F1 faces uncertainty as eight teams plan rival series

Formula One’s future was in turmoil on Friday after Ferrari, McLaren and six other teams announced plans for a rival series following the collapse of heated negotiations with the sport’s organisers over a budget cap for next season.

The FIA, the sport’s governing body, responded by accusing the Formula One Teams’ Association (FOTA) of trying to dictate the rules of motorsport and intentionally triggering the biggest crisis to engulf F1 since the championship began in 1950.

Ferrari has participated since that inaugural series, but is now set to break away along with current championship leader Brawn GP, McLaren, Renault, Toyota, BMW Sauber, Red Bull Racing and Toro Rosso.

Bernie Ecclestone, who owns F1’s commercial rights, said he was unsure whether FIA president Max Mosley could still resolve his dispute with the rebel teams.

”I think it’s back to the future,” Ecclestone said on Friday after arriving at Silverstone, site of Sunday’s British Grand Prix.

Negotiations between FOTA and the FIA had stalled over plans for a voluntary $60-million budget cap for next season. The FOTA teams lodged entries for 2010 conditional upon agreeing changes to the budget-cap provisions, but the FIA did not give ground, saying the sport cannot survive in difficult economic conditions without such spending restrictions.

FIA president Max Mosley is sticking to a Friday evening deadline for competitors to unconditionally enter for 2010 but the current entry list appears thin.

Of the existing teams, Williams and Force India have broken ranks with FOTA and have lodged unconditional entries for the 2010 F1 season, when they will be joined on the grid by three new outfits – Campos Racing, Team US F1 and Manor F1 Team.

The remaining FOTA teams announced their decision to leave F1 after meeting on Thursday night near Silverstone.

”The positions have hardened on both sides,” Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said on Friday. ”The teams feel they have gone as far as they can, the FIA feel they have gone as far as they can and we’ve ended up in a situation where a solution hasn’t been found.

”We’ve no alternative because if we can’t race in Formula One under the current rules, if you want to keep competing then you’ve got to look at something else.”

The eight FOTA teams said they would not ”compromise on the fundamental values of the sport”.

”These teams, therefore, have no alternative other than to commence the preparation for a new championship that reflects the values of its participants and partners,” a statement said.

The FOTA criticised the FIA’s ”uncompromising” stance and attempts, along with the commercial rights holder Formula One Management headed by Ecclestone, to divide its member teams.

The governing body’s response was resolute.

”The FIA is disappointed but not surprised by FOTA’s inability to reach a compromise in the best interests of the sport,” the FIA statement said.

”It is clear that elements within FOTA have sought this outcome throughout the prolonged period of negotiation and have not engaged in the discussions in good faith.

”The FIA cannot permit a financial arms race in the championship, nor can the FIA allow FOTA to dictate the rules of Formula One.”

The FOTA exodus means some of the other teams that lodged 2010 F1 entries but were overlooked may now get another chance to participate in the sport next season.

The split will also have serious ramifications for broadcasters, who have rights to what will be a diminished F1 without its big-name teams and drivers, and the venues that host F1 races but may seek to host breakaway events.

The main cause of the split was the voluntary budget-cap proposal, under which those teams that did not adhere to the cap would be subject to technical restrictions. Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo had called the restrictions ”fundamentally unfair”.

Now F1 looks set to lose some of its biggest names, including reigning world champ Lewis Hamilton, championship leader Jenson Button of Brawn, Ferrari pair Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen and Red Bull’s rising star Sebastian Vettel, to the rival series.

”This series will have transparent governance, one set of regulations, encourage more entrants and listen to the wishes of the fans, including offering lower prices for spectators worldwide, partners and other important stakeholders,” FOTA said. ”The major drivers, stars, brands, sponsors, promoters and companies historically associated with the highest level of motorsport will all feature in this new series.” — Sapa-AP

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