Honda website
Honda website

FEBRUARY 4, 2005

The FIA documents - and what they really mean

Having now had time to examine the documents released in recent days by the FIA, an interesting picture has emerged of the ongoing dispute between the federation and the majority of the Formula 1 teams. By far the most interesting document is a letter that from Minardi boss Paul Stoddart to Max Mosley on January 19 which attempted to address the issues that are causing such distress. It is clear from this letter that Stoddart is representing the views of the others teams in his letter.

"Rightly or wrongly," Stoddart wrote, "the events of the past six months have left the vast majority of the team principals feeling that the FIA and indeed yourself are working against the teams on most issues and are moving further and further away from the role of independent regulator. The purpose of this letter if to try to avert a further season of conflict and controversy."

The letter went on to detail the recent history of FIA decisions which highlight what the teams believe to be the problem. This included controversial decisions, rulings and quotes from the FIA and Mosley. Stoddart went into much detail about the cancelled F1 Commission meeting in December and said that there was a widespread belief that this was done to help Ferrari.

"It cannot look good for the sport when on the face of it one team can exert so much influence particularly as it appears, in the absence of any other credible explanation that this influence may have caused the FIA, a so-called independent body to abandon its stated objective."

Stoddart also raised questions about the fax vote in October which voted through the 2005 sporting and technical regulations after they had received the approval of the FIA World Council.

"Many teams were concerned that the process and procedure had not been followed, notably that the fax vote had been sent on 19 October requiring a response three days later and stating that if no such response was received, the FIA would consider that the proposals meet with the approval of the non-respondee".

In another document the FIA said that Mosley had given the details of the controversial fax vote at his meeting with Ferrari which the other teams declined to attend. The vote had been questioned by two teams, he said, which suggested that fewer than 18 members of the commission had replied by the deadline. Mosley said he had the votes. The voting system of the commission is a complicated business because one member does not necessarily have one vote. The details of how it works remain shrouded in secrecy. Whatever the case, Stoddart concluded, the fax vote had not been legal because the Concorde Agreement "clearly states" that 14 days are required before a meeting can take place and a vote taken.

In his conclusions Stoddart said that "the whole debate has done little to dissuade the teams from an ever-increasing view that the FIA only exists to protect Ferrari and Ferrari's interests".

Stoddart went on to make it clear that it was not a personal attack but rather a genuine attempt "to help avert a disaster".

The 20-page letter was backed up by an opinion from Gavin Griffiths QC, which analysed the legal questions and gave an opinion. Griffiths concluded that "the new sporting and technical regulations are invalid and the previous regulations remain in force".

Stoddart received a two-page reply from Mosley which addressed a few of the points raised but ignored the rest.

"Because of time constraints I will not attempt to deal with a number of other points in your letter with which I disgree," Mosley wrote.

Perhaps it would have been wiser for the FIA president to take the time to answer all the questions.

The other point worth noting is that although transparency is a good thing from the FIA it is clear that not all of the documents in the dispute have been made public. There is no sign, for example, of a letter from the teams pointing out that the FIA has no right to create rules for 2008 without involving the Formula 1 Commission and, we understand, that there is a great deal more correspondence relating to the cancelled F1 Commission meeting in December which has not yet come to light.

The other point which must be made is that the whole dispute between the FIA and the teams is to a large degree a question of trying to sway the opinions of the F1 media. Many members of the F1 press are not sufficiently interested in the arguments to wade through all the paper and so cannot accurately assess what is going on and even then it is hard to reach any conclusions because both sides say that their legal advice shows that they are right.

When all is said and done, such positions mean that it may all end up in the law courts. This is probably not a bad thing for Formula 1 - which is about motor racing, in case anyone has forgotten - because it will mean that we will know one way or the other who is right and who is wrong.