Grand Prix racing has narrolwy avoided a damaging break-up thanks to a deal that appears to have secured the future of Formula 1, in the wake of serious threats to form a rebel series for next year.
As part of the deal, FIA president Max Mosley has promised not to stand for re-election when his term comes to an end in November this year.
The deal was brokered at a meeting of the FIA’s World Motor Sport Council which took place in the week following the British Grand Prix. The Formula One Teams Association had announced on the eve of the Silverstone meeting its intention to go its own way with a breakaway championship in 2010. The FIA initially responded with a threat of legal action against FOTA and Ferrari.
The dispute about how to control team costs had become a much more complicated argument, with FOTA moving its focus to the question of governance. The FIA’s efforts to impose a cost cap was the straw that broke the camel’s back after years of disputes between the teams and Mosley and, to some degree, Bernie Ecclestone and Formula One Management.
Mosley claimed FOTA’s efforts were a grab for power led by Renault team boss Flavio Briatore, who he described as having pretensions to be a “new Bernie”. He described the FOTA bosses, and Briatore in particular, as “loonies”. However, the FIA president’s condescending descriptions of FOTA’s efforts to go it alone only strengthened the organisation’s resolve.
At Silverstone it was clear that FOTA’s series plans were not just a bluff or a negotiating ploy. The body had already begun negotiations with circuits and potential race promoters ahead of its split announcement.
“In the end it’s a difficult decision,” Toyota team boss and FOTA vice-chairman John Howett told Motor Sport over the GP weekend. “But one that was easy to reach, because we believe that it’s the right thing for the sport. There’s been a lot of basic groundwork looked at. It’s not insurmountable at all.
“I think it’s fairly easy. The circuits will be happy to receive us next year. The drivers seem committed to the basic principle to maintain a championship with the best drivers, the best cars, and hopefully more connection and more involvement of the fans, which is something we think can be improved. It is an extremely interesting prospect for a number of parties.
“We feel extremely happy, very relaxed and invigorated, because I sincerely believe that what we are doing is right for the future of the sport for one or two decades to come.”
Mosley’s efforts to strengthen the FIA’s hand by welcoming new teams on board also appeared to have backfired. Several of those who didn’t make the original top three selection for 2010 and remained on a waiting list were now leaning towards the FOTA series, or at the very least, sitting on the fence.
Ecclestone said little of note at Silverstone. But he was obviously under enormous pressure from CVC – the nervous real ‘owners’ of F1 – to help bring about a satisfactory outcome.
As Motor Sport closed for press, it was thought the new entries named on the 2010 FIA entry list would not be affected by the deal. US F1, Manor and Campos, which had joined FIA loyalists Williams and Force India on the entry, will still be pushing ahead with their plans to race in F1 next year.
Williams chief executive officer Adam Parr had remained convinced that the FOTA breakaway series wouldn’t happen. “Modern F1 was created by Max and Bernie,” he said at Silverstone. “You can’t underestimate the value of having such strong figures to lead such a fractious, complex and competitive world. It’s easy to look at what other people do and say if I was doing it, I’d do it better. Well, that’s not always true, is it?”