MARCH 5, 2005
The FIA, Minardi, contracts and the Concorde Agreement
The FIA spent most of Saturday coming up with a four paragraph statement about the decision of the Victorian Supreme Court which granted Paul Stoddart of Minardi an injunction to race 2004 cars in the Australian Grand Prix. When that happened the FIA appears to have threatened to refuse to sanction other events in Australia in the future unless Stoddart withdrew the injunction and faced by that possibility, Stoddart backed down. That was the responsible thing to do. No-one wants the sport to be disrupted by the arguments over how the rules are made and who had the power to make such decisions.
No-one has won a victory in this matter but the FIA clearly felt the need to react and on Saturday afternoon issued a statement saying that "if Australian laws and procedures do indeed allow a judge to act in this way, it will be for the World Motor Sport Council to decide if a World Championship motor sport event of any kind can ever again be held in Australia."
This is not a very productive response. And will almost certainly stir up trouble around the world. The Australian legal system is much the same as the British system and many others and if the FIA wants to exclude racing from Australian it might end up having to threaten the same in many other countries. This is not going to win Max Mosley votes in any FIA presidential election.
The important point in all of this is that the law is the law and the sport is not above it. It might be if the rules and regulations were not linked to a commercial contract called the Concorde Agreement but a commercial contract is judged by commercial law and that is what the Supreme Court of Victoria did.
The irony of this is that Max Mosley, Bernie Ecclestone and Marco Piccinini were the architects of the Concorde Agreement. That was back in the early 1980s and after they had won power for the F1 teams Mosley and Ecclestone changed their roles to become the president of the FIA and the commercial rights holder of F1. Suddenly they found themselves caught in a trap of their own creation because they had become the authority which previously they had fought. The teams were once allies of Mosley and Ecclestone but in recent times friction has been building.
The issue of the Minardi cars in Melbourne was a pretext to provoke a confrontation that would take the issue into a court of law. That is what happened and the court ruled that the Concorde Agreement is the document that governs F1. It gives the sporting and technical commissions of the FIA powers to make rules but they do not override the contract. As this is a commercial contract it is not a sporting issue.
This is the significance of the Melbourne decision.
The FIA cannot cancel the Concorde Agreement without the other parties agreeing to that course of action.
The danger of threatening to remove motorsport from Australia is a very risky move because the legal systems in civilised countries across the world would probably reach the same decision as the Supreme Court in Melbourne.
The matter is not solved by what happened in Melbourne and it is probable that there will have to be another court showdown between the teams and the FIA to show once and for all who is right.
Let us hurry up and get to the showdown so that the focus of the sport can go back to the race track and away from the unseemly quibbling that blights F1 at the moment.
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