BAR let off the FIA hook

MARCH 15, 1999

BAR let off the FIA hook

BRITISH AMERICAN RACING has escaped sanction from the FIA World Motor Sport Council. The team had been asked to respond to allegations that it breached articles of the International Sporting Code and the FIA Statutes by filing a complaint with the European Commission against the governing body of the sport. This was contrary to the rules of arbitration as laid down by the Concorde Agreement.

Before the World Council meeting in Geneva, BAR's managing-director Craig Pollock gave a hint as to his strategy by telling reporters that a lot of the problems between the team and the FIA had "been driven by my partner BAT". Pollock told the World Council that the lawyers representing the team had not acted on his instructions and that declarations made in the complaint to the European Commission did not reflect his own views.

The World Council accepted this argument but insisted that Pollock should confirm in writing - to all parties involved - that he disassociated himself with the actions, statements and documents of the BAR lawyers. Pollock agreed to do this and apologized to the World Council for what had happened and said that British American Racing accepts the full authority of the FIA. In a pap-filled press release after the hearing Pollock spoke of a "misunderstanding" between the team and the FIA. This was quite clearly not the case, but the World Council chose to accept it as such.

What was left unstated by everyone involved is that BAR's legal team is actually the same group of lawyers which is used by British American Tobacco in their legal battles with governments around the world. The important point, however, is that the lawyers were clearly not acting without authority and that authority must, therefore, have come from within BAT. It has to be concluded that by disassociating himself with the views of the lawyers, Pollock is being forced to reject the views of the majority shareholder - and principal sponsor - of the team he is running.

This suggests that the FIA has decided that the best medicine for BAR is to have its links with BAT put under further pressure - without being seen to publicly punish the team. The relationship between BAR and BAT is already under some strain because the team sold its F1 package on the idea of running cars in different liveries with different BAT affiliates funding the program, depending on whether they wanted to promote 555 State Express or Lucky Strike. With the team being forced to run both brands on the two cars, the BAT brand managers are not happy. Pollock has the ear of influential members of the BAT hierarchy and as long as they stay powerful he will remain in a strong position.

There is no question that BAT wants to be involved in F1 - it is the only effective form of global tobacco advertising left open to tobacco companies. At the same time there is no doubt that F1 wants to soak up BAT's money. The punishment, therefore, is obviously not aimed at BAT but at Pollock himself. It may not seem very harsh but the Scotsman is going to have to be extraordinarily smooth to carry it off without upsetting the people he needs most.

And that is exactly what the FIA intended.

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