The Mole goes to church

The other day The Mole received a coded message from a Formula 1 "sleeper" advising him to visit one of his dead letter boxes to pick up a document. In these days of e-mail and radio blips such old-fashioned espionage activities are rather endearing and usually the documents are worth reading as no-one makes much of an effort with most of the paperwork generated in Formula 1 circles.

The Mole discreetly departed from Vauxhall Cross, took the train to Waterloo Station and from there wandered across the bridge to The Strand to disappear into the rabbit warren of streets in and around Covent Garden. He walked briskly up Bedford Street and, without even a sideways glance, ducked unexpectedly into Inigo Place and the charming little gardens that leads to St Paul's Church, Covent Garden.

It is a very peaceful spot and occasionally The Mole drops by to sit awhile and admire the church. It was designed in 1631 by Inigo Jones and there is a magnificent pulpit carved by the great Grinling Gibbons. It is here that the very first victim of the The Great Plague of 1665 was buried.

St Paul's is famous for being The Actors' Church and has a large number of fascinating monuments to stars of the stage and screen. The Mole went quickly to his usual hiding place. There was a large envelope, so large that it could not be slipped into a pocket and so The Mole carried it under his arm as he walked swiftly down to Trafalgar Square and into Pall Mall. He popped into the Travellers' Club, found a quiet room and began reading the document. It was an agreement, issued by the Grand Prix World Championship organisation, which The Mole concluded, was that organisation's version of the Concorde Agreement.

If the truth be told it was not very interesting (nor for that matter is The Concorde Agreement) for it was written by lawyers rather than normal sensible human beings. The Mole's source had used one of those bright yellow highlighter pens to indicate a clause which clearly he believed to be of great significance. The GPWC, it said, was proposing to run the new series with its own regulator, who would be appointed for seven years but could be dismissed at the end of a year if the teams did not like it. Disputes would be taken to the Conseil International de l'Arbitrage en matiere de Sport (the International Sports Court of Arbitration) in Lausanne, a body which was set up by the International Olympic Committee to solve legal issues but did not really have much power until 1994 when one of its decisions was challenged in a Swiss federal court and was upheld. Since then the court has been used by a number of sports to solve disputes.

The Mole recognised immediately why the clause had been highlighted. The GPWC is clearly laying out a plan to run a championship which would not be governed by the FIA's International Sporting Code. He chuckled. Running championships outside the FIA's structure for motorsport is possible but completely impractical. A group of worthy management consultants, being paid a great deal of money by the automobile manufacturers, might come up with the idea but it has not been thought through properly.

Whether the automobile manufacturers like it or not, the FIA is a strong international body, which is recognised by governments and international organisations ranging from the United Nations to the European Commission. But that is not all. In the last few years the FIA has very carefully built itself an important position in the automobile industry, running crash-test programmes and campaigns and has carved out a place for itself as the organisation which is defending the rights of the automobile user. This has not always been popular with the car manufacturers. The problem for them is that the FIA might suddenly start to campaign for things which would be very unpopular and very expensive for car companies. If, for example, the federation were to start making serious noises about pedestrian safety, or lowering emissions, the car industry would shudder. They tried to stop the FIA with its EuroNCAP crash-test programme a few years ago but now they accept it and use it to sell their cars. The Mole wondered what would happen if Max Mosley decided to start pushing his weight around up in the really top levels of automobile companies. By planning to create a non-FIA series the GPWC has pushed Mosley into a situation where he has to react because he cannot let the FIA weaken its power as the global regulator of motorsport.

"Oh dear," said The Mole. "This is war."

And it is a war that the GPWC is going to struggle to win.

Mosley, more than anyone, knows that running a rebel championship is a waste of time. He knows that because the last person who tried it was Max himself, back in the 1980s when he was representing the Formula 1 teams in their battles with the FIA for the commercial control of F1. Mosley came up with a document claiming that he would set up a rival governing body to the FIA called The World Federation of Motorsport and that this would organise the World Professional Drivers Championship in 1981.

The F1 teams did try to go alone but the only race they held (in South Africa in 1981) was not a success and soon afterwards everyone got together and worked out a deal which became known as the Concorde Agreement, which has governed the sport with considerable success for the last 20 years.

One of the biggest problems for the championship that Mosley proposed at the time was that the FIA has the power in the International Sporting Code to issue licences to drivers, teams, circuits and officials. Any FIA licence-holder who became involved in an unrecognised competition could have that licence revoked (potentially for life). In order to avoid this a new series would have to own its own circuits, employ its own staff (from stewards right down to marshals) and drivers and teams taking part would have to accept that they could race only in the rebel series.

It is impossible to convince people to agree to things like that, as Mosley found out back in 1980.

The Mole stopped to ponder for a minute and concluded that in one move the GPWC had dealt itself a serious injury.

The FIA last week sent a message to teams telling them that they are all bound by the current Concorde Agreement until 2007 and that after the federation will go on organising a Formula 1 World Championship no matter what the GPWC does. This made little sense to The Mole until the GPWC document fell into his hands.

With the FIA underlining that teams are all legally-bound by the current Concorde Agreement and the teams being unable to agree on anything to cut costs in the sport, it is ever more likely that some of the smaller F1 teams will disappear because they cannot afford to go on. Some of the manufacturers may also give up because the costs of F1 are too high and the returns are falling as TV viewers get less excited than once they were.

This situation could very easily create a situation in which the teams will not have enough cars to fulfill their Concorde Agreement commitments between now and 2007. If they fail to meet those commitments the F1 teams will face legal action and with such big sponsorships involved even the biggest teams might be put out of business or become such financial strains on the car manufacturers that they would be axed.

In other words the teams may end up having to go back to the negotiating table to ask for a different deal. And if that happens The Mole imagines that the FIA and Bernie Ecclestone would squeeze them very hard.

The FIA is in the fortunate position that it can decide at a later date what to do with the rules and regulations of the World Championship. Once the current Concorde Agreement is over it could confer the World Championship title on any series it chooses to do so. And if that sounds like a radical move, one needs to look back in history to the 1950s when there were not enough Formula 1 cars for a proper World Championship and the federation switched the World Championship to Formula 2.

There is nothing new under the sun.

The Mole closed the document, sighed a long sigh and wondered where might be a good place to have lunch.

Click here to read previous Mole columns: The Mole Archive

Print Feature