Honda website
Honda website

MARCH 27, 2003

The politics of CART and the GPWC

The news that Bernie Ecclestone is considering buying control of the CART series sends a strong message to the Grand Prix World Championship (GPWC) that Ecclestone is not going to give up his hold on F1 without a fight. The automobile manufacturers which are behind the GPWC says it wants to launch a rival series to Formula 1 in 2008. This promises to be similar to the existing series but with the income generated being divided up more fairly between the various teams involved.

There are rumors that the GPWC would like to start its new series as early as possible, perhaps even in 2005 and to avoid being accused of breaking the Concorde Agreement, the current F1 teams could send old cars to the World Championship events while saving its best machinery for the rival GPWC. Everyone is bound by the Concorde Agreement and all say that they will respect the document but it can be undermined very easily in this way. The best way to fight against this would be for Ecclestone to have a different championship offering a better deal. The logic behind a takeover of CART is very clear. Ecclestone would acquire a ready-made alternative to the current Formula 1 World Championship but without all the restrictive agreements which have pinned down Formula 1

There is no doubt that the CART cars are, to the average spectator, very similar to Formula 1 machinery. They are powered by 2.65-litre turbocharged Cosworth V8 engines, which are run on methanol. However CART has already announced that it is switching to normally-aspirated 3-litre V10 engines in 2005 and that is likely to attract much interest from the current Formula 1 engine manufacturers as it would cost less than the current F1 and would give them access to the major luxury car market in the world, something which F1 is currently failing to do with much effect. The problem is that there are no American teams, drivers and sponsors to get the US populace excited about F1 and so a switch to CART would solve all those problems in a moment.

The Formula One group already has long-term contracts with a number of the biggest international races and so a change of the cars used is not a big issue, as long as the FIA agrees. Thus CART could be transformed into a new Formula 1 World Championship and all the existing F1 teams could be invited to join. They would save money because there is less technology in CART and would be more interested in a series that breaks into America rather than an expensive GPWC alternative. It is hard to imagine that the car manufacturers would not agree to take part in this new F1 if it was cheaper and more effective a marketing tool than the new GPWC, which seeks to maintain the same basic level of technology currently seen in F1.

The current arbitration claim from Williams and McLaren should be seen as a possible route to establishing a breach of the Concorde Agreement and this would then have to be scrapped, which would open the way for new series to come along. With some of the best races locked in, Ecclestone would need only to convince Ferrari to change sides and the GPWC would be defeated. Ferrari will, of course, negotiate itself a disproportionate percentage of the income, as it has done in F1.

Much would depend on the position of the FIA but if the current F1 is seen to be dying the federation will back the best alternative and with Ecclestone's contracts the FIA would certainly choose his series over the GPWC, as this body has already threatened to try to get an outside regulator, which was a direct attack on the FIA's authority.

Having said all of this, however, the current stories about Ecclestone and CART may simply be an attempt to destabilize the GPWC as it heads for an April 10 meeting at which it is going to try to sign up existing F1 teams to the new series.