Martin Whitmarsh believes that Formula One is fully benefiting from an improved relationship between the FIA and the Formula One Teams’ Association (FOTA) and is confident that fans views will now be actively considered.
The McLaren team principal’s comments came during the inaugural FOTA/Santander fans’ forum, which took place in London on Thursday and saw a number of the sport’s senior figures grilled by the general public.
One of the subjects discussed during the event was that of FOTA’s relationship with Formula One’s governing body, the FIA.
This time last season, both parties were involved embroiled in a bitter feud which threatened the very future of the sport – with the teams and the then-FIA Max Mosley bitterly opposed.
However, following the signing of the new Concorde Agreement and the election of Jean Todt to the highest office in the Place de la Concorde, relations between the two sides have greatly improved – something which Whitmarsh believes has had a positive impact on Formula One on and off the racetrack.
“We are racing more naturally now,” the FOTA president said “There always will be goals that were not goals, and those sorts of things they happen in sport and you have to accept it.
“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.”
“There is a fine line: you want it to be safe, to be fair, and you want decisions to be instantaneous, but you want drivers to have a go. And when you have a go in racing cars, you are going to get incidents, you are going to get controversy and you are going to get two drivers who see an incident from completely different perspective.”
Using the example of last weekend’s European Grand Prix, he added: “Alonso was fairly outspoken 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.
“Now I don’t think it is reasonable for any of us to go on a blast and criticise the FIA over anything, there have to be some limits and we have to be respectful to the FIA, but I think it is acceptable for people to display their passion, enthusiasm and agreement in the sport. It is a healthy thing.”
Overall the event was hailed as a major success and billed as FOTA’s first successful step to bring Formula One closer to the fans.
“We said we had got to engage and invest time and effort into it,” said Whitmarsh. “We have these events because people wanted them.
“You cannot absorb all the ideas and all the views, because no one will agree wholly, but you get a flavour and feeling of what people feel and what they care about. By listening we can slowly guide the sport.”
“It has to remain the pinnacle of motor racing but we have to change it to make it more relevant.”