Formula One rules dispute suffers diminishing returns

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Formula One rules dispute suffers diminishing returns

Max's letter has arrived! Into the hands of news agency Reuters, that is. International Automobile Federation (FIA) president Max Molsey wrote to teams of the shrinking Formula One Teams Association (FOTA) last week to spell out his next...

Max's letter has arrived! Into the hands of news agency Reuters, that is. International Automobile Federation (FIA) president Max Molsey wrote to teams of the shrinking Formula One Teams Association (FOTA) last week to spell out his next negotiating ploy with what has become an all-too-public struggle for the sport's 2010 rules.

Max Mosley FIA President.
Photo by www.formulatwo.com.

Somewhat short of "come home, all is forgiven," Mosley asked in his letter that the eight teams now signed up conditionally for next year's FIA Formula One World Championships -- drivers' and constructors' -- drop their conditions. "Then we'll talk," his message said. It is their unconditional sign-up that will give them a voice, Mosley wrote. Rules changes can be made only with the consent of all entered teams.

Ferrari, ringleader of this rebellion, BMW Sauber, Red Bull Racing -- both teams -- Renault, Toyota, Brawn GP and McLaren Mercedes met the FIA's May 29 entry deadline with the stipulation that Mosley's 40 million pound optional budget cap disappear and that a new sport-governing Concorde Agreement be signed before publication this Friday of next year's entries. Mosley brought team sign-up forward about six months over past years.

Mosley counters that a new Concorde Agreement, a document that stretches to 500 pages, cannot be formulated in such short order. Nor will Mosley move from the optional budget cap the teams say will put a rent in the championship.

"We are ready to begin discussions immediately with a view to signing an agreement without delay," Mosley's letter read. "However, there is no possibility of this being concluded in advance of setting the 2010 entry list, a draft of several hundred pages having been produced at the last moment. Also, the FIA will need to know who to discuss the draft with."

Well, he's got 'em there. Mosley's letter continues by observing that the sport will have new teams in 2010 and prospects are unlikely that all 2009 teams will participate in 2010. Ferrari's threatened departure has attracted worldwide attention, as intended. Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo is chairman of FOTA.

"It is, of course, up to you," Mosley's letter read, "but the simplest way to ensure that all entrants run under the same rules would be if everyone entered under the cost-cap rules as published and then all entrants co-operated to agree modifications to those rules which would make the proposition workable for all parties."

Mosley said the FIA has contacted potential new teams -- as many as 10 outfits are vying to join a field that will expand by three teams -- and learned those parties are amenable to further rules molding. Easy peasy, Mosley theorized.

FOTA acknowledged a reply to Mosley's letter, Reuters reported, but would not elaborate on contents. FOTA's members in good standing are down to eight -- notably all the manufacturer teams -- after Williams F1 and Force India signed up for 2010 unconditionally and were suspended. Both team owners cited legal obligations for defecting from the previous unity of the teams group. The FIA cited contractual obligation for Ferrari's 2010 participation. Reuters reported FOTA teams are scheduled to meet Wednesday.

BBC Sport reported remarks reaching the FIA indicate the eight FOTA teams will fall into line and withdraw their conditions before Friday.

Both sides in this battle make the sport's annual "silly season" -- the game of guessing who's going where for the next go-round -- look like intellectual discourse. While headlines attempt to follow every turn and twist of this drama, the situation requires a bit of levelheadedness such as the observation by BBC Sport F1 reporter Holly Samos, who commented during race coverage, where groups have met in Monaco and Turkey, that the dribs and drabs coming out about discussions don't give a full view of progress. Duly noted.

Ross Brawn Team Principal, Brawn GP .
Photo by xpb.cc.

More to the point, savvy surveyor Ross Brawn, new owner of Brawn GP, current leader of the 2009 championships, points out that potential sponsors look at the the apparent chaos embroiling the sport and don't want to be a part of it. In remarks to ITV, the newest team owner on the grid said the turmoil creates confusion among sponsors, hampers current teams such as his who are trying to line up sponsorship, and it hurts new teams who can't describe to potential sponsors just what Formula One they'll be part of next year. Even if Sir Jackie Stewart said it first, the observation holds: Argy-bargy is bad for the sport.

''Nobody is able to progress on the commercial front today because of the uncertainty," Brawn said. "So it's damaging for everybody, not just the the teams that have made a conditional entry, it is damaging to teams trying to enter."

Brawn GP cars remain remarkably uncluttered by sponsor signage. The team shows four "partners" along with Bridgestone, tire supplier to every team. Williams F1 nearly quadruples that number. McLaren Mercedes counts 10 partners (and Bridgestone) and an additional 16 suppliers. Scrambling for sponsorship is F1's race behind the race.

Everyone involved agrees the sport needs to cut spending (hence the attempt to go green, kinetic energy recovery systems, has bit the dust). Everyone involved agrees the sport needs to retain sponsors, not to mention fans (witness nearly vacant grandstands in Turkey). Not everyone agrees how to accomplish these goals.

Trying to argue their cases in public, as both sides have done, merely annoys fans, sponsors and promoters. So knock it off, guys, because you've hit the DRs, diminishing returns. We trust you'll sort it out in the end, but how much damage -- and ill will -- will you leave behind?

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Series GENERAL , F1