FOTA pushing ahead with breakaway
Formula 1 teams are pressing ahead with their plans for a breakaway championship next year, despite hope that a fresh push to tie a deal with the sport's commercial chiefs can bring an end to their troubles with the FIA.
Following the drama of Wednesday's walk out of a Technical Working Group meeting by eight members of the Formula One Teams' Association (FOTA) after they were told they could not have any input on future rules, fears about a rival series have resurfaced.
And although team bosses confirmed at the Nurburgring on Thursday that the breakaway plans were indeed back on the table because of the situation with the governing body, there is still some confidence that a deal to secure F1's future can be reached. It is understood FOTA has decided to shift its efforts into securing a future deal onto working with commercial rights holders and sport owners CVC, rather than dealing solely with the FIA.
BMW motorsport director Mario Theissen was optimistic that the progress with CVC to formalize a new binding Concorde Agreement could be completed soon, but the teams were not yet ready to call off the breakaway totally.
"It is very simple," he said when asked about the latest development in the FIA/FOTA battle. "There are still some irritating efforts which have surprised us. We still don't have an agreement, although I would say we are making progress - slowly but steadily.
"We cannot sit back and wait if there will be an agreement coming our way or not. So we have to keep all options open, and that means we have to look at the other course as well.
"We are in constant negotiations, and we might come to a conclusion, as the FIA indicates, in a few days - but it might take a few weeks. Or we might finally find out that there is no agreement, so we have to prepare for all possibilities."
FOTA insiders suggest that, in light of recent events, the teams are more determined than ever that FIA president Max Mosley sees through with his promise to step down from his position in October – as was originally agreed in the Paris meeting last month. It is suggested that the teams will make it clear to CVC that they will only commit to the Concorde Agreement if Mosley's departure is confirmed. That stance comes after Australian GP chief Ron Walker, a close ally of Bernie Ecclestone, called on Mosley to step down on Thursday.
Toyota F1 president John Howett, when asked if Mosley standing again as president would scupper a deal, said: "Without answering that directly, I would say that the commercial rights holder understands what is required to get our signatures on the Concorde Agreement, and the agreement with them is very close. We just need to see and wait what happens."
FOTA is unruffled by the FIA's latest stance regarding their stand-off, and sources suggest that the group was determined to "ignore" the latest press release from the governing body detailing the background to the discussions between them. Instead, FOTA wants to focus on nailing down the situation with CVC that will secure F1's future.
Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner said: "The teams are very close to finding agreement with the commercial rights holder regarding a new Concorde Agreement. Obviously there is a bit of turbulence at the moment with the FIA, and I am hoping common sense will ultimately prevail and ultimately we can find a solution very shortly."
Speaking about how unclear the picture was, with a Concorde deal close yet relations between the FIA and FOTA troubled, Horner said: "It is a bit confusing.
"It was a great shame that that position was taken regarding the TWG meeting because it wasn't particularly constructive to signing off regulations that we are pretty much in line with and agree with. So, I just hope that common sense will prevail and a solution can be found in the near future.
"The devil is in the detail with all these things, but I think that significant progress has been made since Silverstone, although there has been a bit of turbulence along the way. I am hopeful of a solution and I think we are not far off from seeing an end to this unhealthy situation for F1."
Horner said that he hoped the teams would not be forced to go ahead with their breakaway championship, although said there would be no qualm about launching it if a deal could not be reached with CVC.
"I think the thing that was compelling after the breakaway was announced was the amount of support that was forthcoming, that was pushing the teams to say yes, you've done the right thing, go ahead," he explained. "Ultimately for F1, there does need to be a solution – it does need to be the F1 World Championship and the breakaway, ultimately nobody would benefit from unless a solution genuinely cannot be found.
"But in this paddock, nothing is out of the question, so I don't think you can rule it totally out. The intention is to try and find a position that everybody can live with."
With the latest dispute between the FIA and FOTA having renewed the breakaway fears just a fortnight after it appeared a deal was in place, Howett said he was sorry fans were facing more political wrangling. However, he was confident that the situation would end in a solution that was positive.
"All we have to do is apologize to the public at the moment – but they should trust us," he said. "We know exactly where we are going, we have got the alternative still on the table and we are making positive progress with the important parties."