FEBRUARY 3, 2004
David Richards stole Max Mosley's thunder somewhat over the weekend by suggesting that several British-based Formula 1 teams might be forced to leave Britain because of changes in the law in Britain and Europe. But the FIA President rammed home the message yesterday at a lunch with newspaper journalists. Tobacco is a major issue but there are also similar problems with the European Arrest Warrant and the Working Time Directive
"You've got to question if this is the right place to be," said Mosley. "It is possible there are countries outside of the EU who might be able to make an offer to teams and also provide them with the facilities they need. It is not too difficult to see that happening. We have 120 countries in the FIA."
Six of the 10 Formula 1 teams are based in Britain (although Minardi's activities are split between Britain and Italy). Four of these have trouble with the British tobacco advertising laws: BAR, Jordan, McLaren and Renault. Williams and Jaguar Racing are British-based and would be affected by the other legislation.
The Formula One organization, under Bernie Ecclestone, is already moving the sport away from its traditional heartlands in Europe with new races in Bahrain and China. Next year Turkey will join the World Championship and it will almost certainly be followed by races in India, Russia, South Korea and Mexico. In 2005 it is likely that there will be more races outside Europe than in the EU, even allowing for the fact that Hungary joins the EU later this year. Ecclestone has indicated that he sees no future in the British Grand Prix and there are similar threats hanging over several other European races.
There have been suggestions in recent days that Ecclestone has already had talks with the authorities in Dubai, which is believed to be willing to make generous incentives to the teams and offer tax concessions to their personnel.
"There is a country with land and opportunities offering the teams to decamp," Mosley said. "Ten or 20 years ago it would have been impossible for them to do so but now it is feasible. Air travel and other opportunities make it possible. This country is outside the EU and recognises that F1 is a pretty big industry. And it's surprising how people are prepared to move when they're offered a small fortune.
It is estimated that the six British teams generate up to $1.5bn in revenues for Britain and directly employ around 4000 people. There are many other suppliers who are dependent on the teams for their business.
Having said that, the idea that McLaren is going to move out of its recently-finished Technology Centre is hard to imagine and it is also difficult to see the Dubai authorities being willing to invest in the construction of 10 windtunnels (which is what the teams currently have). It is possible that the racing teams and marketing departments might be located outside Britain but most of the other departments of an F1 organisation could remain in Britain - although this would depend on how the law was applied.
McLaren boss Ron Dennis says that he does not believe the British anti-tobacco law will do any harm and says that there are no problems with the Working Time Directive.
The question therefore is to what extent Mosley's comments are a means of exerting pressure on politicians and to what extent the idea of moving is feasible. Some of the smaller teams would obviously benefit greatly from new facilities and tax breaks but the majority have infrastructure and workforces which are simply too big to relocate.
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