HRT did offer to pay its outstanding Formula One Teams' Association membership fees after it left the body, sources have revealed, amid ongoing intrigue about the situation surrounding the team's departure.
There has been intense speculation over the past week about why HRT left FOTA, with conflicting reports about whether it was suspended over unpaid subscription fees or because the team was unhappy about the organization's failure to help smaller teams.
FOTA's annual fees for a year are 100,000 euros ($134,000) for each team, which is usually payable before the start of each season – and all squads apart from HRT paid up for 2010 in February last year. After it emerged that HRT had left FOTA, it was widely reported that the matter had been the result of HRT not paying up.
FOTA chairman Martin Whitmarsh added to that belief on Thursday when he said the situation was simply down to unpaid fees. "HRT failed to fulfill its membership fee obligations," he said. "It's as simple as that."
Although the inference from such comments was that that HRT had not paid any of its fees, a source who has good knowledge of the matter said that HRT had in fact paid two instalments of 25,000 euros in 2009 and 2010, before stalling on further payments as it grew frustrated with FOTA.
By the time of the final FOTA meeting of 2010 on Dec. 16, HRT had made it clear that it no longer wanted to be a part of the body – and the team informed FOTA chiefs it would not attend the get-together. It was at that meeting that FOTA decided to suspend HRT from its organization for the unpaid fees, and the team was notified formally the following day that it had been suspended.
At the same time, HRT formally wrote to FOTA to inform it that it wished to quit the organization because it was unhappy about the way that the interests of the smaller teams were not being looked after. AUTOSPORT reports sources as having also revealed that HRT told FOTA when it left that it was actually willing to pay its outstanding fees, believed to be 50,000 euros, when it left – suggesting the real issues were not to do with the fees.
HRT has said several times in recent days that the reasons behind its departure were because it felt FOTA was serving the interests of the bigger teams. AUTOSPORT reports that HRT had become particularly unhappy about the resistance of larger teams within the organization to help the smaller squads.
The team felt it unfair that, even though its income was a fraction of the larger teams, it was still being asked to pay the same 100,000 euros in membership fees and 100,000 euros charge for the post-season analysis of its accounts to ensure it did not break the Resource Restriction Agreement. Furthermore, HRT was frustrated that there was continued resistance from the larger teams for future redistribution of income as part of a new Concorde Agreement to be shared more fairly among all 12 teams – rather than being more heavily weighted toward the top 10, as it is under the current agreement.
There was particular concern that teams which finished 11th and 12th were to get considerably less than the team that finished 10th, even though their contribution to the sport, and their costs to compete, would be virtually identical.
FOTA has declined to elaborate on the issue, beyond confirming that HRT was suspended because it "did not fulfill its 2010 FOTA membership fee obligations."
Although HRT's Colin Kolles was unavailable for comment on Friday, he told the Hindustan Times: "We left because FOTA defends mainly the interests of the big teams. We see no benefit in paying money for being part of it. We prefer investing our money in the car, instead of paying membership fees that don't benefit us."