Honda website
Honda website

OCTOBER 11, 2006

The problem with definitions

The rules of the sport, shrouded as they are in the confidential Concorde Agreement, are often difficult to pin down because one can find out about one clause in the agreement and yet not know about another. The question of designing cars for others is a complicated one. There is, for example, nothing to prevent teams from buying chassis or any components from a third party except if these cars or parts are made by another competing team.

Schedule 3 of the Concorde Agreement defines a constructor as "a person (including any corporate or unincorporated body) who owns the intellectual property rights to the rolling chassis it currently races and does not incorporate in such chassis any part designed or manufactured by any other constructor of Formula 1 racing cars".

This means that teams can sub-contract the design and manufacture of an F1 car to anyone it likes, so long as it retains the IPR to the chassis and they do not race chassis of their own. Advanced Composites, for example, has manufactured in the region of 750 Formula 1 chassis for different teams in the course of the last 25 years, while a company called Petbourne Ltd changed its name to Fomet 1 in 1992 and sold chassis to the Fondmetal team and in 1994 switched to supply chassis to Venturi-Larrousse UK Ltd. If a team spins off its design department into an independent company and then buys the design of a Formula 1 chassis from this new firm, the design company cannot supply an identical chassis to another team - even if both teams accept what they are buying - as the other Concorde Agreement signatories would then have the right to go to arbitration to mount a challenge to the structure.

Once an entry has been accepted by the FIA a constructor becomes a competitor within the Concorde Agreement definition of this term, which is different to the definition of a constructor. We can find nothing in the rules that says that a constructor cannot be different to a competitor once the entry has been accepted. In theory, at least, a constructor could own two competitors and race identical cars, as no part of either car would have been designed or manufactured by any other constructor.

There is of course an argument that this breaches the intention of the rule and that historically-speaking this has never happened before. That, however, would require arbitration that could take months to sort out.

This is a subject that is likely to cause trouble in the months ahead. Most teams do not have a problem with teams supplying year-old chassis to smaller operations but the idea that big players can get away with four identical cars is one that worries many teams as there is no reason that such a concept should stop there and it could end up with all the small competitors being forced out of the sport.