Argentina.

But in fact not all the organising clubs had placed their 100,000 dollar bond with the CSI, and Ecclestone bluntly approached those that hadn‘t. As one group of organisers decided to stick with the WCR others signed with the F1CA. The Belgians even hedged their bets by signing with both!

Now we had a situation that would closely resemble that of November 1980-81 when there was renewed talk of two separate championships – and this all following a Grand Prix season that had been filled with controversy, with the CSI being continually slammed and praised for its decisions in the protest match between Ferrari and McLaren, both grandee and garagiste battling it out on track as well in the court rooms.

So there was surprise that Ecclestone, in a late-December meeting in Paris, suddenly accepted the running of the Argentinian GP under WCR terms. This followed a press meeting in the week before in which British reporters tried to hold the WCR and the F1CA accountable for the serious doubts surrounding the start of the 1977 Grand Prix season – if there ever was going to be one. Significantly, Ugeux failed to appear at the meeting, and Ecclestone may have interpreted this as a sign of hesitation towards the WCR’s growing power. It seemed that Dr. Frankenstein was growing afraid of its own monster.

The result was that the ACA members present scrambled to telex the home office that their race was back on. As the other overseas races were staged without any significant hiccups, the CSI was convinced it had won. But back in Europe, the tables quickly turned. Having won the battle instead of the war, Ugeux failed to move in on the organisers who had done deals with Ecclestone. This was the opening his adversary had been looking for. Now that the 1977 season was well underway, the CSI could not lose face by having its World Championship collapse half-distance. So Ecclestone grabbed the opportunity to change the new three-year contracts to include more favourable terms and conditions for the F1CA. His temporary retreat had lulled Ugeux into a false security, which now cost the CSI dear. Five years after the demise of GPI, WCR was dead and buried as well.

The late seventies: Balestre says ‘Fini!’

The 1977 season saw the arrival of two major innovations that would rock F1 like never before. In the F1CA camp Team Lotus came up with the novel idea of ground effects and explored a rudimentary implementation in its Lotus 78. The car went on to win five GPs that season, more than any other car managed in 1977, and only lost out on the title due to incessant unreliability. But Chapman would be back in 1978 with the improved 79 while inspiring other constructors to jump on the idea. Foremost among them was Williams, whose new designer Patrick Head grasped the concept better than Chapman himself had done, as he went on to produce the FW06 and FW07, cars that would leapfrog F1’s classic backmarker team to the front of the grid.

The counter movement came in the shape of the Renault team entering four GPs in 1977, testing the waters for their 1.5-litre turbo engine. Its unreliability would plague the team until well into 1982 but as early as 1980 most teams realised that, once reliable, turbo power would immediately render the DFV obsolete. Turbo engines were a costly affair, however, and none were available off the shelf in a Cosworth sort of way, so the only way ahead for the British constructors was being clever in the ground-effects department. As it was, ground effects would prove rather ineffective on flat 12-engined cars anyway, as was proved in 1980, when the new 12-cylinder Ferrari was totally outclassed by the Cosworth-engined Williams and Brabham. Ferrari’s earlier performance advantage on the Cosworth cars due to their cars’ low center of gravity had completely withered away as the wide engine contours of the Ferrari ‘boxer’ interrupted the airflow underneath the car.

It was the same with Matra’s V12 and Alfa’s B12 and V12, which were unsurprisingly dumped by Ligier and Brabham by the end of 1979, after which both teams instantly lept back into competitiveness. Meanwhile, the arrival of Renault in 1977 and the Alfa Romeo works team in 1979 finally brought some support in Ferrari‘s lonely ‘grandee’ camp. The lines drawn in the sand were now becoming visible. In the red corner were the grandees – manufacturer-supported works teams who were following Renault on the turbo path as soon as they had an engine that would be able to replace their traditional 12-cylinder atmospheric powerplants. In the blue corner, mostly waving the British flag although Guy Ligier was part of the gang too, were the FOCA teams, fighting it out for the enduring survival of ground effects and sticking it out with their Cosworth engines while secretly probing other manufacturers, previously uninvolved in F1, to make them a turbo engine. By talking to the likes of BMW, Porsche and Honda the teams kept their options open which – as the events as they unfolded will prove – was a wise thing to do.

So how was the political side of this brooding conflict shaping up? As we noted before, technology was the ammunition to wage war with, but the ultimate goals were power and – ultimately – money. In the power battle the stakes were raised in 1978 when the two protagonists of the FISA-FOCA war stepped up to their desired positions.

On the FIA side, president Metternich realised that Ugeux was no match for Ecclestone. The Belgian’s successor would have to be a true power player, revelling in conflict. There was only one obvious candidate: FFSA president Jean-Marie Balestre. The Frenchman was voted CSI president with overwhelming majority, and as a first step of an ambitious overhaul plan, he did away with the CSI. The body that had existed since the days of the AIACR was superceded by the Fédération Internationale du Sport Automobile (FISA). Of course, Balestre was appointed president of this new autonomous subcommittee of the FIA. His intentions were clear. The FISA would restore control over Grand Prix racing to its rightful owner. Outside interference by organisations foreign to the governing body would no longer be tolerated. Effectively, Balestre said "Fini!".

On the FOCA side – yes, F1CA was now changed to FOCA – Bernie Ecclestone stepped up to become the association’s chief executive, a role he was fulfilling behind the scenes anyway. He too wanted to revolutionise Grand Prix racing. But in his view the only way of doing so was to get rid of the ‘amateurs’. Even if Ecclestone’s passion for motor racing was never in doubt he also realised that the best way to preserve that passion was to sell it. Preferably to the highest bidder – which in this modern age not just meant the organisers but television as well. And the purses those bidders would have on offer would only grow fatter and fatter if this sport was taken out of the small print of the sports pages and professionalised into a ready-to-buy package.

The stage was set for a royal battle.