SILVERSTONE, England — Formula One intends to sue the eight teams that announced plans for a rival series next season — the biggest crisis to engulf the sport since the championship began in 1950.
The governing body accused the Formula One Teams Association of “serious violations of law.” The breakaway came after Ferrari, championship leader Brawn GP and six other teams failed to resolve a dispute over the introduction of a budget cap for next season.
The FIA has responded by delaying publication of a final entry list for the 2010 season while it “asserts its legal rights.”
“The FIA’s lawyers have now examined the FOTA threat to begin a breakaway series,” the organization said in a statement. “The actions of FOTA as a whole, and Ferrari in particular, amount to serious violations of law including willful interference with contractual relations, direct breaches of Ferrari’s legal obligations and a grave violation of competition law.
“The FIA will be issuing legal proceedings without delay.”
Ferrari is already countersuing the ruling body — known as FIA — “to protect its contractual rights.”
But FIA president Max Mosley remains “completely confident” that the breakaway series will never come to fruition. He dismissed FOTA’s move as an attempt to seize control of the sport’s governance and finances, while predicting that pressures from sponsors will force the teams to end their intransigence.
“In the end, people do what it’s in their interests to do and it’s in the interest of teams to be in F1 world championship, and there is actually no fundamental, or even important issue, preventing them from taking part,” Mosley said. “It’s all about personalities and power and who can grab what from whom, which is easy when nothing’s at stake but, when it comes to the first race and it’s make-your-mind-up time, they will be there.”
Negotiations between FOTA and the FIA had stalled over plans for a voluntary 40 million pound (C$74.5 million) budget cap for next season. The FOTA teams lodged entries for 2010 conditional upon agreeing changes to the budget-cap provisions, but the FIA did not give ground, saying the sport cannot survive in difficult economic conditions without such spending restrictions.
“We’re not against reduced costs in F1 — they have got too high,” Brawn GP chief executive Nick Fry said Friday. “For our team, which is one of the smaller ones, getting down to a figure like 40 million pounds is not so much of an issue, but we want to be competing against the likes of Ferrari or Toyota. They are much bigger companies and it is a much more difficult for them and they need time to do it.”
Of the existing teams, Williams and Force India have broken ranks with FOTA and have lodged unconditional entries for the 2010 F1 season, when they will be joined on the grid by three new outfits — Campos Racing, Team US F1 and Manor F1 Team.
The remaining FOTA teams made their decision to leave F1 after meeting Thursday night near Silverstone.
“There’s been huge efforts over quite a lot of time to find a compromise and that hasn’t been possible,” McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh said. “We have got to look towards our own destiny. I don’t think there will be two premier racing championships. All I can say is that there will be a championship next year and that the major names that have historically been involved in motor racing will be racing together, and I think that will be recognized as the major championship.
“Eight teams will be enough, but we would welcome any new teams or existing teams for that matter, and certainly there has been an expression of interest from (Lola and Prodrive).”
The eight FOTA teams said they would not “compromise on the fundamental values of the sport” by adhering to Mosley’s financial constraints and they expect other to join them.
FOTA criticized the FIA’s “uncompromising” stance and attempts, along with the commercial rights-holder Formula One Management headed by Ecclestone, to divide its member teams.