The five Formula 1 manufacturers could face a legal challenge to an agreement they allegedly signed after Monaco Grand Prix, AUTOSPORT has learned.
Following the meeting between the teams and the FIA in Monaco, the manufacturers are believed to have agreed a deal that committed each of them to paying the others 50 million euros ($70m) each should they break ranks and enter the World Championship unconditionally.
The five non-manufacturer teams are said to be not involved, and Williams and Force India have submitted unconditional entries.
AUTOSPORT has seen legal advice presented to the FIA suggesting that the alleged agreement could be a breach of the UK's 2002 Enterprises Act and/or EU competition law. Toyota president John Howett, who is vice-chairman of FOTA, confirmed that an agreement exists, although he would not comment on the financial penalties allegedly involved.
"I'm not really prepared to discuss any of the detail at all," he told AUTOSPORT. "It's a genuine agreement between the manufacturers on entering a sporting competition. It's about entry, not boycotting, and doesn't cover any commercial issues. I think it's a genuine and totally legal and uncontroversial document."
Howett is adamant the legality of the agreement isn't in question.
"I have to say it's been checked by the lawyers of the teams, by the lawyers of the manufacturers, who are dealing on a daily business with EU competition legislation on anti-trust. I have also been advised that the EU competition department was consulted by one party. So I'm fairly sure that there is no issue."
Howett also suggested that the version of the agreement that has caught the attention of the FIA may not be the final one: "I do believe that one of the documents referred to isn't in fact the document that was signed."
The situation is complicated by the fact that the FIA continues to insist that Ferrari is obliged to enter the World Championship under the exclusive agreement that also includes the team's right of veto on technical regulations.
This week at Istanbul Park, team principal Stefano Domenicali insisted that the team's position is that recent developments rendered that arrangement invalid. However, it is widely believed that Ferrari will indeed appear on the entry list when it is published on Friday.