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BAT's legal plans

BRITISH AMERICAN TOBACCO is understood to be considering legal action against the FIA as a result of the new regulation which bans the use of different liveries by a single team. The aim of this rule is to avoid the public being confused by cars in the same team using different liveries. This is common practice in CART racing where teams such as Patrick, Rahal and PacWest run cars with totally different color schemes.

The F1 team bosses agreed to run cars in identical liveries as long ago as 1994 but the rule was not formalized until it became clear that British American Racing was intending to enter cars in different colors in 1999: one in Lucky Strike red and the other in State Express 555 blue. The new regulation causes considerable problems for BAR as we believe the funding of the new team was built around investment from a variety of BAT subsidiaries - paying for different brands - rather than just the main company.

There are alternative ways of running different brands on the same cars: either by running a brand on each side of the car or splitting the cars top and bottom but this will not meet with much enthusiasm from BAT brand managers.

Another option is for BAT to increase its investment in the sport and run BAR in Lucky Strike colors and another team in 555 livery. This would not be enormously expensive given the amount of money BAT seems to have available. If BAT does not wish to increase its spending it would have to cut BAR's budget in half. This is obviously not be an attractive option as the new team would have to find a great deal of money on short notice. The option of legal action is risky. Such a case might be successful if argued under commercial law. There are well-established laws about competitors complying with rules established by a sporting federation but these do not take into account the economic impact of a decision and a case could be built around that. This is likely to take a long time to sort out and in the interim BAR would still have to run according to the existing rules for 1999 and probably 2000 as well.

Even if it was ultimately successful, legal action against the FIA is a naive policy to adopt. If BAT wants to make the most of its investment in the sport it is best not to upset everyone else. The Formula 1 Commission, which voted through the regulation, is made up not only of FIA delegates but also team bosses, promoters, sponsors and engine manufacturers.

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