What is really happening with the GPWC, FOM and the FIA

The last few days have seen a variety of stories about the problems that exist between Formula One Management, the FIA and the Grand Prix World Championship (GPWC) organisation. The news was triggered when FOM boss Bernie Ecclestone called off a meeting with the GPWC's Jurgen Hubbert, which had been scheduled to take place in Stuttgart this week. The intention had been to try to negotiate a settlement between the two parties.

What has emerged since is that Ecclestone is the GPWC has not only upset Ecclestone but has also upset the FIA. The result of this is that the GPWC has in effect pushed the FIA and FOM together in opposition to the new series, which creates a very powerful enemy, even for the ayutomobile manufacturers, which are behind the GPWC.

It is a little known fact that in early November the GPWC circulated the draft of an agreement which, it said, would be used to administer its new championship, which was scheduled to begin in 2008. The Formula 1 teams were each required to sign a series of complex confidentiality agreements in order to keep the details of this document secret but, in the finest traditions of the sport, they have leaked out and our sources say that there are serious implications in some of the clauses which have been proposed. The most significant point is that the GPWC is proposing to run its series outside the FIA structure. This is, in effect, a direct and deliberate attack on the FIA.

It is not the first time that such a thing has been suggested but it has never been successful. Ironically, the current FIA president Max Mosley proposed something very similar back in November 1980 when the Formula One Constructors Association (FOCA), which was run by Ecclestone and Mosley - was fighting for control of F1 with former FIA president Jean-Marie Balestre. Mosley was behind the announcement of a rival governing body called "The World Federation of Motorsport" which declared that it would be running "The World Professional Drivers Championship" in 1981. The FOCA teams tried to race alone at Kyalami in South Africa - without the big manufacturer teams - but the event was not a success and soon afterwards FOCA and the FIA made peace and created the Concorde Agreement, which has governed the sport ever since with great success.

Rebel championships traditionally fail because the international federation is a strong and well-recognised body which in the past has won legal recognition from international organisations such as the United Nations and the European Union for its control of motorsport. In recent years the FIA has also gained strong links with the automobile industry not only as the global regulator of motorsport but also through its successful crash-testing programs and other research which is being undertaken to improve the relationship between the automobile world and society in general.

For the automobile industry to take on the FIA therefore for the control of motorsport could be a very damaging conflict for all concerned, not just in motorsport and although the principal players in the GPWC may see this as a good idea, there are definitely thosse in the automobile industry who do not.

There is, however, nothing to stop an outlaw championship if anyone is willing to run one but if this is organised outside the terms of the FIA International Sporting Code there are all kinds of licensing issues which would affect drivers, teams, circuits, stewards, scrutineers, marshals and medical staff. Any FIA licensee involved in a rebel championship could, according to the regulations, face a lifetime ban from FIA events. The idea of a rebel championship, therefore, while possible is rather impractical - as Mosley and Ecclestone found out when they were the rebels.

The FIA's reaction to this was a letter which was sent to all the teams last week which made a series of important points about the future. The current Concorde Agreement, it said, still has five years to run and unless everyone agrees it is not going to be changed. When that agreement ends the FIA says that it will go on organising the Formula 1 World Championship as it has done for the last 52 years and that if no-one can agree on a new Concorde Agreement it will run the sport without one, leaving teams to negotiate their own deals with race organisers. If the number of cars available drops too far the FIA has the right to confer the F1 World Championship title on whichever series in the world it deems to be the best choice at the time. This happened in 1952 when there were so few F1 cars available that the federation decided to run the World Championship to Formula 2 regulations.

The current inability of the F1 teams to agree on any major cost-cutting measures because of the inflexibility of the current Concorde Agreement is pushing the sport in that direction and as more smaller F1 teams drop out because of the costs (which is likely to happen unless the current recession eases) there could be a crisis over the entry. This is a problem for the teams which support the GPWC because they are legally-contracted in the current Concorde Agreement to supply 20 cars at every race - and they have to go on doing that until the end of 2007. If they have to field more cars to meet their commitments their costs are going to rise accordingly and as F1 is already at a point at which some of the manufacturers are beginning to think that it is too expensive to justify, it is possible that a couple of them may even pull out. In that situation the GPWC teams would need to go back to the negotiating table to work out a deal to get them to 2007.

There was a time when there was pressure on FOM because of the problems of Kirch. The GPWC hoped to be able to use this to gain control of shares in the Formula One group but now that the banks have taken over there is no pressure on FOM to do anything except wait and watch the GPWC running into trouble. The FIA is in a similar situation and with the two bodies united against the GPWC, the road ahead is going to be rather rocky.

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