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

Posted on Author Keith Collantine

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.