Australian Alan Jones was crowned World Champion of Drivers at the conclusion of the 1980 Formula One Season – the first Aussie since Sir Jack Brabham to achieve this feat and the first Williams driver to do so, in only the team’s fourth year in the sport.
What nobody knew at the time was that this would be the last World Championship of Drivers. From now on, the premier competition in world motor sport would be the World Drivers’ Championship. A seemingly minor linguistic quibble, but one that hid a multitude of changes – political, organisational, technological – within the sport of Formula One. The Maranello Agreement that brought about this change was part of the ongoing “FISA – FOCA War”, a power struggle within the sport between the governing body, FISA, the Federation Internationale du Sport Automobile (an autonomous sub-committee of the FIA), and FOCA, the Formula One Constructors’ Association – a collective-bargaining association for privately-owned F1 teams that had been originally formed to negotiate fairer shares of prize money and demand track improvements from race organisers.
I don’t want to go into all the ins and outs of the FISA-FOCA war here, not least because it has been excellently and thoroughly covered in this excellent series of articles at 8W, but also because I want this blog to focus on the racing and not the politics. However, the two can’t exactly be divorced, so a brief introduction into the state of play at the end of the 1980 season is in order.
During the late 1970s, the privately-owned teams making up FOCA had become increasingly unhappy with perceived biases within FISA’s running of the sport in favour of the large factory teams – Ferrari, Renault and Alfa-Romeo particularly – in its interpretation of rules, and in its disbursement of the funds received from commercial endeavours, again feeling that FISA favoured the “big name” teams over the smaller garages.
Around this time, Ferrari and Renault began experimenting with turbo-charged engines – in fact, this was the entire reason behind Renault’s involvement in the sport. Initially a prestige side project, it became clear during 1979 and 1980 that turbo engines were much faster than the standard-issue Ford DFV used by most private teams – if only the turbo’s reliability problems could be solved, they would be unbeatable. But turbo engines were expensive to develop and fuel, and since FISA didn’t see fit to ban the innovation, FOCA teams started looking for more and more workarounds and loopholes to keep their competitiveness, notably the use of “Ground Effect” aerodynamics, shaped car undersides which sucked the car down onto the track using sliding “skirts” to reduce ground clearance to zero. FISA would frequently ban such workarounds and close, leading to further accusations of partisanship, and increasingly petty exchanges of rulebreaking and fines/bans.
Matters came to a head at the 1980 Spanish Grand Prix when FOCA noticed that attendance at the drivers’ briefing was not compulsory in the course handbook and its drivers stayed away en masse. FISA responded by doling out fines and declaring after Friday practice that the race could not go ahead. King Juan Carlos insisted, and the race was eventually run as a non-championship event without Ferrari, Renault and Alfa-Romeo who all withdrew.
After the 1980 season, FOCA decided to employ what they saw as the “nuclear option” and launched their own breakaway series, the World Federation of Motor Sport, but it soon became obvious that there simply wasn’t the support for it, especially after FISA made it clear that any circuit hosting an WFMS event could forget about ever having another FIA race.
The Maranello Agreement, and the Concord Agreement that came later, were attempts to negotiate a peace treaty in this ongoing “war”, and tried to strike a balance between FISA’s desire to professionalise the sport and FOCA’s wish for a greater say in decision making. Part of this was the change in basis of the two championships – Drivers and Constructors – and of the calendar itself. Until 1980, any circuit-owner anywhere could decide to host a race to Formula One regulations and, providing the FIA agreed that all the requirements had been met, the race would be run. Organisers could invite specific entrants, or leave an open entry as they saw fit. FISA would then choose a selection of these races to be “championship” races to be awarded points. Each race was essentially an independent event, and teams and drivers entered each individually. Racing drivers of means but without a “works” drive would often gather a couple of mechanics, buy a car second-hand or direct from a manufacturer and enter races in an attempt to attract a contract, or even just for the fun and prestige of entering their home Grand Prix.
From 1981 onwards, all this changed. The FIA Formula One World Championship was now a single season “package”; teams would have to register to enter the whole season, and would have to build their own chassis (eliminating the “amateurs” from what was after all a dangerous and highly technical sport). Non-championship races could still occur, but they were already on the way out; with the increased cost of running F1, teams were reluctant to spend money entering races which didn’t count for the championship and without the big names to attract audiences, circuits didn’t deem them worth holding. With the better distribution of money that came with the Maranello/Concorde Agreements, prize money purses offered by non-championship races also became less important.