Formula One Hits Self Destruct Button

The Self destruct Button was well and truly thumped last night when the deadline passed for unconditional entries into the 2010 Formula One series without all but one of the big teams being signed up for 2010.

The FIA and FOTA have been wrangling for years about the commercial, political and technical management of Formula One.  This has all come to a head recently, when FIA president, Max Mosley tried to enforce a budget cap on the teams. This budget cap is perceived by Mosley to be critical to the survival of the sport as the huge largess of the teams is not considered by him to be appropriate in the present financial climate. The teams all fight back with claims that their budgets are huge due to the large volumes of rule changes which Mosley makes to try and make the sport more entertaining.

In addition to budget constraints, it is clear that Max has been trying over the last few years to homogenize the cars to a single chassis, single engine series and with most of the big manufacturers either being or being sponsored by car companies with their own engines, it is clear that this was always going to end in tears.

FOTA announced last night that they are dismayed that their arguments against the budget caps have been ignored and they announced that they would begin planning a breakaway series with immediate effect:

Silverstone, 18 June 2009 – Since the formation of FOTA last September the teams have worked together and sought to engage the FIA and commercial rights holder, to develop and improve the sport.

Unprecedented worldwide financial turmoil has inevitably placed great challenges before the F1 community.  FOTA is proud that it has achieved the most substantial measures to reduce costs in the history of our sport.  

In particular the manufacturer teams have provided assistance to the independent teams, a number of which would probably not be in the sport today without the FOTA initiatives.  The FOTA teams have further agreed upon a substantial voluntary cost reduction that provides a sustainable model for the future.

Following these efforts all the teams have confirmed to the FIA and the commercial rights holder that they are willing to commit until the end of 2012.  

The FIA and the commercial rights holder have campaigned to divide FOTA. 

The wishes of the majority of the teams are ignored. Furthermore, tens of millions of dollars have been withheld from many teams by the commercial rights holder, going back as far as 2006. Despite this and the uncompromising environment, FOTA has genuinely sought compromise.

It has become clear however, that the teams cannot continue to compromise on the fundamental values of the sport and have declined to alter their original conditional entries to the 2010 World Championship.

These teams therefore have no alternative other than to commence the preparation for a new Championship which reflects the values of its participants and partners.  This series will have transparent governance, one set of regulations, encourage more entrants and listen to the wishes of the fans, including offering lower prices for spectators worldwide,   partners and other important stakeholders.  

The major drivers, stars, brands, sponsors, promoters and companies historically associated with the highest level of motorsport will all feature in this new series.

Note to Eds: Statement issued by FOTA on behalf of BMW-Sauber, BrawnGP, Scuderia Ferrari, McLaren-Mercedes, Red Bull Racing, Renault, Scuderia Toro Rosso, Toyota.

The FIA responded in what is becoming standard Formula One practice with the words ‘See you in Court’.  At the heart of this threat are the private agreements that the FIA have direct with some of the teams to be involved in the sport in the future.

Particularly interesting is the fall from grace of Ferrari, who has previously been able to exert some kind of mystical hold over the sport, with the press release on the FIA website summing up the FIA position:

19/6/2009 The FIA’s lawyers have now examined the FOTA threat to begin a breakaway series. The actions of FOTA as a whole, and Ferrari in particular, amount to serious violations of law including willful interference with contractual relations, direct breaches of Ferrari’s legal obligations and a grave violation of competition law. The FIA will be issuing legal proceedings without delay.

So far, the spinoff series is likely to involve:

  • BMW Sauber;
  • Brawn GP;
  • McLaren;
  • Renault;
  • Red Bull Racing;
  • Ferrari;
  • Toro Rosso;
  • Toyota.

It’s not presently clear what the position of Williams is in all this.  They alone of the FOTA members have submitted an unconditional entry for next year.

This may simply be that they have nothing to lose: Without a championship winning car for the last few years, this may be a great way to get back to the front of the grid if the present big guns go elsewhere.

What remains to be seen is if the breakaway series becomes the new motorsport pinnacle. With the FIA controlling budgets, technical innovation, pre season testing, engine performance and tires, the thing this is clear is that the breakaway series looks like it might be able to bring back the true innovation that in the past has bought us 6 wheels cars, side skirts and a host of other groundbreaking performance enhancing parts.

We certainly live in interesting times – May be wise not to book seats for a 2010 F1 venue just yet!

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