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FIA threatens breakaway teams with legal action

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2009-06-24

Formula One's ruling body FIA says it could take legal action against the Formula One Teams Association (FOTA) after its members, including Ferrari and Renault, threatened to begin a breakaway championship.

AFP - Formula One was fighting for survival on Friday after its big-money teams and the sport's cost-conscious rulers raised the stakes in an increasingly bitter dispute.

After a day of paddock intrigue, and lengthy talks in the build-up to the symbolic British Grand Prix, the sport's ruling body, the FIA said they will take legal action against the Formula One Teams Association (FOTA) following their threat to begin a breakaway series.

Ferrari, McLaren, Renault, BMW Sauber, Toyota, Brawn GP, Red Bull Racing and Toro Rosso, who are all under the FOTA banner, announced on Thursday that they would not sign up to next year's world championship and planned to start their own series in 2010.

The row started when FIA president Max Mosley announced the introduction of a voluntary 40 million pound budget cap at the end of April.

"The FIA's lawyers have now examined the FOTA threat to begin a breakaway series," said a statement by the FIA.

"The actions of FOTA as a whole, and Ferrari in particular, amount to serious violations of law including wilful interference with contractual relations, direct breaches of Ferrari's legal obligations and a grave violation of competition law.

"The FIA will be issuing legal proceedings without delay. Preparations for the 2010 FIA Formula One World Championship continue but publication of the final 2010 entry list will be put on hold while the FIA asserts its legal rights."

The full entry list was to have been published on Saturday after Friday night had been set as the deadline for teams in the current championship to sign up unconditionally.

Despite Friday's events, many observers in the paddock believe it is part of a tense high-risk game of 'corporate and commercial chess'.

Neither side is prepared to back off and compromise or lose face, said one paddock insider.

"It is as much a battle of egos as anything else," he said.

BMW Sauber team boss Mario Theissen, one of the team bosses prepared to leave and set up a breakaway series, said the rebels had no choice.

"The FOTA teams endeavoured to the very end to reach an agreement, but regrettably the FIA refused to back down from its rigid position, insisting that the teams must first sign up before there could be any negotiations on the rules," said Theissen.

"This was unacceptable to us. FOTA therefore has no choice but to press ahead with preparations for an alternative championship."

Theissen also reiterated his belief that FOTA had made a major contribution to the health of F1 since its formation in September of last year.

"FOTA has been committed to cutting costs in Formula One, enhancing its appeal and supporting independent teams," he said.

"During this short period of time, more has been achieved than ever before in the history of Formula One.

"We will not be making any further statements on the matter during this weekend. We want to concentrate fully on the race and provide the fans with the spectacle they deserve."

Many believe that the use of Theissen as a spokesman for the FOTA teams is a device to hide the real rebels' leader Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo from view.

Di Montezemelo is a long-time leading figure in the Italian team and, like former McLaren team chief Ron Dennis, has rarely seen eye to eye with Mosley.

Formula One's latest soap opera had started just after midnight when FOTA said they would form a breakaway series after failing to find common ground in the long-running row over the budegt cap.

Only independent teams Williams and Force India have accepted the new framework, along with three new teams, USF1, Campos and Manor.

Hours later, the FIA hit back.

"The FIA cannot permit a financial arms race in the Championship nor can the FIA allow FOTA to dictate the rules of Formula One," it said.

Two-times world champion Fernando Alonso claimed Formula One is "finished".

"It will be standard engines for everyone, small teams and no drivers - for me, this is not the Formula One that the people want," said the Renault driver.

"The new series will be very attractive, with the biggest teams and the best drivers so everything stays the same, just maybe not name. This will be the new F1."

Former three-times world champion Sir Jackie Stewart, a long time adversary of Mosley, said that he felt the FIA president had "gone too far this time."

He said: "Max's way of ruling is bully-boy tactics - that's why the teams have got fed up. Someone will stand up to a bully eventually and stop it."

Former world champion Jacques Villeneuve, who won the title with Williams in 1997, said: "It's gone so far this time - there will be damage. It would be a shame because any series that is separated has been damaged and the same thing could happen here.

"On the other hand, it could be quite cleansing. Everything has to has to end but it would be a shame."

Date created : 2009-06-19

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