Oliver Weingarten of the Formula One Teams Association is helping with the tricky task of getting testosterone-fuelled rivals to present a united front
The industry body for the world’s most glamorous sport definitely does not have the world’s most glamorous offices.
Indeed, the West London office of The Formula One Teams’ Association (Fota), home to the association’s lawyer and secretary-general Oliver Weingarten, exhibits none of the excess you might associate with a sport worth nearly £6bn: just a couple of rooms in a townhouse it shares with a few other companies, estate agents and the like. Fota has not even put so much as a plaque on the front door to let you know you are at the right place.
Inside, Weingarten’s office is equally nondescript. It’s small and busy with boxes, with a bookshelf that strains under the weight of fat files filled with the rules that govern the sport. A brass plaque with the Fota logo rests on a window ledge. Fota had only recently shut down its Geneva office and moved to London and there has not been time to put it up yet, explains Weingarten. That’s one mystery solved, then.
Fota was founded in the suitably exotic town of Maranello – home of Ferrari – in 2008, with the aim of giving racing teams a single voice in negotiations with FIA (the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile) and the Formula One Group. To date, seven of F1’s 12 teams have signed up.
When The Lawyer caught up with Weingarten in early January he was working on the testing agreements for the next season, negotiating terms with each track where teams will complete their pre-season tests. Weingarten’s role is to get the documents near to completion and then pass them on to teams to be inspected by their in-house lawyers and then signed.
Getting the teams together to help build a consensus on matters is not easy, however, and Weingarten often finds himself taking advantage of the one time when he knows that everyone who matters will be in the same place.
“I do a lot of work in the paddock as the teams are together and it’s an environment where I can see everyone,” says Weingarten. “But there’s a lot of testosterone involved and the early stages of a race weekend are a lot more conducive to getting work done than the latter ones.”
In his short time at Fota, Weingarten, who has been with the association for less than two years, has also negotiated shutdown periods for drivers and teams, helped set up fans’ forums around the world where F1 enthusiasts can meet drivers and other personalities associated with the sport, and got involved with the programme to reduce carbon emissions.
For the laborious contract work, when Weingarten does not have the capacity to do it himself, work is outsourced to an external law firm. Instances when Fota has had to do this include the original Concorde agreement between the F1 teams and the sport’s governing bodies, and the resource restriction agreement that limits how much teams can spend on their cars. On both occasions Fota used Grant Dawe, formerly HRO Grant Dawe.
Weingarten began his career at DJ Freeman and was one of four trainees to move to Olswang when it acquired the bulk of DJ Freeman’s property and media teams in 2003. Weingarten says he felt lucky to be invited to join Olswang because he was given a more rounded traineeship – DJ Freeman was focused almost entirely on insurance litigation at that point. But competition for seats at Olswang was tough. Weingarten was offered a place in the corporate department but it was not a practice area he was devoted to and he soon looked to leave.
“I saw a job advertised for a legal services executive at the Premier League,” says Weingarten. “Word got out that I had succeeded at the interview and all of a sudden there were partners at Olswang who had never spoken to me before coming up to me and striking up conversations.”
To begin with Weingarten reported to the director of legal business and affairs and was responsible for brand protection, and other related matters. But three months in Weingarten’s boss left, leaving him to sink or swim. Weingarten was now reporting to the Premier League’s commercial director, but then he left too, meaning only the chief executive sat above Weingarten.
“It was a blessing in disguise,” says Weingarten. “It allowed me to expand my work streams.”
On the road
Weingarten spent seven years at the Premier League, but was ready for a change when Fota approached him to join as secretary-general.
“I think they wanted someone who wasn’t entrenched in F1 but had experience that they could bring to it,” he says.
Weingarten was not given a soft landing at his new job, either. As well as uprooting Fota’s base from Geneva to London in early 2012 – only a few months after he joined – a row over the resource restriction agreement and how sanctions were being applied against the teams led to Ferrari and Red Bull leaving Fota. It has been noted that those two teams were also the first to agree new commercial deals, making it harder for teams to work together. One publication stated it was like a ‘divide and rule’ tactic intended to give the most profitable teams more influence and income.
“It’s a challenging environment within F1,” says Weingarten. “It’s a competitive environment where a 10th of a second can make all the difference and if a team can find a way to get that advantage they’ll try. As a senior team executive commented, ‘I could have written a book three months into this job’.”
Indeed, speaking to Weingarten it is clear that his job as secretary-general of Fota takes him close to the excitement that characterises F1 as a sport, even if his offices share none of the flair.
Oliver Weingarten, F1 Teams Association
Job title: Secretary-general
Reporting to: Martin Whitmarsh and Eric Boullier (chairman and vice-chairman)
Legal capacity: One
Main external law firm: Grant Dawe
Simon MacDonald, group legal affairs manager, MSV Group
The economic climate remains fairly challenging for businesses operating in the motorsport arena, particularly outside of F1. For MSV’s core activities – race events, corporate and retail driving activities, and circuit hire for trackdays and testing – the company has worked hard to drive efficiencies and create and maximise opportunities for revenue, entailing significant legal management.
The challenge for motor racing championships has included responding to demand for affordable but high-quality, entry-level series, with the recent launch by MSV of the BRDC Formula 4 Championship. This reflects a wider understanding, championed by the FIA, of the need for a simplification of the route to F1 to assist talent to prosper, while controlling costs in motorsport in part through tighter regulations that provide a more level playing field.
These efficiencies are coupled with the need for careful exploitation of commercial rights, including the expanding field of media (and new media)rights in content.
Maximising use of the circuits has entailed embracing other opportunities; for example, we were proud that Brands Hatch was the venue for Paralympic road cycling in 2012, the culmination of nearly two years of work with Locog. With other such deals – Ron Howard’s new James Hunt biopic ‘Rush’ was filmed in part at MSV circuits and Oulton Park is set to host Chris Evans’ Children in Need ‘CarFest’ this summer – there are always plenty of issues to deal with.