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Analysis: Sauber and Force India rebel. What impact will EU probe have on F1?

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Analysis: Sauber and Force India rebel. What impact will EU probe have on F1?
Sep 29, 2015, 3:08 PM

The news from Brussels is that two current F1 teams, Sauber and Force India, have made an official complaint to the European Union that the sport i...

The news from Brussels is that two current F1 teams, Sauber and Force India, have made an official complaint to the European Union that the sport is managed and governed in an anti-competitive way.

This has been on the cards since the summer and now the two teams have taken a deep breath and decided to go for it.

So what does it mean, how likely is any kind of EU investigation to happen and what might the repercussions be?

What is the teams' complaint?

Force India and Sauber have complained to the competition commission, which is headed by a lady called Margrethe Vestager. They allege that the way the sport is run, with uneven payments weighted towards the top teams and a governance system which includes the F1 Strategy Group (on which Force India sits currently) that excludes half of the teams, is unlawful and anti-competitive.

They have asked the EU commission to look into it.

The deals were done when CVC the sport's majority owner, was shaping up to float the business on the Singapore Stock Exchange. The bilateral agreements were designed to tie the biggest names into the sport until 2020.

This is a very strong move for teams that are currently involved in the sport and highlights the level of desperation that they feel. Lotus, which was originally aligned with the pair, has noticeably dropped off the roster as it is in the process of being bought by Renault.

Todt, Ecclestone

What happens next?

The EU will spend a long time considering whether to take the case on. Nothing will happen in weeks, let alone many months.

They have been alerted to possible issues with the sport before, not least by the European parliament member representing a constituency in the UK where a number of mechanics lost their jobs with the demise of Caterham and Marussia. Anelise Dodds raised the matter with the commission and said, "I've raised this issue a number of times in Brussels, to see if there is a competition case to answer here.

"The Commissioner in charge has made it clear to me that she can't do anything until the teams themselves submit a formal complaint, and so if that's what the teams feel is right then that is what they should do."

Now there is a formal complaint. But colleagues in Brussels say that it is far from certain the EU will decide to go ahead and take F1 on. In fact they put it at 70-30 against at this point.

Why would they not take on F1?

Because challenging a global sport is a very big case to take on. And there is a very broad definition to be fulfilled. It's not about a few teams feeling 'left out'.

What is at stake here goes way beyond proving that some teams are treated unfairly in terms of prize money or influence over the rule making process. The EU has a sceptical view of rich men who own sports franchises complaining that they aren't getting a fair deal.

They need to see real evidence of what is known as "Theory of harm"; in other words, that thousands of people in the industry, sponsors, suppliers and the wider eco-system of motorsport are affected by anti-competitive practices. Moreover they would need to be persuaded that the public interest has in some way been harmed, that the fans are losing out due to the anti-competitive practices.

And that is a very difficult thing for the lawyers of Force India and Sauber to prove. Their start point will have to be explaining to the Commission why they signed bi-lateral contract agreements with F1 back in 2012 if they were unhappy with the practices and the governance of the sport.

A complaint has recently been lodged against FIFA, so the timing of this complaint is not a co-incidence.

* Bernie Ecclestone has reacted to the news this afternoon. Telling Autosport that he is not concerned by this action.

"The bottom line is, what they [the teams] are saying is we're giving too much money to some people and not enough to the others," he said.

"But all this was done whereby everybody knew what they would be getting and what would happen, and they all signed contracts which were very clear.

"They've had a change of heart I suppose, and I don't blame them, not at all.

"Somebody will have a look at it and either decide the agreements they've signed are valid and they stick by them, or they're not valid and they have to be changed.

"From our point of view it won't make any difference at all."
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