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FOTA goes for breakaway, F1 holds its breath
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FOTA goes for breakaway, F1 holds its breath
Posted By:   |  19 Jun 2009   |  6:35 am GMT  |  106 comments

“If you are going to bark, you need to be prepared to bite.” This is what a member of one of the FOTA teams said to me yesterday afternoon, with respect to the threat of leaving Formula 1 and forming a breakaway series.

Shortly after midnight FOTA made the announcement that many had feared was coming and which takes the sport into unchartered waters. The teams met at the Renault HQ near Oxford prior to making their announcement. They will have done so with a heavy heart but had to do it, really. It was put up or shut up time and as the spirit of team unity has survived through the winter and the early part of the season, despite the diffuser row and various other challenges. I have seen them get progressively more angry as this row has gone on.

“(The) teams.. have no alternative other than to commence the preparation for a new Championship which reflects the values of its participants and partners, ” says the statement. “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.”

Of course ‘commencing preparation’ for a new series is not the same as closing the door on F1 and walking away. The teams expect a compromise to be found and are trying to force it. It has always been the case that if they stay together they can achieve something, but if they allow themselves to be split they will fail. So they have gone for it and put the ball back in the FIA and Bernie Ecclestone’s court. This is going to cause damage to F1 whatever happens. There could be a swift resolution, through negotiation, after all the gaps between the two sides are not that great and both want to achieve the same things. The gap is ideology and increasingly the FOTA teams have come to resent the way in which the FIA has governed in this situation.

Last week, when the entry list was published with Ferrari and the two Red Bull teams on it and the other FOTA teams conditional, FOTA appealed over the head of Mosley to the FIA senate and World Council. This was the equivalent of saying that there could only be a solution if Mosley is removed from his position.

Since then there has been a round of mud-slinging and name calling both in press statements and in press conferences. It got highly personal with Mosley and Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo at the forefront of it all.

Today is the FIA’s deadline for finding a solution and FOTA have pre-empted the action by issuing the statement in the night, allowing a day of frantic diplomacy to take place. It is going to be one of those very dramatic days in the paddock.

TV executives will be really alarmed. They see the numbers on F1, get the commercial proposition and sign off cheques for tens of millions of pounds a year. But many of them do not understand the sport and will not be happy to face the prospect of holding the rights to a series which on the face of it has Williams, Force India and some new teams. Circuit owners and regional governments will feel the same way. And this will not make it any easier for Donington to find investment.

Of course the FIA is confident that it has a binding contract with Ferrari to race in F1 and if this continues, that contract will have to be tested in a court of law.

“FOTA is proud that it has achieved the most substantial measures to reduce costs in the history of our sport. ” says the statement. “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. ”

A lot of the focus will now fall on Bernie Ecclestone, the 78 year old chief executive of the body which holds the commercial rights to the sport. He has threatened a hailstorm or writs if the teams took this step. His reaction and that of the FIA will be interesting. They have pushed FOTA to this point to see what they would do. But did they really think they would go for it?

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1

In the May issue of Racecar Engineering, (THE) Gordon Murray said that F1 needed to “collapse and start all over again.” Here it is then… But I don’t think this will be a CART – IRL = NASCAR dominance situation. More like CART – USAC = USAC (F1/FIA) becomes regional show.

James, do you think that there IS a series out there ready to take advantage of the split as NASCAR did? (Apologies again for the length of my last post).

2
Christian Frost

Ah well, FIA finally managed to [mod] mess up Formula One. Thanks Max! Thanks Bernie! You turned what once was an exiting racing series into a handicap sport, and now you’ve killed it off…

3

fota series: train behind mclaren and ferrari. only these 2 teams will win. the rest will be just wagons following them. series will have huge money and organisation problems which will result into fights but they will keep the charade up to pretend they won from fia. after a while noone will watch it….or rather, noone who likes real racing.

f1: uninteresting teams winning meaningless prizes noone watches. it will be just a salary thing for the teams involved. but fia will never give in.

they both lose. anyone who think that fota or fia are winning here are ignorant, clueless and naive all at the same time.

especially the people who are rabidly defending fota…do you realize what you actually support? yes it looks good at first…but really think about it. then look at what happened in indycars. then come to your senses 😉

yes fia needs to change…but also, yes fota needs to change. they are both equally wrong and in denial.

4

Hi James,

this will be my first comment on your excellent site!
the teams have done well to stick together for so long against the FIA and now we are reaching the climax. i myself feel that a possible breakaway series is the only way forward now, as it is the only way the teams can be self financing.

by this i mean that with the improved tv revenues, existing sponsorship deals, and event fees they will for a vast majority of the FOTA teams except ferrari and mclaren pay for their racing at current budgets.

i will be looking forward to a season without politics bearing its ugly head!

P.S, maybe you can confirm this, but news on the grapevine is that Nick Wirth, technical director/ chief designer of the new Manor F1 team is actually Max Mosleys nephew???? isn’t this slightly smacking of nepotism when you leave off lola and prodrive?

5
The Kitchen Cynic

““Furthermore, tens of millions of dollars have been withheld from many teams by the commercial rights holder, going back as far as 2006.”

Whoah there…is this true James? Sounds like they’re going to claim that Bernie is already in breach and therefore their contracts are nullified.

6

It is now simple:

Either Max resigns or F1 is destroyed.
Hopefully the FIA Senate will finally grow some grapes and stand up to [him]. [please read the rules of the blog – mod]

Goodbye Max, and good riddance once and for all.

7

…and so the unstoppable force meets the immovable object.

Up to a point, FOTA were prepared to come back into F-1 but only under their terms and, if it wasn’t to be (and with Max displaying predictable self-righteous belligerence, it never was), then they needed a detailed Plan B.

Of course, it could still all change at the proverbial 11th hour and as we speak you can be sure the CVC blowtorch will be burning Bernie’s nether regions. CVC will be apoplectic with rage that their multi-billion investment is about to evaporate before their very eyes, especially when it has occurred as a result of the intransigence of a single stubborn fool. Max may yet lose and if he does, he will go quickly and quietly via a palace coup.

Failing that, FOTA will proceed and we can expect a detailed plan to be rolled out quickly and with the efficiency one might expect from a professional group that has been quietly and efficiently working behind the scenes for several weeks (and possibly months). There will be a name for the series, an entry list (and don’t be surprised if it includes entries from Prodrive and Lola), a list of provisional and inevitably traditional circuits.

The argument that this will be a re-run of the Indycar split does not hold water. When that split occurred the energy was dispersed across the 2 ‘new’ series. Each side gained nothing and was in fact, 50% worse off than it had been before and it showed.

With the F-1 / FOTA split, all the sponsorship money, all the best drivers, all of the manufacturers and most of the teams, all of the key powerplants and the vast majority of the best designers and engineers will be on the FOTA side.

You can be certain FOTA will have racing at Silverstone, Montreal, Nurburgring, Indianapolis and Magny-Cours. There may even be a few track surprises in store. Unshackled from Bernie and CVC’s drive to get huge fees from desperate (and often despotic) governments, other tracks will quickly seek to unshackle themselves from the F-1 train-wreck. Above all, FOTA will have the fans.

F-1 will have Williams, Force India and a few other teams we have never heard of before. Apart from Williams, they will have old Cosworth engines, 2nd string drivers, sponsors, designers and engineers. They will have cookie-cutter tracks that nobody goes to in places that nobody cares about. F-1 will self-destruct and it may do so before a 2010 regulation wheel is turned.

Within 1 to 2 years you can expect FOTA to be Formula 1 once more. Bernie, Max and CVC will, one way or the other, be gone. A new fairer and cooperative FIA will emerge and fans will again have the racing they have wanted and craved for, for longer than most of us can remember.

F-1 is about to suffer the self-destruction it needs to have, but I believe this necessary temporary pain will be followed by a cleansing renewal. A new stronger Formula 1 will re-emerge, and hopefully we will all be able to look back on this day, as the day it all began.

8

Alleluia! I was skeptical FOTA would stand up to Mosley and break away from F1 as we know it. But they did it!

This is history in the making. It looks like F1, or whatever the best championship with the best drivers and cars will be called, is discarding the old dictatorial shackles and will become a professionally run championship.

Like Bernie said, it’s back to the future; the next evolution, or revolution, after the FISA/FOCA war. I for one couldn’t be happier.

I believe that either way the fans win. Either Max will back down from his demands and we will retain an official F1 world championship, or we will get a new one with the best teams, drivers, and cars running under a different name. This is a great day.

9

Good. hopefully the FOTA will have something that resembles the spirit of the F1 than the FIA’s version

10

I feared this day would come for a very long time now, and now that it is here I can’t help but feel relieved and excited at the same time. A new series would have been a disaster without the likes of Red Bull, Mclaren, and Brawn, but since they’ve stayed strong and united, the only things we’ve lost are Max, Bernie, Williams and Force India. I think Bernie will be the next to Budge or jump ship and Williams and Force India can follow him. BE stands to lose the most here.
I think the Fans may actually have something to gain. As a Canadian, I may actually get a chance to see a race again!
James, How’s about a poll to see who would support which series? I’m sure members of the FIA and FOTA check your site occasionally.

11

i have a thought about the fia 2010 championship: if the breakaway goes ahead AND ferrari and rbr/str lose in court, thus are forced to be in the 2010 fia championship… what’s to stop them showing up at every gp with only two guys total and this year’s car (specs within the rules, of course) on the back of a utility trailer? then they could drive it for one lap and retire it. the cost to do that would be pretty minimal, would make a mockery of the fia, and would allow them to put their money into the real new series.

13

James – have you been on the phone to ITV yet about who their commentator is going to be when they bid for the FOTA series coverage 😉

14

Cheers for all the info James – interesting as always.
As someone who has watched F1 for nearly 20 years I have seen attempts to outwit Max and Bernie fail in the past so I’m not getting too excited about this one.
But looking across the net one thing I did find remarkable was the amount of support FOTA has “out there”.
I wonder if Bernie and the FIA have any grasp at all of how unpopular they are amongst motor racing fans?
If they do they will be settling this sooner rather than later, or else on the evidence of today they will be left holding a championship with no fans.
A bit like 17 Turkish GP’s.
But without Jenson,Rubens,Fernando, Lewis,Ferrari…

15

I’m with FOTA all the way on this one. Whatever happens I hope we get a race series where:

1) The role of politics plays a MUCH lesser role.

2) Ferrari stops getting preferential treatment on and off the race track.

3) The race stewards make fair and sensible decisions, no more inconsistent and seemingly biased penalties.

4) And Max Mosley has nothing to do with it. He can go spend his free time as he likes.

16
The Flying Finn

If the dog is really going to bite, it would just go for it. The ones that stand around barking .. do just that, and nothing more. The statement leaves the door open, FOTA is ‘commencing preparation’ and ‘not going to alter entries’ BUT theyre NOT withdrawing the entries and do not have any details of the new series annouced. Hopefully Max and Bernie do not blink, they need not to as they have nothing to lose and all to gain at this point. Blink and cave in, then they might as well walk away today. The teams on the other hand, have it all to lose. Sure the new series might be a reality and it might even be the ‘better’ one, but would sponsorship contracts be breached/have to be renegotiated at a significantly lower price ? As a fan, it is sad to see it get to this point but on the bright side, does that mean racing every weekend and back to montreal/silverstone/adelaide/imola and cheaper ticket price next year ? There is a bright side to everything right ?

17

Re. Bernie’s ‘hailstorm of writs’, I’d be pessimistic about him backing down on this. It is after and all the ‘Bernie and Max’ show – they go back a long way and have propped each other up over the years. You never know with Bernie though do you? If FOTA are willing to allow him continue drawing exorberant sums as ringmaster perhaps he’ll follow the money…

However what is to stop Ferrari, for example, from sending a couple of modified ’09 cars to races next year with Badoer and Marc Gene to go through the motions, maybe pull in Indy-style after a few laps citing reliability problems? Do you know if this would be possible James? What is the fine print of the teams’ contracts with the FIA? (Unfair question I’ll admit!)

The TV contracts will be interesting – BBC are committed and to lose them would be a pity (no ads). Would star presenters such as Brundle jump ship?

There is NO QUESTION, as a fan, I will be following the best teams and drivers to the new series.

I don’t want to wish harm on anyone but … if Max fell under a bus don’t think I’d be shedding any tears…

18
Canadian F1 fan

Aside from the fallout of all upcoming court cases, I see this as a certain win for fans of open-wheel racing. We’ve got eight teams committed and, who knows, maybe even Lola, Prodrive and a few more.
As for tracks, aren’t Silverstone, Paul Ricard, Fuji (makes you wonder about Toyota’s decision to withdraw its track), Montreal & Imola all immediately available? What about Germany and the USA?
As I said, it’s a win for fans. We’ll hopefully get to see racing at venues with history and tradition.

Looking forward to seeing how this plays out…

19

Christmas come early for the lawyers. I am saddened that it has come to this but the FIA must understand that F1 is a sport, and the FIA exists to govern the sport for the benefit of the fans and in an environment where the teams “buy in” rather than just being pawns to be pushed around on the whims of the ringmasters. The FIA must start to realise that it is not a vehicle to allow their President to massage his ego with his endless powertripping.

20

My position as a spectator is simple, I’ll follow the best teams, the best drivers and the best sponsors. The FIA have got themselves in this position by diluting the image of Formula 1.. F1 was rapidly becoming a Gp2 series with smaller budgets, restricted aero developments and ridiculous technological innovations i.e. KERS that have no relevance to F1 [In my opinion] and have far proven to be a success so far this season.. What annoys me more is the stance of Max Mosely, I understand his position and views of budget capping to help secure long term stability of F1. But it goes without saying a world championship cannot and will not survive without its top teams..

I’m all for this break away series, a series without the FIA is a series better off. What will be interesting is the marketing game FOTA will play to market themselves as a higher tier championship to Formula 1, it maywell prove a costly mistake. On a ligther note perhaps the new series will be contracted to Itv whereby we’ll be reunited with the legendary James Allen and Steve Rider?

Good luck to F1 and the FIA.. I very much look forward to how they survive with just Williams and Force India as there leading competitors for next season!

21

I rather hope FOTA go through with it actually. Williams might be World Champions again. 😉

That said, if FOTA do start a rival series and the price of a new BMW or Mercedes goes up dramatically, we’ll have a pretty good idea where that extra money is headed… lol.

22

I’ve been getting excited about the prospect of a breakaway series for a while now. I think it’s the only way the changes that are really necessary will come about. The Fia under Max Mosley has been nothing but emergency rule change after another. As a regulatory body the fia is there to provide the checks and balances to keep the sport healty, interesting and relevent, in face of presure from intrested parties such as the teams who want to win whatever the cost, and the promoter who wants to make as much money a possible. With the notable exception of safety, the fia has completely failed to provide any regulation, and has been unwilling to accept it’s failings or change it’s ideas. A breakaway series has got to be a healthier environment for the teams and tracks than F1 currently, and it might just bring about the changes the fia so desperately needs.

23

*DING DING* Round 274 Begins.

24

Very sad. Very short-sighted of FOTA.

25

So if this happens James, then the media are going to have to step in … all of you need to get together and refuse to cover either series unless they all get their heads together and sort something out … see how successful they are with zero publicity.

Not that this would ever happen of course … but still. Power of the press an’ all that …

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