Jean Todt, usually reluctant to tell you the time, was quite right to break with his non-confrontational approach to upbraid drivers for moaning that they are not consulted over technical changes.
He argued that they were asked for their contributions but missed the meetings to which they were invited. It was a smack in the face for Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel, who had jointly chided Liberty and the FIA for failing to consult them over rule changes for next year, aimed at generating more overtaking by cutting the speed of cars by a projected 1.5 seconds.
Todt generously said, and he was telling the truth, that he would make time to see any driver on the grid within 48 hours if they wanted to speak to him about anything concerning them. Fine, but what is really needed is less consultation, less chat and less meddling.
FIA President Jean Todt (right) is correct to upbraid drivers for complaints about consultation
Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel chided the FIA over rule changes for next season
The amount of navel-gazing in Formula One is extraordinary. There is little wrong with the fare as it is. The season is absorbing. The advantage Mercedes had has dissipated and we have an embryonic three-team fight for the championships.
That is one reason why Christian Horner, the Red Bull team principal, was right to say fiddling with next year’s regulations is an expensive distraction from putting the right formula in place for 2021, the first season beyond the current Concorde Agreement.
All focus should be on that. Ross Brawn should be single-minded and give teams a take-it or leave-it set of rules. Any amendments meanwhile are a failure to grab the nettle. It reinforces the belief that, rather than put forward a big idea, Liberty are the sort of people who tamper with a logo (as they have done) at a time when great men should step up.
This season is shaping up to be an exciting title race; F1’s bosses must be careful not to meddle
Martin Whitmarsh was back in the McLaren motorhome for the first time since Ron Dennis handed him a cheque for $15million and told him to shut the door behind him.
His presence in Spain started the rumours swirling. Was he on his way back to McLaren (not unbelievable when one of his great friends is the team’s owner Mansour Ojjeh)? What did it mean for the current embattled leadership group?
I asked Whitmarsh if he fancied a return to his old job, vacated some five years ago. ‘Too old,’ he said, jocularly. He is 60. He probably does not relish a return to the bear pit of daily toil. He is an adviser to the FIA and still involved on the edges with Sir Ben Ainslie’s America’s Cup project, and that probably suffices.
But he said he had ruffled sensibilities at both McLaren and Williams by telling them straight what needs to be done (though he was not disclosing the nature of his advice). He is pained by the predicament both teams find themselves in.
McLaren, where racing director Eric Boullier is under extreme pressure for his job, have not fallen anywhere near as far as Williams. To avoid that fate, McLaren could do with listening to wise advice and act decisively.
Martin Whitmarsh made his return to the McLaren motor home at the Spanish Grand Prix
Of all the things Liberty could address, mainstream coverage of the sport should be high on their list. Digital platforms have their place in the modern media landscape, but losing terrestrial TV coverage and national newspaper space is a massive problem for every sport other than king football.
Take cricket. Where once all the England team were recognisable to huge swathes of the population, and virtually household names, many of their successors could walk down Regent Street unknown.
That is all the more sad because the rot of anonymity and irrelevance (for all Sky’s first-rate coverage of our national summer sport) set in just as the 2005 Ashes series asserted itself in the national mind as the most absorbing contest since at least Botham’s 1981 heroics.
Liberty must be careful over anonymising F1’s stars by hiding the sport from terrestrial TV
There are lessons for Formula One, whose coverage on free-to-air television in Britain ends this year when Channel Four’s contract expires. A shame, because as a faint echo of the Ashes scenario in 2005, the death blow comes as the 2018 Grand Prix season is engaging a wide audience.
The thrilling race in Baku a fortnight ago – the most watched race of the year – commanded an average audience of three million and a 26.8 per cent share of viewers. The peak figure for a five-minute spell was 3.8m.
Now Liberty are tearing that away, just as they have done in American and continental Europe. They are playing with fire.