Wednesday, 8 July 2009

FOTA at loggerheads with the FIA again on the eve of the German Grand Prix

Just when we thought that the political row in Formula One has really come to an end, that all parties seem to be agreeing with each other more or less and that after a three-week summer break, we all head to the legendary Nurburgring in the west of Germany for a race weekend where everyone can concentrate only on the racing and not politics, we are thrown right back into the middle of the stormy seas that once again sees Formula 1 teetering on the brink of collapse. Who do we have to thank for this? You might have guessed it - it's motorsport's world governing body, the FIA. This new episode in this "epic" political saga started when FOTA walked out of an FIA meeting at the Nurburgring on Wednesday.

The FIA and the Formula One Teams' Association (FOTA) finally came to an agreement last month in Paris after a long political row that, at one point, saw the teams threatening to set up their own breakaway championship. The row seemed to have been finally settled however, when the FIA World Motor Sport Council (WMSC) agreed to meet most of the teams' demands and revert the technical and sporting regulations for next year to the 2009 regulations. That meant that the controversial new budget cap regulation, and all the other new technical changes that came with it went out the window. So promises were made by the FIA that the technical and sporting regulations would remain the same for the next three years. Although the regulations will be based on this year's regulations, there will be minor changes to bring in some cost reductions and all of that will happen according to FOTA's proposals.

Following that, the FIA set up a meeting with the eight FOTA teams - Ferrari, McLaren, Renault, Toyota, BMW Sauber, Red Bull, Toro Rosso and BrawnGP - and also Williams and Force India, to discuss the regulations for next year. The three new outfits - USF1, Campos Meta and Manor GP were also present in the meeting, which took place at the Nurburgring on Wednesday. However, the eight FOTA teams were told by the FIA that they were not entered into the 2010 FIA Formula One World Championship and therefore had no voting rights in relation to the technical and sporting regulations. This came a day after the FIA said in a press statement that all teams signed up for next year must unanimously agree for the FIA to be able to change the published regulations for next year. FOTA was under the impression that they were included in the "accepted" entry list as endorsed by the FIA World Motor Sport Council and confirmed by an FIA press statement on the 24th of June. In light of these developments, FOTA representatives requested for a postponement of Wednesday's meeting which was rejected on the grounds that no new Concorde Agreement would be permitted until a unanimous approval of the 2010 regulations have been achieved. As a result, the FOTA representatives at the subsequent Technical Working Group had no opportunity to exercise their rights and therefore they had no other option but to walk out of the meeting.

Before going any further, I just want to clarify a couple of points. First, the Technical Working Group is formed of representatives of the teams and the governing body to meet and discuss changes in regulations and how to bring about new regulations most effectively. This is how historically, or at least for the last couple of decades, new regulations have been introduced into Formula 1. It is only since 2007, when the last Concorde Agreement expired, that the FIA has been unilaterally imposing new regulations on to the teams without consulting them first. The second point I want to clarify is the Concorde Agreement. I have talked about it a lot in my last few posts but never really explained what it meant for some of the more casual F1 viewers. The Concorde Agreement is basically a legally binding document signed by the FIA, all the participating teams and the sport's commerical rights holder Formula One Management (FOM). It determines how the sport is governed, how the revenues are shared and how the changes in regulations are made. The last Concorde Agreement, that expired in 2007, was signed in 1998. That is why lately the teams, in their own interests, have been pushing the FIA to sign a new Concorde Agreement to bring back the stability in the sport.

Anyway, later on in the afternoon, FOTA issued a statement explaining why they had to walk out of the meeting, and put the blame entirely on the FIA to have thrown Formula 1 into jeopardy once again. FOTA said that they were keen to sit down with all the existing and new teams to discuss the regulations for next year, and that they came out of Paris last month in good faith that the FIA was equally eager to put an end to this political bickering once and for all. Since then, Max Mosley, president of the FIA, have already broken part of the Paris agreement by reconsidering his decision to not seek re-election in October for a fifth term as FIA president. Mosley standing down at the end of his term in October was part of the deal given to the teams in Paris last month, but Mosley later said that efforts by FOTA to undermine the FIA's authority has forced him to reconsider his decision to stand down.

Several news sources have been saying that owners of F1's commercial rights, CVC Capital Partners, are furious with this latest development. They, along with Bernie Ecclestone, will intervene to ensure a solution to this row but until that happens, we have a lot more posturing on our hands. I personally am so sick and tired of all this, that I am starting to grow indifferent to it now. I love Formula One as much as ever before, and always will, and I know very well that politics and ego have always been an integral part of this sport but this time, it is just getting too much. I sincerely hope to see a solution to this very soon, once and for all. Until next time everyone, drive safely!

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