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“The World Federation of Motorsport”

December 26, 2012

*This is a slightly abridged version of events*.

Formula One has without doubt spent a good deal of the last thirty years at its own throat in some way shape or form.

Absurd business dealings, alongside Hollywood-style political machinations have often served to render the background picture more important than the actual product.

1982 aside, many of the commercial battles in the sport have resembled James Bond without the death and destruction.

Yet these commercial fights often present the sport as less interesting and more embarrassing than even the most thoughtless and trivial multi-million dollar blockbuster.
Like spoiled children arguing over marbles and small toys, the public fall-outs peppering Formula One’s history all too readily spit in the eye of the rest of motorsport’s fraternity.

Its original fiasco – an apt name when one considers the parties involved – began to boil over during the late-70s, before exploding in the lead up to the 1980 Spanish Grand Prix at Jarama.
Battles between FOCA (the Bernie Ecclestone and Max Mosley-led teams’ association) and FISA (the sporting wing of the FIA) resulted in various petty swipes between both parties {note 1}.
With the Grand Prix drawing closer, tensions heightened as arguments on both sides hardened. Caught in the middle were the frustrated race promoters as well as Spanish monarch King Juan Carlos.

After some uncertainty, a deal was struck on the Friday before the Grand Prix allowing the event to proceed, albeit without the factory teams – Ferrari, Renault and Alfa Romeo – leaving just the Ford-powered privateers to compete {note 2}.
Three days later, FISA struck the race off the world championship calendar and withdrew FOCA’s seat from the executive committee of the world council.

Through the rest of 1980, tensions continued, although the rest of the calendar continued as originally planned. By November, stern heels had began to dig further into the sand and FOCA – wishing to strike a hefty blow against FISA – announced a rival organising body called the World Federation of Motorsport (headed by Mosley).
A rival series to Formula One – “The World Professional Drivers’ Championship” – was implemented and the next, brief, battle between FISA and FOCA commenced in earnest.

Interestingly, even those who should normally remain impartial took sides, including the legendary motorsport journalist Denis Jenkinson.
Opening the January 1981 issue of Motorsport Magazine, Jenkinson went as far calling the World Professional Drivers’ Championship a “…pirate series of Formula One races…” {note 3}. The experienced “Jenks” was one of many to pour scorn on this attempt to rival the FIA {note 4}.

Of course, it could never last. With no factory entrants, minor fan and media interest, the World Federation of Motorsport was fatally flawed from the start.
The body’s sole event – the 1981 South African Grand Prix {note 5} – would be run to Formula Libre rules {note 6} and like the previous year’s debacle at Jarama, suffered from a reduced field.
This time, only nineteen cars competed.

Yet despite the apparent failure of events in Kyalami, FISA were rattled to the point where the FIA president, Jean-Marie Balestre, offered a compromise to Mosley and Ecclestone in January 1981 {note 7}.
Then called the “Maranello Agreement”, a tense peace formed and in March 1981, FOCA and FISA entered into the first Concorde Agreement – a commercial deal that still binds Formula One to this day.

(The dates – which were in error upon original publication – have since been corrected.)

Of course, peace was bound to be short-lived, but in the meantime, the World Federation of Motorsport was quietly abandoned and the FOCA teams entered the 1982 Formula One season
The battles did not end there. As the racing circus returned South Africa in January of 1982, driver strikes were initiated and a now infamous stand off ensued.
Eventually real fights would emerge on track, some unintentionally funny {note 8}; another though had very fatal consequences for one of the sport’s rising stars.

{note 1}
Following the 1979 Argentine Grand Prix, Balestre – keen to clamp down on FOCA and its members under the guise of FISA – issued McLaren’s John Watson a fine of £3,000 for taking out Ferrari new boy Jody Scheckter.
The fine had still not been paid by the time of the Brazilian Grand Prix two weeks later, causing Balestre to openly threaten Watson with exclusion, while also blaming FOCA for “the insult”. The Automovil Club de Argentina, who had sided with FOCA, would later pay it deeply embarrassing Balestre in the process.
Meanwhile, Balestre introduced heavy fines for drivers who did not attend the compulsory pre-race briefings; however realising the regulations were inconsistent from race-to-race, FOCA encouraged “their” drivers to not attend. When numerous FOCA drivers had their licenses threatened at Jarama after missed briefings, the relationship finally cracked.
In the meantime, Balestre created the “F1 Technical Commission”, which began writing a formula for the 1981 season that would weigh heavily in favour of the manufacturers.

{note 2}
Just so you know, Alan Jones – 1980’s eventual World Champion – went on to win the Spanish Grand Prix. The Australian finished some 50 seconds ahead of Arrows’ Jochen Mass, while Elio de Angelis brought his Lotus home in 3rd spot. Jean-Pierre Jarier (Tyrrell, 4th), Emerson Fittipaldi (Fittipaldi, 5th) and Patrick Gaillard (Ensign, 6th) were the only other finishers.
Twenty-two cars attempted to qualify after the withdrawl of the six factory entries and Eliseo Salazar (RAM Williams) and Brian Henton (Ensign) were the race’s only non-arrivals. Carlos Reutemann (Williams), Didier Pironi (Ligier) and Nelson Piquet (Brabham) all led at points before retiring.

{note 3}
Grand Prix events are not confined to Formula One rules, although a Formula One race will always be a Grand Prix; however the days when Formula One rules could be assigned to non-championship events, trophy races and national or minor championships are long gone.
Even the machines of the somewhat marginalised historic races and championships rarely trespass beyond the early-1980s, although that is also partially to do with development of sophisticated electrical units as the years passed, rendering operation in a modern setting rather difficult.

{note 4}
Goodyear who in 1980 had supplied tyres for all the privateer squads – and the manufacturer Alfa Romeo – were not pleased with these developments.

{note 5}
The 1981 South African Grand Prix could have been on the World Championship calendar. The timing of the appearance of the World Federation of Motorsport had thrown the 1981 F1 calendar into disarray, eventually leading to the cancellation of the Argentine Grand Prix.
Kyalami’s original race date of February 7th was looming large and on January 9th, FISA not only offered SAMRAC (South African Motor Racing Club) a new date of April 11th. However FISA also offered the possibility of retaining February 7th should SAMRAC wish to run a lesser, Formula Libre rules event. In this, FISA thought themselves too clever and SAMRAC chose to run the final Grand Prix to Formula Libre rules on the original February date.
Unlike the previous year’s event in Spain, the 1981 South African Grand Prix was this time finished off by Reutemann in the Williams. Piquet made the runner-up spot, well ahead of de Angelis. Keke Rosberg (Fittipaldi, 4th), Watson (McLaren, 5th) and Ricardo Patrese (Arrows, 6th) filled out the top half-dozen; eleven finished.

{note 6}
Formula Libre is a free form of motorsport regulation that hosts cars of various rules and design formations. Although the 1981 South African Grand Prix ran only 1980 Formula One machines, any machine that matched the basic safety structure could have been entered.

{note 7}
One of the key segments of the agreement was the formation of the championship as a single entity.
Prior to the 1981 World Championship, each race on the calendar was considered a separate event that was entered individually by each team. Races generally ran with their own variation of the sporting regulations, with organisations arranging separate prizes and starting monies. It was this chaotic arrangement that would go some way to eventually turning FOCA into a united entity.

{note 8}


From → History

  1. Steven Roy permalink

    Its original fiasco – an apt name when one considers the parties involved – began to boil over during the late-70s, before exploding in the lead up to the 1980 Spanish Grand Prix at Jarama. Battles between FOCA (the Bernie Ecclestone and Max Mosley-led teams’ association) and FISA (the sporting wing of the FIA) resulted in various petty swipes between both parties

    During the FISA-FOCA war there was a famous tee shirt slogan FISA + FOCA = FIASCO so you are not the first person to notice how appropriate that word is. I have no idea how many shirts it sold but it was in every issue of Autosport and other mags for ages.

    • Leigh O'Gorman permalink

      Would quite like one of those shirts. I could wear it to my next Grand Prix (and get kicked out as a result).

  2. Great piece, Leigh.

    And I’m now officially caught up on the Google Reader. Looking forward to commenting on your stuff in something a little more resembling “real time”. 😉

  3. Mike Perez permalink

    The FISA/FOCA war was during the winter of 1980/81. The Concorde Agreement was signed in March 1981. The reason FISA panicked and offered a deal was they had to cancel the 1981 Argentine GP because they only had 6 cars whereas FOCA had enough cars to stage their pirate 1981 South African GP.

    It’s important to get the basic facts right.

    • Leigh O'Gorman permalink

      It is clearly noted that the FISA / FOCA war was at its hottest through the latter stages of 1980 and early 1981; however the offshoot of the war stayed within the sport until well into 1982 and it would be foolish to ignore the ongoing regulatory battles that continued after the agreement was signed.
      The original agreement was the “Maranello Agreement” (so called as it was drawn up in Maranello) with the FOCA teams signing in January; however Balestre did not capitulate until March.

      As is noted, the 1980 cars that the FOCA teams ran in the RSA were no longer of F1 regulation, rendering it a Formula Libre event. The 1981 Argentine Grand Prix held in April and was won by Nelson Piquet – it is important to get the basic facts right.

      My note of Concorde signing up in 1982 was merely a typo – these things happen from time to time.

  4. Mike Perez permalink

    Er, no Leigh. The 1981 Argentine Grand Prix was scheduled for 11 January 1981. It was cancelled because only 6 cars (two each from Ferrari, Renault and Alfa Romeo) were available. After the Concorde Agreement was signed in March 1981, Argentina applied for and were granted a new date in May 1981 with the agreement of all the teams.

    The Maranello Agreement was between the FOCA teams and the three major manufacturers. It was engineered by Ferrari with no FISA involvement. It, plus the fact that FOCA had put on a race but FISA could not do the same, led Balestre to capitulate. Buut he insisted that the agreement should have the FIA as a party and be renamed the Concorde Agreement.

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