FOTA calls Formula One quits

Throwing down another gauntlet onto a course so littered it's time for a safety car, the eight united teams of Formula One Teams Association announced Thursday they will set up a separate racing series in 2010. The move is the latest in an escalating feud between FOTA and the sanctioning body of Formula One, the International Automobile Federation (FIA), and one that stands to tear the sport apart.

Preperations in the paddock.
Photo by xpb.cc.

BMW-Sauber, BrawnGP, Scuderia Ferrari, McLaren Mercedes, Red Bull Racing, Renault, Scuderia Toro Rosso and Toyota declared the intention in a news release issued at Silverstone, England, site of Sunday's British Grand Prix.

The news is the biggest bombshell to date in a series of moves to lower costs in the most expensive sport annually staged worldwide. FOTA formed last September in response to a campaign by FIA president Max Mosley. Mosley said costs must be cut and new teams cultivated for the sport to sustain itself. Mosley reiterated his view about the necessity of cost cutting in early December when Honda, Japan's second-largest carmaker, dropped its team, citing plunging global car sales.

Mosley originally proposed a 30 million pound budget limitation. That figure gave way to a 40 million pound ($65 million) figure. Reports in the past week indicated Mosley would agree to budgets of 100 million euros ($139 million) for 2010 that would come down to something near the 40 million pound figure for 2011.

Although money is a central talking point, FOTA has issues with FIA governance as well.

FOTA said Thursday their efforts to meet Mosley's goals have been ignored and that the FIA and commercial rights holder Formula One Management, headed by Bernie Ecclestone, have attempted to undermine them.

"The wishes of the majority of the teams are ignored," the statement read. "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."

The teams met a May 29 entry deadline only conditionally, pending FIA agreement to their alternative budget proposals and adoption of a new operating agreement for the sport, called the Concorde Agreement, named for the Paris location of the FIA's offices. The Concorde Agreement, the latest of which expired at the end of 2007, gives all parties, sanctioning body, commercial rights holder and teams, a say in running the sport.

FIA logo.
Photo by xpb.cc.

Two other FOTA teams, Williams F1 and Force India, were suspended from the group for having met the FIA sign-up deadline without condition. The two independent teams cited intention to honor a contract that commits them to the series through 2012.

When the FIA announced the 2010 entry list a week ago, Ferrari and the two Red Bull teams were included as unconditional entries with Mosley citing contracts he said would keep those teams in the series through 2012. The teams immediately declared themselves conditional entries and the pace of communication between FOTA and the FIA stepped up considerably.

Reports as late as Thursday were hopeful the two sides had found a way forward. Then came FOTA's statement.

"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," the statement concluded. "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."

Contracted drivers including Ferrari's Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen and Renault's Fernando Alonso have said they will drive whatever series their teams compete. Various drivers have lamented the argument between teams and the FIA, which has gone on all spring. New team owner Ross Brawn of championship-leading Brawn GP decried the public bickering for its adverse effect on sponsors as well as fans.

The next move could be legal action by the FIA to hold contracted teams to series commitments.