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Sunday, June 21, 2009

Formula one split would create chaos, take focus off racing

Imagine if Hendrick Motorsports, Roush Racing, Richard Childress Racing, Joe Gibbs Racing and all but a couple of the teams in Sprint Cup put out a press release that they were upset with how the France family was changing the rules of the series for 2010, and they were going to start a brand new stock car series instead of racing for the current NASCAR regime.

That’s exactly what is happening now in Formula 1 racing, which has always been a hotbed for political infighting, but has never seen anything like this. The battle is about new rules the FIA, Formula 1’s governing body, and its leader Max Mosley want to implement on the teams … with the most contentious item being a cap of $65 million on the teams’ budgets.

In response to these efforts to change the dynamic of the series, the Formula One Teams Association has effectively declared war, saying they will go on their own and create a series to compete with their former employer in 2010.
Time is ticking away quickly on a resolution to this schism, which would rip in two the most popular racing series in the world.

McLaren team chief Martin Whitmarsh said Saturday that any deal to avoid disaster would have to be reached by the end of July, to prevent the eight teams in FOTA(Ferrari, McLaren, Renault, BMW Sauber, Toyota, Brawn GP, Red Bull Racing and Toro Rosso) from forming the rival series. It appears Mosley thinks an agreement can be worked out in that timetable, but the truth is there is no guarantee it will happen.

Legends like Sir Jackie Stewart have called Mosley "totalitarian" and "dictatorial" when referring to how he runs the sport. “It had to come to a head sooner or later,” Stewart said Friday, who added there needs to be a “change in the governance of the sport.”

I am not here to assign blame to anyone. I’m not a Formula 1 insider, and am not in a position to know what went on behind closed doors.

But I am a fan, and my question now is this: What would happen to the world of Formula 1 racing if this split happened? The answer is simple – complete chaos and an endless web of lawsuits that would take all the emphasis off racing and put it on politics. Look into Tony George and the painful and counterproductive CART/IRL split for how things would likely turn out. Sure, the IRL won out, but the status of open-wheel racing tumbled during the decade-long battle.

Already, the FIA has said it plans to sue all eight breakaway teams for "serious violations of law" if they go through with their plans to start a rival series. But it would go beyond the drivers. For example, many circuits -- including the legendary one in Monaco – are on record as saying they won’t host a race that doesn’t feature Ferrari. With so much money at stake in Formula 1, it would be a nasty battle between F1 and the rival series for every venue.

The FIA could threaten different racetracks, or even drivers with various sanctions if they continue to be defiant. It could get very ugly very quickly,

On the surface, it looks like the new series would win a war: It would have all the best teams and the best drivers, which the old F1 would have a bunch of new teams and nobody drivers behind the wheel. But I’m pretty sure Mosley and the FIA could throw so many legal roadblocks in the way that the new series doesn’t get off the ground as quickly as it wants to.

The McLaren boss said the mutiny-threatening drivers are already in contact with different tracks and are operating under the assumption this new series is going to happen, while recognizing that a unified F1 series is still preferable.
The simplest solution is to have someone other than Mosley lead the FIA. With him gone, it’s much more likely that a deal can be worked out.

The reality is Mosley should have been gone last year, when a video came out of him cavorting with several prostitutes, acting out Nazi-themed role-playing activities. Amazingly, he survived that scandal and kept his post.

This is a game of chicken, and the question is who’s going to flinch first. The scary thing is that neither side might give up, leading to a big, fiery wreck.


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