FEBRUARY 8, 1999
BAR in trouble after losing livery case
Two days after the decision came an ominous announcement from Geneva that the FIA has invited BAR representatives to appear before the World Motor Sport Council on March 12 to answer allegations of breaches of Article 151c of the InternationalÊSporting Code and of Article 25e of the FIA Statutes. This is bad news as it means that the FIA has decided to look at ways to punish BAR for its ill-considered challenge.
Article 151c of the International Sporting Code states that penalties can be applied to a team for "any fraudulent conduct or any act prejudicial to the interests of any competition or to the interests of motor sport generally".
This would seem to suggest that the governing body is unhappy about the entry form for the World Championship which the team filled out in November. In this document BAR confirmed that "we have read and understand" the various regulations and that "we agree to be bound by them". Later in the same entry form the team declared that "we have examined this entry form and that the information given is true, correct and complete".
Article 25e of the FIA Statutes empowers the World Council to apply penalties to any licence-holder who has contravened the statutes and regulations; pursued an objective contrary or opposed to those of the FIA and who has refused to abide by decisions of the FIA.
BAR's Craig Pollock reacted by saying that "we have made the point all along that we respect the full authority of the FIA to govern the sport" but his comments do not tally with some of his earlier statements, notably at the Japanese Grand Prix where he said that the FIA "has to realize that it has made a mistake" and that "a rule change is not on".
If the FIA World Council is in a combative mood the team is going to have trouble defending itself, particularly in the light of its high-profile launch of two cars in different liveries. BAR must therefore accept the possibility of a serious penalty. Our sources within the FIA say that the governing body wants to make an example of the team with a very public punishment. This could take the form of a reprimand, a fine, or an exclusion from a number of events. In the circumstances a reprimand would be rather lenient and thus a large fine or an exclusion from several events should be considered more likely punishments. In theory the punishment could be as severe as suspension from the World Championship for the whole year or even disqualification from holding a licence to compete in any form of motorsport.
Much will probably depend on the team's attitude at the hearing. The wisest course of action for BAR would probably be to throw itself on the mercy of the World Council and try to build bridges with the rest of the F1 community. This would involve some dented egos but might help BAT achieve its aim of getting a race in China. The recent dispute has done nothing to achieve that goal.
In addition to these problems, there is going to have to be some reshuffling in BAR's money supply as the team's income is based on two liveries, with different BAT subsidiary companies - including BAT Ltd., Canada's Imasco, Brazil's Souza Cruz and Mexico's CLM - supporting the two different brands. With only one brand some of those companies are not going to want to be involved. Either they will be forced to fund the program or the others will have to pay more.
BAR may try to combine both the Lucky Strike and State Express 555 brands on the same car - although this is unlikely to be a popular move with BAT brand managers who want to create clear images for their individual brands. The team could switch backwards and forwards between brands at different races, but brand managers will only want to pay for what they are getting. In addition it would need the agreement of the F1 Commission and there is no reason to suggest that this body would want to play along with BAR. A good move now would be to switch one of the two brands to the Arrows team. This would help to rebuild the company's dented image in F1 circles and underline that it is a serious player in the sport. It would present a better deal for the BAT brand managers, each brand having two cars, and would probably result in the BAT subsidiaries agreeing to pay more. An Arrows deal would be cheap as the team will take whatever money it can get at the moment.
With such upheavals going on, one cannot rule out the possibility that heads will roll within BAT - or even BAR.