Is Bernie Ecclestone really threatening to take Formula 1 out of the FIA?

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Conflicting news is coming from Canada about the discussions over Formula 1’s future. Two British newspapers today reported that Bernie Ecclestone, fuming over Max Mosley’s success in the FIA vote of confidence earlier this week, now wants to take Formula 1 out of the control of the governing body.

Is he serious? Could this lead to Formula 1 splitting in two as CART did in the mid-nineties? Is he not just doing exactly what Mosley said he would in his letter to the FIA last month?

According to this morning’s Times and Daily Telegraph Ecclestone, who owns the commercial rights to F1, is looking at taking it out of the control of the FIA which regulates it.

It is claimed this is because he feels the sex scandal that Mosley has been embroiled in since March is damaging the sport.

Is he serious? Well, as the commercial rights holder to F1 he is best placed to know how sponsors and above the major car manufacturers that bankroll the teams have reacted to the affair.

Before and since Mosley won the vote on Mosley there have been mixed messages from different teams and the manufacturers that own them. BMW’s Mario Theissen said: “The relevant bodies of the FIA have passed a vote of confidence in Max Mosley… everyone concerned to turn their undivided attention back to the sport.”

Ferrari boss Luca di Montezemolo was reported earlier this week to have said: “I believe [Mosley] himself should understand that at times it is necessary to say ‘I must leave the place for reasons of credibility’.” But he later stepped back from the claim, insisting: “I am happy that Max Mosley has been re-elected president of FIA.”

Whatever the teams and manufacturers are or aren’t saying in public, rumours persist that privately many of them are furious and they are making their unhappiness known to Ecclestone. Ecclestone and Mosley go back a long way, they have been working together since the seventies, but that will not stop him from taking Mosley on if he thinks the value of F1 is being put at risk.

(Alternatively, some will insist that Mosley and Ecclestone are always in cahoots, and this is merely an elaborate plot on both their parts to strengthen their position yet further. However, it’s hard to see exactly how this situation might be resolved in favour of both of them.)

Mosley is not without his sympathisers and those who are supporting him will point out that in his letter to the FIA in April he warned that Ecclestone was trying to take F1 out of the FIA’s control.

And just to make things even more confusing, Toyota boss John Howett has now suggested that the discussions between the teams and Ecclestone on the creation of a new Concorde Agreement (the document by which the sport is governed) have acknowledged that FIA must play a role in governing the sport:

Bernie said we have to sign a tripartite agreement. The financial agreement is more or less fixed together with Bernie. The question is other issues – and one can say the FIA has to be involved. The teams generally would like a Concorde, and the question is how it is achieved and how far it goes.

We are working on it and now the challenge is the next phase, which is whether or not the FIA feels it needs to sign it or not, and whether it is in the best interests of the sport or not. I guess it will be a discussion that continues for some time.

As usual the discussions are taking place behind closed doors and it can be difficult to assemble a coherent picture from the morsels of information that make their way to the press.

But the prospect of the championship potentially being taken away from the FIA is an alarming thought. Historically whenever a battle for control of a sport has been waged, the sport usually ends off poorer for it. In motor racing the classic example is the CART Indy Car championship, which split in the mid-90s when it was a hugely successful series with a roster of drivers to rival F1’s, and only re-united this season but remains, for now, a shadow of its former self.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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  • 10 comments on “Is Bernie Ecclestone really threatening to take Formula 1 out of the FIA?”

    1. Interesting news… As someone who is disinterested in petty politics and relatively new to the sport (started watching in 1999/2000), I wanted to know how this would affect the actual sport. You refer to the CART/IRL as an example. Would there be any such possibility of a split? Perhaps FIA promoting A1 as a rival to Ecclestone’s F1?

    2. I really do hope a breakaway occurs. The FIA have the most dubious of practices, making up the penalties as they go along. Totally ridiculous. You can clearly see Bernie siding with the teams on this one. I think the $100 million fine of Mclaren was the last straw for a lot of the teams. It just highlighted how crazy the situation really is. Did any team signing up to the Concorde agreement really envision fines of that magnitude?

      The FIA doesn’t have any rules by which it must adhere. It has the power to drag lawyers from all over the globe to sit at a hearing in Paris, just to tell them that protest is null and void because it wasn’t lodged in time. The FIA wastes money, but then hipocracy seems to be the order of the day.

      Wouldn’t the breakaway have to do so under a new name? This is an idea that is being written about in the press today. It would be interesting to find out just how quickly the teams can abandon ship as it were. Are they legally bound to see out a season or agreement? Hard to imagine they would have to.

    3. Lets be honest Keith, is the FIA really relevant for F1 to succeed? The FIA has only really been involved in controversial decisions, Max gate apart, and I see no reason why F1 cant exist on its own. It’s not grass roots motor sport, but a highly specialized form of racing. FIA can regulate GP2 and A1GP and the other lower series of four wheel racing. Because right now the FIA is about an individual and not a body.

    4. Keith, I agree that a breakway would be bad for the sport. But I think it is not merely possible but something which has been considered already. Here’s a most intriguing comment made by Bernie when he and Flavio bought the English football team QPR in 2007:

      “We were going to buy Chelsea, then Roman came along,” admitted Ecclestone recently. “But there’s no point buying Ferrari. The only way is down. At QPR we’re in Formula Renault. Next we want to move up to GP2 and then GP1.”

      GP1!? Why did Ecclestone say GP1 when no such thing exists? Perhaps he plans for a forthcoming GP1 series to be the natural progression from GP2? I believe Ecclestone applied to trademark ‘GP1’ as long ago as 2005. In fact, speculation about a GP1 began back in the days of the GPWC – see the last paragraph of this 2004 article:

      P.S. Speaking of intriguing comments made by Bernie, does anyone else remember him saying that there aren’t enough sex scandals in Formula 1 only a few weeks before Mosley duly obliged?

    5. @Spodo, I remember Bernie making that comment. That really does make you wonder! The big difference between now and the 2005 GPMA breakaway threat is that Bernie is on longer on Max’s side.

    6. If F1 must be run by a man with a whip, please let it be Indiana Jones.

    7. Robert McKay
      7th June 2008, 21:09

      I think a split if possible, but if there is a breakaway, I suspect it would be F1 breaking away from the FIA as a whole, and not some teams going one way and some teams staying a la Champcar/IRL. There would probably be nothing to stop the FIA promoting it’s own version of “the pinnacle of motorsport”, be it GP2/A1GP/an entirely new F1, but would anyone care? It would be a split, but much less recognisable as one, not quite like the American open-wheel split.

      A split like that would be devastating for the FIA, I think…F1 as we recognise it would not be visibly much different, but the FIA, without F1’s huge sums of money propping it up, could be in serious difficulty.

      I find it difficult to envisage a situation under the circumstances we’re talking about here, where some of the teams would stick with Max/FIA and some would go with Bernie and form their own series, but I suppose it could happen. All the teams going with Bernie and leaving the FIA behind seems potentially more possible, to find a way of keeping all of the money F1 makes and stopping handing it over to the FIA.

    8. theRoswellite
      8th June 2008, 5:25

      As I recall from previous discussions of this subject….

      The FIA seemed to threaten anyone, track-nation-team, that broke away to run an F1 series, with the suspension of any of their other FIA sanctioned events. If this is the case, then one can see why many of the participants may view this entire Mosley-FIA issue as a “lose-lose” situation for them. And they are simply trying to navigate the minefield with as little damage as possible.

    9. I was checking up on FOM and the rest of the Bernie/Bernies wife/CVC empire, and you have to remember that FOM owns the rights to use the current team names in promotions etc, so if the teams want to break away independantly, they will have to do far more than just race somewhere else.
      The comments about a possible GP1 are interesting – haven’t there been suggestions on F1F that this is a very serious reality, and since Bernie and Flavio share ownership of GP2, I assume that if there was a major split with the FIA, they would start a new race series called GP1 (and maybe with a single chassis/engine car too). I’m not sure the teams or manufacturers would want that though!
      You never know, perhaps Bernie has the rights to use GP3 and GP4 too.
      I am one of those who see Mosely and Bernie in this together, finding a way to keep their interests in F1, but break it away from the FIA. After all, Mosely appears to be keeping quite calm about his private life becoming public (he even made sure it has become FIAs business with the vote), and yet the FIA now has suffered, not Mosely! And he can retire in 2009 and move over to be President of FOM/CVC, without much difficulty.
      Do you think it possible that other race series will take the opportunity to break away from the FIA, especially if more Motoring Associations decide to leave?
      Perhaps the BDMA will be able to take the opportunity to blow a raspberry at Bernie and side with the reformed F1 series, once he has created a much more basic GP1?

    10. Well, I don’t want to gloat, but I predicted this to happen. And I do think that Bernie and Max are working together on this one. The whole scandal was obviously unfortunate, but what they are making of it helps Bernie. Then he would be the sole ruler with nobody being able to meddle in HIS series. I’m sure the loyal servant Max will get some sort of thank you from Bernie in due course in case this actually goes through…

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