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Let's get legal!

WE understand that the three "rebel" teams - McLaren, Williams and Tyrrell - which last year refused to sign the 1997-2001 Concorde Agreement, have lodged a formal complaint with the European Commission against the agreement, claiming that the agreement is in violation of Articles 85 and 86 of the Treaty of Rome, which prohibit cartels and the abuse of a dominant position.

It will be up to the Commission's Competition Directorate, under Belgian Karel Van Miert, to decide whether the teams have a case, after which there could be legal action in the European Court of First Instance in Luxembourg.

All this will take some months to sort out, but it may not be hugely relevant as negotiations are continuing over a 1998-2008 Concorde Agreement, which would replace the troublesome 1997-2001 deal. A meeting at Silverstone in July resulted in broad agreement but leaving a few questions over 15 issues. These were discussed at another meeting at the Nurburgring on Saturday and Bernie Ecclestone and Max Mosley were reportedly rather upset when the rebel teams came up with 126 points of disagreement. Our sources say that only three or four present real problems but it may still be some months before a deal is struck. This means that the flotation of Formula 1 Holdings will be further delayed.

The Concorde Agreement is the second complaint to go to the Commission, following the German television company AE TV-Cooperations GmbH's decision to challenge the FIA's authority to centrally-market the TV rights of all international motor sports events.

The effect of all this on F1 will be to continue the current uncomfortable cohabitation which is going on between the signatory teams of the 1997-2001 Concorde Agreement and the rebels. It will mean that the three teams will have to continue to run without the money which Ecclestone has guaranteed to the signatory teams - which amounts to around $12m per team this year in exchange for their commitment to be at all the races for the duration of the agreement; the agreement not to compete in any other open-wheeler racing without FIA consent and the acceptance that they cannot change the names of the cars for the duration of the agreement. If the complaint is rejected by the Commission the rebel teams may find themselves excluded from the Agreement until the end of the year 2001, although in all probability, Ecclestone and the teams will hammer out a new deal for a new Concorde Agreement to bring peace to F1 and thus prepare the sport for flotation.

It remains to be seen whether the teams have a case or not but it should be pointed out that the FIA is a very powerful lobbying body in Brussels these days with a permanent bureau in the city and campaigns with the European Community for a variety of different automotive issues, ranging from helping to reduce pollution to crash-testing.

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