MARCH 8, 2005
Let's talk realities
The Melbourne Grand Prix weekend is over and Formula 1 got off to a half-decent start to the new season, despite some obvious shortcomings in the new regulations and a political battle which was so complicated that very few people understood what was going on. This lack of understanding has led to a great deal of manipulation of the media by some of those involved.
The reality is that the entire Melbourne conflict had nothing really to do with the cars. Paul Stoddart presented his cars in 2004 spec in order to force a showdown with the FIA in a court of law. The cars could (and were) converted to 2005 specification without too much difficulty. Stoddart was completely prepared for the fight and the FIA understood what Stoddart was doing. One must assume that the federation did not send out lawyers because it believed that Stoddart would not go the whole way. What many people have missed is that in this dispute Stoddart was not acting alone. He has the tacit support of seven of the teams. There are two which currently maintain an ambiguous position and one which is completely opposed to anything that Stoddart says or does. The challenge was about the authority of the FIA to change rules. Stoddart won. The FIA people say that they did not have a chance to present their case and that Australian justice treated them badly but this is not strictly true. Injunctions are always granted in this way and there are then hearings to establish what is right and what is wrong. In this case those hearings did not happen because Paul Stoddart was pressured into agreeing to back down after the FIA's threat to the future of international motor racing in Australia. The fact that Stoddart backed down illustrates that his primary motivation was to avoid harming the sport in Australia. But just because he backed down does not mean that he lost or conceded the legal case. He did not. He won. This may have upset the FIA but the federation has done nothing to try to overturn that decision. There was a meeting between various parties on Monday morning after the Grand Prix but no further action was taken. The fact that Stoddart's injunction existed should have been sufficient motivation for the FIA to try to overturn it. But that did not happen. The only logical conclusion, therefore, is that the FIA did not push ahead because it could not win the case. There has been some noise since then about a case last year in which a V8 Supercar team had an injunction rejected by the same court. This was held up as being a precedent. If it had been the judge who listened to Stoddart's arguments would have made a different decision but he was clearly convinced that the V8 Supercar series is not the same as Formula 1. The rejection of the V8 Supercar injunction was based on the fact that the team voluntarily agreed to regulations drawn up by the Confederation of Australian Motor Sport. Formula 1 is run in completely different way.
To illustrate the point one needs only to ask anyone in Formula 1 if they will supply you with a copy of the Concorde Agreement. They decline, stating that the Concorde Agreement is a commercial contract. The FIA Sporting Regulations make it very clear that the World Championship "is governed by the Agreement and its schedules". The argument therefore is over how the regulations are made. Stoddart argued that everything is ruled by the Concorde Agreement and the court agreed with him. The fact that the CAMS and the FIA have authority over other championships is not relevant in this case. Formula 1 is different.
If this is indeed the case, there are other implications. If the Grand Prix is ruled by a commercial contract then the threat to withdraw the race from Australia could be seen as contempt of court. It is certainly dangerous ground. That issue, however, has not come up (at least not officially) and the threat to the Grand Prix is not being taken seriously by Victorian Premier Steve Bracks nor by race promoter Ron Walker.
"All we are saying, both the premier and myself, is that the race is here until 2010," said Walker.
In other words, Stoddart's actions have not threatened the Grand Prix.
It is all just talk.
The big question now is whether or not the FIA will try to challenge the decision in the courts. That is not going to happen in Australia as the F1 circus has now moved on but it could happen elsewhere.
For the moment, however, everyone has gone very quiet.
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