All-out war brewing in Formula One

June, 18, 2009
Methinks this is the big one, the real deal, the Category 5 hurricane headed straight for Formula One.

The big teams are in full revolt, according to the storm warning that arrived in my e-mail Thursday evening from the Formula One Teams Association.

I know, I know: Teams have threatened a breakaway series before, a few years ago when the big European manufacturers, especially BMW and Mercedes-Benz, grew weary of the greedy shenanigans of F1 rights-holder Bernie Ecclestone and his FIA chief, Max Mosley.

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Luca Cordero di Montezemolo
AP Photo/Luca BrunoFerrari boss Luca di Montezemolo, gesturing to reporters after attending a FOTA meeting May 22 at Monaco, was among the first to balk at Max Mosley's cost-cutting measures.

That rebellion failed because Ferrari, the most popular racing team in the world, bailed on the others and sided with the FIA.

Here is the titanic difference: The advisory sent out by Silverstone on Thursday evening -- actually around midnight Greenwich Mean Time -- was signed: "Statement issued by FOTA on behalf of BMW-Sauber, BrawnGP, Scuderia Ferrari, McLaren-Mercedes, Red Bull Racing, Renault, Scuderia Toro Rossa, Toyota." (Bold is mine, for emphasis.)

Not only is Ferrari in this time, but Ferrari is the ring leader. Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo was the first to howl when Mosley came up with his ludicrous $60 million spending cap for teams accustomed to spending up to half a billion dollars a year each.

Ecclestone, known to bail on Mosley in a pinch, this time tweaked the noses of the big guns by supporting the cost-cutting measures.

So now, allied with di Montezemolo are some of the toughest hard-ballers ever to walk the F1 paddocks: Renault's maverick Flavio Briatore, McLaren's icy-blooded Ron Dennis, Mercedes' Norbert Haug and the skyrocketing engineer who bought out Honda and made it the best team in F1, Ross Brawn.

This is the big one, all right, if Ecclestone and Mosley don't back down. And they never have before.

To FOTA, this is some hybrid of the last straw and the perfect excuse to pounce. It's been no secret for a decade that the big European manufacturers, especially the Germans, believe they could run F1 far better than Mosley does and make vastly more money without Ecclestone's notorious raking in of personal profits.

This time, the teams are calling out the kingpins: "The FIA [Mosley] and the commercial rights holder [Ecclestone] have campaigned to divide FOTA," the statement read. The implication: This time, no way.

"These teams … have no alternative other than to commence the preparation for a new championship which reflects the values of its participants and partners," the statement continued.

In other words, Mosley and Ecclestone aren't going to force a junk division into the world's most sophisticated form of motor racing. A $60 million cap would have done that -- let upstart teams come in with technological leeway over the established, higher-spending teams.

"This series will have transparent governance," the statement read, another slap at the old regime.

Mosley, of course, has been under fire from the teams on a separate issue, last year's release by a London tabloid of video of him in an escapade with prostitutes in a Chelsea "dungeon." Teams called for his resignation, but he has refused.

Now, all the winds of war have gathered from every corner: the long-running resentment of Ecclestone's power -- "tens of millions of dollars have been withheld from many teams by the commercial rights holder [Ecclestone], going back as far as 2006," the FOTA statement charged … the disgust with Mosley's rule-making, his arrogance and his scandal … and now the junk-racing, low-budget retreat the two old bosses want F1 to enter into.

There might not be all-out war in F1. But the only chance of avoiding it now, it surely seems, would be if Mosley and Ecclestone heard and obeyed that ancient British admonition, delivered first by Oliver Cromwell to the Rump Parliament and again at the precipice of World War II by Leo Amery to disgraced Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain.

"You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go."

Methinks that this time, icy Englishman Ron Dennis of McLaren would be an excellent choice to deliver it to Mosley and Ecclestone.



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