Both sides stand to lose

Published : Jun 27, 2009 00:00 IST

The stand-off between FIA and FOTA could have bleak implications for the sport as a split is in no one’s interests. Maurice Hamilton explains the dispute and how it would impact the sport.

Max Mosley, president of the FIA, had been asking the Formula One teams for suggestions on how to cut budgets, some of which exceeded £250m per annum. When the teams failed to respond to Mosley’s satisfaction, the FIA announced a voluntary £40m budget cap for 2010 with greater technical freedom for those teams accepting the restriction, effectively creating a two-tier championship.

The Formula One Teams Association (FOTA), which was formed last September, said it could not accept the proposal. As part of a compromise, the FIA said it would drop the two-tier idea, though the teams still resisted. When entries opened for the 2010 championship, Williams and Force India were thrown out of FOTA when they accepted the FIA’s conditions and entered.

The remaining eight teams made a block entry on the understanding that certain conditions were met. Mosley refused but further discussions appeared to be heading for another compromise. Negotiations failed and the teams were given until the night of June 19 to accept his terms.

In the meantime, the FIA had received entries from several new teams. After a four-hour meeting on June 18, the eight FOTA teams — Ferrari, McLaren, Renault, Toyota, BMW Sauber, Brawn GP, Red Bull and Toro Rosso — said they would form a separate championship.

How serious are the FOTA teams?

Very serious. They object to Mosley’s methods of governance just as much as the immediate £40m budget cap which the large teams say would be impossible to apply in a short space of time.

How difficult would it be to set up a rival championship?

Extremely difficult, but not impossible. A massive infrastructure is needed. The equivalent of Bernie Ecclestone, the FIA’s commercial rights holder, would be needed to establish television contracts and revenue streams as well as negotiating with prospective venues.

Would there be sufficient circuits?

Yes. Tracks such as Silverstone, Montreal, Indianapolis and Magny-Cours, currently unable to meet Ecclestone’s demands, would be only too pleased to stage races, particularly if big names such as Ferrari and leading drivers were on the entry list.

Would the tracks be granted the necessary licence by the FIA?

Yes, provided they met the necessary safety standards. Similarly, the FIA, as the governing body of all motor sport, would be obliged to license the FOTA championship if all the regular conditions were met.

How would the existing championship fare?

Badly. Williams, Force India and a number of small, unknown teams would not attract sufficient interest.

Would the existing television companies be contractually obliged to cover the championship?

It depends on the terms of their contract with Ecclestone and, more important, what he is supposed to deliver to them in terms of entries.

The FIA say that Ferrari, Red Bull and Toro Rosso, whether they like it or not, are contractually bound to be part of their championship until 2012.

Ferrari dispute this, claiming that the FIA broke the terms of the agreement by unilaterally establishing the 2010 rules. The FIA does not agree. A lengthy legal battle would ensue.

Is a split a good thing?

Definitely not. Splits rarely work in any sport and motor racing is no exception. A split in Indycar completely destroyed top-level single-seater racing in North America. Both sides in Formula One realise this and it will be the one thing driving the need to find a solution.

So, will this be solved?

Ecclestone could be the peacemaker. The betting is we will be watching world championship racing in 2010, much as we’re seeing it now. In the meantime, this unnecessary stand-off is doing nothing for the image of Formula One.

© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2009

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