JANUARY 27, 2001
F1 chiefs offer key concessions to EU critics
MOTOR RACING's governing body yesterday reached what it hopes is the end of a tortuously confrontational battle with the European Union with a raft of measures it believes will satisfy competition commissioner Mario Monti.
After more than two years of battling with the EU over the manner in which it administered international motor racing - and in particular the vexed issue of whether the ultra-lucrative world championship was administered in an anti-competitive manner - FIA president Max Mosley and Bernie Ecclestone finally reached a compromise deal which took the sting out of the EU's concerns.
In reality, although Ecclestone has nominally relinquished his role as FIA vice president promotional affairs - a rather nebulous title which means precious little apart from putting a formal tag on the sport's commercial overlord - there will be precious little change in grand prix racing's lavishly funded ecosystem.
Yet the FIA, which last year leased its commercial rights to Ecclestone's Formula One Administration empire until the next century, has been able to satisfy the EU that it no longer has a commercial interest in the success of formula one.
"Over the past six months the FIA has changed its rules and commercial arrangements and will now take further measures to carry out its role as regulator or international motor sport without any commercial involvement," said Mosley yesterday.
"This will eliminate all possibility of future conflicts of interest. The constructive dialogue we have been able to establish with the European commission brings to an end a long-running and difficult dispute and will provide stability for all international motor sport, including F1. This is good for motor sport enthusiasts world-wide and for all those who work in one of the most popular of modern sports."
Amongst other steps, the FIA also pledges to remove any obstacles to other motor sports series competing with formula one.
It will be extremely interesting to see the practical effects of this undertaking. In particular, the motor racing fraternity will wait with some scepticism to see whether the governing body will reverse a ban on US Champcars (Indycars) racing outside North America on anything but an oval circuit.
Ecclestone's formula one administration empire has also sold its interests in all forms of motorsport apart from formula one, including international rallying.
This is hardly a significant move. Ecclestone neither understood rallying nor considered it sufficiently lucrative a televised spectacle and was only too willing to sell off its TV coverage rights to David Richards, owner of the Prodrive rally preparation company, for a reputed 35 million dollars late last year.
Not that Ecclestone should worry either way, of course. At the age of seventy he opted to cash in a large percentage of his chips last year when he floated a bond which raised 1.5 billion dollars for family trusts benefiting his wife Slavica and daughters Tamara and Petra.
He also stands to make another one billion dollars if he exercises his "put option" to oblige Thomas Haffa's EM.TV organization, who last year purchased a stake in SLEC - his formula one holding company - to buy another 25 per cent of that company.
"The new rules, together with the significant number of undertakings offered by the parties, and changes to the marketing and broadcasting arrangements seem to us to amount in principle to a satisfactory solution," said commissioner Monti.
"Accordingly, I intend to ask my services to prepare a notice which will be published (in the EU journal) in a few weeks' time and which will invite third parties to submit their comments to the commission."
In reality, the concessions offered by the FIA reflect a clever and astute reading of the road ahead by Mosley and his advisors.
Moreover, Mosley's political dexterity in clarifying the governing body's role as nothing more than a regulatory body will do him no harm when it comes to the FIA presidential elections at the end of this year in which he is standing as candidate for a third term.
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