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FEBRUARY 14, 2006

If the fighting gets rough

At a lunch for carefully selected members of the British media in F1, FIA President Max Mosley launched his latest campaign to try to convince the automobile manufacturers that they have to sign up for the new Concorde Agreement, which he wants to see as the guiding document for Formula 1 from 2008 to 2012.

Last week Mosley started talking of the idea that the Formula One group should not offer any revenue-sharing to the teams that have not yet signed up to this deal. He has now followed up by saying that the FIA will open entries for 2008 in March 2006 and will keep them open for only 10 days.

Up to now the entry for the FIA Formula 1 World Championship has been kept open until November 15 of the previous year. The idea of opening and closing entries almost two years before the championship in question will inevitably be seen as a political manoeuvre and there are certain to be suggestions that it is being done in an effort to stampede the automobile manufacturers into a situation in which they are forced to accept terms they do not wish to accept. Mosley clearly believes, along with many others in F1, that the manufacturers are incapable of actually creating their own championship and believes that all they ever do is talk about it. What he does not seem to consider is that there are other options available to the manufacturers which he can do little about. The manufacturers do not seem to have a problem with the financial deal on offer from the Formula One group. The problem appears to be that they do not like the way the sport is run.

Mosley says that the men who make decisions in the car companies about F1 programmes are not high-level executives, but the fact remains that despite many management changes in the last few years (a point Mosley often mentions), the manufacturers are still there and they still seem to be solid. Mosley's remarks and tactics are often seen by F1 people as pushing the manufacturers together rather than tearing them apart. Indeed one could argue that the manufacturers are, in fact, ahead of Mosley in the game because they did foresee attempts to split them up and so signed a legally-binding agreement in September last year to make sure that they did stay together.

The other problem is that Mosley has to find five teams which would realistically believe that they could take on Ferrari. There are plenty of teams with ambition but few have the money to do GP2 without pay-drivers. In addition several of the teams already signed up to the extended Concorde Agreement are nonetheless dependent on the manufacturers. In order to compete with Ferrari in the FIA series, a team would need to have a manufacturer engine. Williams and Red Bull Racing, for example, know that.

Mosley can picks his teams for 2008 and then discover with a month to go before the start of the 2008 World Championship that all the newcomers have been bought out and the manufacturers are back with the same resources they have today. Alternatively, the manufacturers could buy the teams and shut them down, which would ruin Mosley's series.

The key point that Mosley did not focus on is that while getting the number of teams needed is not really the issue, the more important point is whether the series can attract an audience.

The danger of Mosley's plan is that it may also stir up questions about whether or not the FIA is acting correctly in terms of sports governance. The FIA is recognised by the European Union as having the power to run the sport as it sees fit but the basis of that power is the Nice Treaty and this states that federations must act with "due regard for national and community legislation and on the basis of a democratic and transparent method of operation". One can imagine expensive lawyers making a case against the FIA not least because of another clause in the Nice Treaty which reads that sports federations should "provide the possibility of access to sports for the public at large, human and financial support for amateur sports, promotion of equal access to every level of sporting activity for men and women alike, youth training, health protection and measures to combat doping, acts of violence and racist and xenophobic occurrences".

The key point here is that "these social functions entail special responsibilities for federations and provide the basis for the recognition of their competence in organising competitions".

Mosley says that he has "a real determination to see this through" and says that he honestly believes that if F1 is to prosper costs must come down. That is all well and good, but the manufacturers also have real determination to see that the sport is run in a way that they consider to be acceptable.

The advantage they have is that car companies go on and on, FIA presidents ultimately get old and get replaced and as the FIA electorate discovered last autumn, there is not another Mosley out there.