The noises coming out of the FOTA teams on Sunday evening were quite resolute. They are not swayed by the latest suggestions from Max Mosley of fresh dialogue and are pressing ahead with preparations for a breakaway series. Currently Flavio Briatore is making the running on this, given his strong reputation as a wheeler dealer, he is being positioned as the ‘new Bernie’ in the FOTA set up.
He has been in touch with several recent F1 circuits, sounding them out, preparing the ground. Several circuits are under the control of the teams anyway, like Fuji (Toyota) and Mugello (Ferrari).
“We will have it ready in the next few weeks. We have been planning for several weeks already. We want a Formula 1 championship organised by FOTA, ” said Briatore.
Briatore is a credible figure in this role. He and FOTA will appoint agents to start discussions with TV companies. I would imagine they will insist on free to air TV, rather than pay companies, like Sky, but we will see. It’s going to be tough in this climate. In the UK, neither ITV, Channel 4 nor Channel 5 would have much money to offer for a breakaway series, especially as most TV execs would know from experience that divided sports championships usually don’t work. Common sense tells you that everyone would prefer to retain a Formula 1 world championship with all the strong teams in it. FOTA’s point is that if they have to do their own series, the teams are clear that they will do it,
“The decision has been made by FOTA, ” said Ross Brawn. “FOTA now has to press ahead with its ideas and plans. We can’t wait until January and decide which way it is going to go. As each day passes, and each week passes then the options for reconciliation will reduce.”
The teams are suggesting that by the end of July most of the pieces will be in place so any compromise will need to be sorted out before then.
FOTA has been involved in plenty of working groups to frame technical regulations in recent months so they should not take long to draft a set of regulations, which embrace the vision they have for lower cost, but high technology racing.
“Meetings [to frame the technical regulations] start next week and we will arrive at a technical specification that we think offers the best racing and is cost effective, ” said Brawn. “Things start next week and we will start to put some more detail to the proposal.”
We are in a phoney war period now. There will be claims and rumours swirling around as each side looks to exploit the other’s weak points. Rumours of Mosley dropping the legal action against FOTA came out of an interview he did on Sky Italia yesterday. (Ferrari is certainly not dropping its arbitration against the FIA in Lausanne, which started last Monday).
One name which I have not heard mentioned recently in connection with all of this is Ron Dennis. He was removed from McLaren’s racing operation following the stewards’ incident at Melbourne and is now driving everyone crazy at McLaren cars. But as a 15 % shareholder of McLaren F1 team and a man who put in a lot of ground work on both the GPMA (manufacturer’s threatened breakaway in 2004) and FOTA, he will be monitoring this situation carefully and will be itching to get involved.
One senior figure at Ferrari said to me recently that he regretted that Dennis was not around any more as he contributed a lot to the cause. That tells you how much times have changed.
His involvement would enflame the situation as far as Mosley is concerned, so he may well be laying low, monitoring the situation until such time as intervention is appropriate. If a solution is found with FIA and FOM then it may never happen. But as a major shareholder in the team he will be involved in board meetings to discuss McLaren’s role in FOTA anyway and providing a guiding hand behind the scenes. Martin Whitmarsh has led McLaren well through this process, but it will not have escaped anyone’s attention that the race team is failing at the moment and he needs to concentrate on that.